The Shidduch Project?

A modest proposal…for increasing proposals

By: Alex Cohen

We are taught from a young age that one day, when we grow up, we’ll meet a suitable young person, look into each other’s eyes, discuss our life dreams, assess our compatibility on a practical level, and eventually get married, please G-d have kids, and build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel (a faithful home among the Jewish people).

The Talmud specifies that it is forbidden for a man to marry a woman until he meets her and she finds favour in his eyes. Furthermore, a woman is not to be married until she is mature enough to make an intelligent decision with regards to her proposed husband. Thus, dating plays a very definite role in the process. Up till now, you may be thinking that I am telling you nothing new and you may be considering turning the page, but hear me out.

If it all starts with a date, it seems like a simple enough formula: Get out there and hop into the so-called Shidduch Chevrolet, find your destined darling, and fall head first into legendary love.


A crisis of global proportions

According to popular opinion we are – and have been for some time – in a predicament known as the “shidduch crisis”: a commonly observed and often discussed phenomenon in the Orthodox Jewish community whereby eligible single persons have difficulty finding a suitable spouse.

Throughout generations we are inundated by couples whose love has stood the test of time: “Napolean and Josephine”, “Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip”, “Posh and Becks”, “JFK and Jackie Kennedy”, and “Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas”. Naïve I am not, there are those who have loved and lost: “Cher and Sonny”, “Elvis and Priscilla”, and “Brad and Jen”.

As the great Alfred Lord Tennyson said: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

What, you ask me, dear reader, is the secret ingredient to instigating these love affairs?

Good Looks? Charm? Intelligence? Yichus (lineage)?

Find me a catch

It all starts with an introduction, a simple exchange of numbers by a neutral party; a shadchan, a matchmaker as Tevye would call it.

Thankfully, we have a small group of dedicated shadchanim (matchmakers) in the community who do phenomenal work. They can, however, only do what they can with the resources and data that they are given – and with the people who approach them. In other words, if a single is not in their database, the shadchanim can obviously not facilitate a date for that person. I applaud them for the remarkable work they do and strongly suggest that every single go meet with them.

This, however, is not a sustainable model, when the Johannesburg Jewish community alone has thousands of Jewish singles ranging from (in JSwipe terms, if you will) “Just Jewish”, “Traditional”, “Orthodox”, or in South African Lingo, ranging from “Frum from Birth” to your “Ba’al Teshuva”, and merely a handful of shadchanim available to facilitate these matches mainly honed in on the latter two categories comprised of Torah observant Jews.

A modest proposal

To facilitate dating and to avoid assimilation which we are combatting the world over, the community needs a workable, smart system run by resourceful, intelligent, and passionate people (much like our shadchanim, though in significantly larger numbers) who truly want to grow this generation of South African Jewry and who can help the many young Jewish singles avoid feeling the need to emigrate to “broaden their pool” of prospects (when South Africa already has an overwhelming pool of Jewish singles who are simply not entering the same central Jewish dating system, or any system at all), thus potentially diminishing future generations of South African Jewry.

And, contrary to popular South African belief, the shidduch crisis does exist in the UK, Israel, and Australia, so emigrating provides no guarantee that these singles will meet more suitable prospects overseas, especially considering the additional cultural differences which adds an additional test of compatibility in any relationship, both in the short term and, even more so, the long term. I should also point out that I did not include the US or Canada in my findings above as they are knee deep in assimilation, specifically in this generation, and things are not looking up.

The all too real and very harsh reality

A young person today, who was brought up to marry a nice Jewish boy or girl, and who never dared to imagine otherwise, but who has not, in fact, managed to find that person nor found sufficient support in the community to assist them with finding that person, could all too easily find himself meeting a nice NON-Jew in a – choose one: bar/at work/on a course/at a party. Having had his hopes dashed time and again and been told repeatedly that there is no one new to date, such a person could find it very easy to settle into a new comfortable alternate reality that he never would have even remotely fathomed before: dating a non-Jew, two years later marrying that non-Jew, and potentially discontinuing the future of SA Jewry, G-d forbid.

This is the reality in which all South African Jewish singles are finding themselves, regardless of which of the above-noted categories they may occupy.

What we currently have is not a shidduch system. A “system” is defined as a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole. The current setup is lacking a holistic network, as well as the synergy of all its various parts working as a whole.

Pooling our resources

For the sake of Jewish continuity, we need communal leaders to assist these singles and utilise all of the resources at their disposal. For example, rabbis and rebbetzins can collate data regarding the Jewish singles in their respective communities, liaise with other community leaders, and set up matches crossing over various community lines and even (dare I say) over the highway. This would be a magnificent example of achdus (unity).

While the shadchanim in our community are fantastic at what they do, they are few in number and practicing independently, often as a side job. They need help. I beg our communal leaders and existing shadchanim to train and hire passionate, smart people, in a formal, coordinated business model where this is a full-time job for people – their bread and butter so to speak – people who will be paid to invest their time into facilitating Jews of all religious levels to meet and date and be financially rewarded for doing so; a team effort with an ever-growing network to tap into.

This is not a luxury; this is an absolute necessity, and I challenge our leaders to fully address this issue and proudly set an example by establishing a proper, sophisticated networking and matchmaking system. We are a formidable community, a community that boasts various top Jewish leaders in all fields, the nation that brought the world Helen Suzman, Adam Bacher, Jonny Clegg, Nadine Gordimer, and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who has brought Shabbos and all of its brachos into copious amounts of homes the world over.

We are capable of conquering this crisis and building a unique and sustainable model to address it, while simultaneously leading the way and showing the rest of the world how it can be done.

Did I hear someone say “The Shidduch Project”?


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