Sarah, 23, a law student at Rutgers University, is taking a break from burying her nose in her studies to check her iPhone. Her “Bagel of the Day,” has arrived—a term used by the latest app-based dating site, “Coffee Meets Bagel,” where singles receive one match, or “bagel,” a day.
“I check it every day at noon,” said Sarah, who preferred to keep her last name anonymous. “It takes maybe 30 seconds. No skin off my nose.”
In Sarah’s community, not many people would agree with her form of matchmaking, where singletons swipe through photos of potential dates aggregated via Facebook to find people close by.
As a Modern Orthodox Jew, the tradition in her community is to be set up by family members, close friends or a traditional trained matchmaker with a man they think would be a “perfect match.”
If a person as busy as Sarah doesn’t have time to go to a matchmaker, there’s a website for that, too. “Saw You at Sinai” is a matchmaker-based dating site where Jewish singles can, for roughly $15 a month, be set up with their own personal dating guru who will work round-the-clock to match them up with dates.
So why go it alone? According to Sarah’s friend Jenna, trying to find Modern Orthodox guys in their early twenties going through a “serious” dating site, or one that will ultimately lead to marriage, like “Saw you at Sinai,” is hard to come by.
“When I was doing 'Saw You at Sinai,' I put down that I was looking for young guys and I was being set up by a lot of older people,” said Jenna, a full-time student at the SUNY School of Optometry. “Guys my age that are actually Modern Orthodox are not looking for a serious relationship. They’re really just screwing around, hooking up with random people and then they’ll get more serious later on.”
Modern, as opposed to a traditional Orthodoxy or Ultra-Orthodoxy, has many social shades of gray. Traditionally, a Modern Orthodox Jewish person keeps Kosher and observes the Sabbath. Women dress modestly in skirts and quarter sleeves. But they also drink, smoke and occasionally go to bars and clubs. Some adherents take a more lax approach, such as watching television on the Sabbath or eating in a non-kosher restaurant.
For two months Jenna, 23, a traditional Modern Orthodox, was using a matchmaker on “Saw You At Sinai.” After a few dates that went nowhere, mostly due to religious differences, she stopped being set up altogether. When she asked her matchmaker why she wasn't meeting more Modern Orthodox guys, the woman said she felt there were no matches that fit Jenna's religious criteria.
“I just thought, 'How ridiculous, I live in New York City, in the Upper West Side!'” Jenna said. “So I just decided to do it on my own.”
Jenna is now on “OKCupid” and “Coffee Meets Bagel” and said while it can be harder to find Modern Orthodox singles on non-Jewish dating sites, she finds the non-serious, relaxed nature of young dating sites refreshing.
“Even if I don’t think a guy is right, I’ll always give it a try. Even if I get matched with a “bagel” and he’s a reform Jew, I’ll move on and hope for someone better the next day,” Jenna said. “But at least I’m being proactive and getting people for myself instead of relying on others to make matches for me.”
While many young Jews are now looking to find relationships on their own, matchmaking still holds a special place in Jewish tradition. When a person is responsible for making a connection between a man and woman, which ultimately leads to marriage, that person is awarded a “Mitzvah,” or good deed from God. Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an organization created to promote the ideals of Orthodox Judaism, said he feels the spiritual merit of matchmaking is the reason people will never stop trying to set others up.
“The traditional approach will surely not go away. It’s too tried, tested and generally successful to leave the scene. And it is superior in many ways to a more do-it-yourself approach,” Shafran said.
Similarly, Lori Salkin, 31, a “Saw You at Sinai” matchmaker, said the downside to a non-Jewish dating site is that there is no “Orthodox-only” section for those not willing to budge with their religious observance level. There is also the common worry that most people who go through dating sites have: “Is this person crazy?”
“These people can be anyone, a serial killer or a socially awkward nerd or a jerk,” said Salkin, who has been a matchmaker for five years. “Some girls come to me and say, 'He was divorced and had a kid and a tattoo!' I would say, 'Oh, well, sorry but I can't help you. It’s a random website. If you’d come to me I do an entire extensive check.'”
Salkin said she and the other “Saw You at Sinai” matchmakers work on a voluntary basis, however an average cash amount of $2,500 is usually “gifted” to the matchmaker after an engagement is made. From her eight successful matches, Salkin said she has received everything from a $40 bowl to a lavish Dior handbag.
While Sarah and Jenna said the matchmaking site didn’t prove a successful way to meet men their age, they did appreciate the perk of having the matchmaker handle the messy break-up.
“I say to my girls, 'If you want him to go away, you just tell me and I’ll make them go away,'” Salkin said.
Jenna, Sarah and their friends have graduated from prestigious schools such as New York University and Columbia. They said although their parents push them to have successful careers and the ability to stand on their own, the pressure of marriage is still a part of everyday discussions.
“I’ve had that pressure to get married pretty much since the age of 12. I come from a very traditional Persian-Jewish household, where marriage was ingrained in me from a young age,” said Sarah, who is originally from Long Island. “When I was 16, I thought if I was married with kids at 21, I’d be the happiest person ever, and I still feel that way. I have no problem finishing up law school, getting married and never using my degree.”
For a while, Sarah was using Tinder, known most commonly as a “hook-up app,” where singles look through photos and judge others based solely on their appearances. Though she quit after a month, she said it was an experience she would never tell her parents about. “They’d probably have a heart attack. They’d be like, 'What are you doing! What the hell?'” Sarah said.“I also don’t think my parents even know I’ve kissed anyone yet.”
Sarah said she will continue to go at the dating scene alone for now, even if it means waiting it out for the perfect Modern Orthodox match.
“I’m only looking for people who are Orthodox or looking to be Orthodox Jews so I don’t have my pick at the billions of people who live in this world,” she said. “But they’re out there, somewhere.”