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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Matchmaking site hopes to pair young Jews

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At the launch party for JToronto. [David Collin photo]

A new dating site is hoping to help Toronto’s young Jews find love from within their own culture and religion.

But JToronto, jtoronto.com, is not like JDate, where users post public profiles and browse the site, reviewing profiles and contacting people who they think would be a match. Instead, this site relies on a matchmaker to pair up men and women.

Many of the people on JDate aren’t looking for a serious relationship, and there are many problems with fake profiles, said Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman, an organizer for JToronto and a rabbi for the Russian Jewish Community Centre. Additionally, not everybody wants to go public with their search for love.

JToronto gives them a discreet way to search, he said, since only the matchmakers can see the pool of participants.

The initiative was created to respond to the number of Jews who are marrying non-Jews not because they aren’t interested in marrying within the faith, but because they couldn’t find suitable Jewish partners.

JToronto was created as a counterpart to JMontreal, which was started by Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, director of Chabad of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Despite the connection to rabbis, these sites aren’t targeting observant Jews. There are no partnerships with synagogues. Instead, the service partners with secular community organizations such as Jewish Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) and Hillel. It’s also supported by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and counts The CJN as a community partner.

“The idea is everyone who looks at it sees that we're a cross-spectrum organization,” Rabbi Zaltzman said.

“There are organizations that represent all parts of the community. It’s in essence any agency in the city that’s working with that age group.”

The age group in question is 25 to 40. Almost anything goes within that range, from non-observance through to modern Orthodox – just not haredi, since members of that community tend to use traditional matchmakers, Rabbi Zaltzman said.

Matchmaker Lesley Silver-Winick is originally from Montreal, but lives in Toronto, so she works with both cities’ versions of the site. She uses her background in social services and education, as well as personal experience, to help connect users in each city, sometimes pairing up people from both cities’ databases if they’re interested.

To set people up, she first let’s the computer suggest matches. From there, she speaks to each user to make more informed suggestions. For example, the algorithm may not match two people who would be suitable apart from their level of observance, so Silver-Winick would ask them about their willingness to compromise.

“We’re trying to find quality matches for the members, so there’s a lot of follow-up,” she said, adding that she encourages members to at least have a phone conversation or coffee date with potential matches.

She’s 52 years old and got married at 40, so she said she understands what it’s like to search for a partner. She can especially relate to people in their 30s who may have to consider relationships with people who are divorced with kids, for example.

So far, she has 31 “mutually approved matches” in Toronto, out of the 175 people who have registered since the site went live almost three weeks ago. Out of her JMontreal matches, one couple recently announced their engagement, she said.

Roughly 200 people showed up to the Feb. 28 launch, Rabbi Zaltzman said, so already there’s a larger pool than one would find from other methods such as speed-dating events, though he encourages people to try all methods of finding Jewish partners.

“So far, the buzz is out there. There’s movement and it’s steady,” he said, adding that he’s hoping the number of registrants will hit 1,000 by the High Holidays.

He hopes the program will be a way for Jews to meet each other and to help ensure the continuation of Judaism through the generations.

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