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For Jewish Singles, Love and Culture Merge at the 405

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sour smell of desperation at singles events--however faint--had always offended Alan Feinhandler. However, weary of his bachelor life and wanting to meet Jewish women, he decided to give the 405 Jewish Singles group a whirl.

Concerned about the high number of interfaith marriages, a group of rabbis united by something very So-Cal--a freeway--early this year organized a singles group targeting people from 22 to 45.

Members meet once a month after Friday night Shabbat services at 10 participating synagogues along a 40-mile swath of Interstate 405, stretching from Los Angeles International Airport down to Fountain Valley.

During the informal cocktail hour following services the unattached sample kosher sushi and wine, unfurl their bios and screen each other for compatibility.

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“If you have any interest in continuing the culture or the religion, it’s paramount that you meet other people who share the same beliefs,” said Jeff Peddie, chairman of the Young Leadership Group of Jewish Federation of Orange County, which has collaborated with the 405 group to host singles events.

“Because the group is centered around the Friday night service, you have an excuse to be there,” creating a more relaxed atmosphere, said Feinhandler. “You go there not just to meet singles, but also to worship.”

Feinhandler, 38, plans to marry Deborah Perry of Cypress this summer and is grateful for the rabbi’s efforts. The couple were engaged following two months of courting after running into each other at a 405 singles service held this summer at Temple Beth Zion-Sinai in Lakewood.

Perry, a cosmetologist, had sampled other singles events but felt most comfortable mingling with the 405 folks.

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“I went up to talk to Alan while I was checking everybody else out,” she said about stumbling upon her future fiance at a meeting. “I didn’t even think he liked me.”

The idea for the group came from Rabbi Gary Davidson of Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, who attended rotating singles services when he lived in Boston. The other driving force behind the group’s organization is Rabbi Michael Beals of the B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester, near LAX. Both bemoaned what they consider a lack of singles events in the area.

Beals met his wife at a singles event in a large Los Angeles temple more than five years ago, and wanted to help link up small synagogues in the South Bay, Long Beach and Orange County areas to form a rotating circuit for romantically unaffiliated Jews.

“I’m grateful because I met my wife through a similar organization,” said Beals. “It’s my way of saying thank you to the original program coordinators and also to God.”

Davidson, a bachelor, is unabashed about his desire to do some matchmaking--including his own. He admits that the group also grew out of his frustration with clocking a lot of time on the highway traveling to singles events.

“In my search for a marriage partner, the only place that seemed to have any popular Jewish singles events was in Los Angeles,” he said. “So, I was constantly in the car.”

Beyond their personal motivations, Davidson and Beals are also trying to counter the current mushrooming of interfaith marriages among Jews.

“There’s a burgeoning need to do outreach to the single and nonaffiliated,” said Rabbi Nachum Braverman, education director of the Los Angeles branch of Aish Hatorh. “It’s the future of the community.”

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The 405 singles group, which has steadily attracted about 100 people each month, is one of a growing number of Jewish singles groups formed to encourage young Jews to marry.

According to a 1990 survey by the Council of Jewish Federations, half of Jews who marry choose a spouse who isn’t Jewish. And barely one-quarter of children raised in a mixed-faith household are raised Jewish, the survey found.

Because the group meets on Friday nights, Davidson hopes that young Jews will find the group accessible enough that they’ll veer off the 405 after work to worship and hang out. Unaffiliated Jews are welcome at the services and there is no charge for the noshing.

“The 405 group is a good, convenient vehicle for adults who share the same faith to get together,” said Peddie, who also cites a dearth of opportunities for young Jewish singles to meet and mingle in Orange County.

“Singles are so busy today, but they still want to find a nice Jewish person to share their lives,” said Beals. “They need help.”

Feinhandler is grateful for the help and glad he waited to find someone with whom to share his life and his faith. He wishes other young Jews would work harder to marry within their religion.

“There are plenty of good catches inside the Jewish faith,” said Feinhandler. “There’s no need to go shopping anywhere else.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Participating Synagogues

General information about 405 Jewish Singles is available from Rabbi Gary Davidson of Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, (562) 426-6413.

Congregation B’nai Tzedek

9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. (714) 963-4611.

Temple Beth David

6100 Hefley St., Westminster. (714) 892-6623.

Temple Beth Zion-Sinai

6440 Del Amo Blvd., Lakewood. (562) 429-0715.

Temple Beth Shalom

3635 Elm Ave., Long Beach. (562) 426-6413.

Temple Menorah

1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.

Temple Beth El, 1435 W. 7th St., San Pedro. (310) 833-2467.

Congregation Tifereth Jacob

1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-3667.

Temple Israel

3538 E. 3rd. St., Long Beach. (562) 434-0996.

B’nai Tikvah Congregation

5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. (310) 645-6262.

Temple Ner Tamid

10629 Lakewood Blvd., Downey. (562) 861-9276.


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