Disturbed by the increasing number of interfaith marriages, a Denver rabbi has begun a matchmaking service intended to help single Jews meet other Jews looking for partners of their religious persuasion.
Bruce Greenbaum, associate rabbi of Congregation Emanuel Temple, Denver's largest synagogue, says he decided to start the Colorado Jewish Social Network because he is concerned that 60% of today's Jews marry non-Jews.
"There were so few programs for single Jewish people in Colorado, and I was constantly asked about programs which would meet their needs and I wanted to let these people know that the temple cared about them," he says.
"Secondly, I had so many calls to officiate interfaith marriages, and I personally made a decision not to officiate them."
Greenbaum says it is important for couples to marry within their faith so they can agree on how to raise their children and avoid conflicts during religious holidays. "Religious unity also gives a marriage a better chance to be stronger," he says.
The network, which is for Jews only, was begun in the fall and has 51 women and 50 men as members.
No couples have been engaged or married yet, but more than 250 postcards have been sent out since the network started.
The program's singles events have attracted up to 300 people.
"There are a lot of singles out there," Greenbaum says, "but most synagogues concentrate on young children or the elderly or families. Few have good singles programs."
Mindy, an environmental engineer who belongs to the Social Network, says the program helps bring together people who have a strong Jewish identity.
Mindy, who asked that her last name not be published, says the matchmaking service helped her meet a man she has been dating for several weeks.
"I probably would not have met him had I not been in the network," she says.
An aspiring member fills out a form listing first name, interest, activities, religious identity (Reform, Orthodox or Conservative), occupation, age, height, weight and the type of person he or she wants to meet. No last names, addresses, or phone numbers are given, but applicants are given the option of enclosing two photographs of themselves.
"I don't think it a good idea to judge a person by their picture because I feel I would pass up somebody nice without giving them a chance," Mindy says. "I like to talk to them over the phone and get an idea of who they are."
Members range in age up to 70 years old, from the never-married to the widowed and divorced.
Some have been blunt about their desires. One woman didn't want a man with a beard or mustache. Others have sought a partner who is "outdoorish," a nonsmoker or a nondrinker.
Members must sign a release freeing the temple from liability and promise to respond honestly to potential dates about sexually transmitted diseases and psychological or drug problems.
"We don't condone premarital sexual activity, but we recognize that as a possibility," Greenbaum says.
Each member is assigned a code number. Their forms are kept in the synagogue library, where other members can look them over.
A man may select the code number of a woman he thinks he would like to meet. He puts his first name on a printed postcard and leaves it with the synagogue. Greenbaum pulls the woman's form from a locked safe, looks up her name and mails the interested man's card to her.
The woman sends a postcard back, checking one of two boxes: "Presently unavailable" or "interested."
If she isn't interested, her response keeps the would-be suitor from learning who she is.
"I feel somewhat safer knowing that people have to come into the temple and fill out a postcard and meet with the staff," Mindy says.
Greenbaum says the program is working well. "It's safe, self-selecting and discreet," Greenbaum says. "It's not a meat market.
"We want people to understand that the program is designed to help people to meet each other. What happens when people decide to date is the responsibility of those individuals."
A $35 membership fee pays for parties. Two have been held at restaurants, with about 300 guests showing up wearing name tags.
Mindy says she is looking forward to another group meeting called "Sabbath Onegs," in which people attend the Sabbath service and then go out for refreshments.
Mindy likes the way the Social Network allows members to preview a potential date before going out.
"It's really working well. It offers a unique opportunity to look at pictures and talk to people over the phone," she says.