When I was in elementary school, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. Oh, it was OK in first and second grades when we were required to give valentines cards to boy and girl in class. Remember those little cards with the silly six-year-old-appropriate love poems? Violets are red, roses are…you know, something like that.
The night before Valentine’s Day, I would spend hours stuffing, then licking the envelopes spread out across the kitchen table, pouring over the class list, investing great thought in deciding who would get the ones with the hearts and who would be stuck with the stupid bicycle or the fish.
But as we got older, that admirable level playing field concept imposed on us by the wise sages of the time, our teachers, got shunted aside and those valentines really started to mean something. Couples began forming and some got left behind. I still gave, but I received less and less each year.
The other night we attended the wedding of Lynne and Adam. You remember Lynne: I had to testify to her singlehood at the Chief Rabbi’s Marriage Bureau a few weeks ago. The wedding was a lovely, intimate affair, held at the Taverna Restaurant along the promenade that overlooks the old city from near Abu Tor.
As Jody and I looked around the room, it occurred to us that most of Lynne and Adam’s friends were singles. And, like Lynne and Adam, they weren’t all fresh-out-of-college twentysomethings either.
As they regaled in the joy of their friends’ marriage, were they at the same time feeling a tinge of envy, a moment of painful reflection - the adult equivalent of their own valentine’s card rejections?
Indeed, the problem of singles who don’t want to be has become a serious concern in the Jewish world, even more so in Jerusalem where singlehood after a certain age carries a discernable negative stigma.
The issue is now debated at religious conferences like Edah whose upcoming conference has a session entitled “Understanding and Repairing The Status of Singles in The Orthodox Community.”
It is addressed by numerous groups such as the Israeli-based Eden 2000, which sponsor frequent singles get-togethers.
There’s Speed Dating and ultra-orthodox matchmakers and any number of kabbalistic seers who will be delighted to give you a blessing…for a small donation, of course.
My wife Jody and I have always had a lot of singles in our life. Our married friends find this terribly odd. Their social circles out in such suburban Israeli wonderlands as Beit Shemesh, Modi’in or Ra’anana consist almost exclusively of other marrieds with kids.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s so important for us to have singles around. Maybe it keeps us feeling young. Maybe it’s just circumstantial – we frequently host singles for Shabbat meals from various study programs in Southern Jerusalem where we live, and we’re good about staying in touch.
Sometimes, though, we wonder about our older single friends. We think: why haven't they gotten married yet? They seem to us like great people. Sensitive, warm, mature. Do they have commitment phobias? Have they invested too much of their soul in their careers? Are they rotten in bed? Then again, how would we know?
We’ve tried to match them up, but never with any success. We certainly can’t claim the kind of numbers that the newest big thing – the online dating services – can.
Go to any Jewish site and you will see the ubiquitous ads, usually all bunched together: Jcupid, DateMeister, JewishCafe. Not to mention JDate. With 500,000 members, it claims that one out of every ten Jewish singles is on their site, with hundreds of resulting marriages. Google search Jewish singles and you’ll come up with over 200,000 sites, including “Dosidate,” an inside joke that made me laugh out loud (“dosi” is Hebrew slang for religious).
In Israel, Cupid is the leading matchmaking site. Like JDate, it also claims 500,000 members, with another 20,000 signing up every month. Other Israeli sites include Up2Me and the cynical CheckMeOut where surfers mercilessly “grade” photographs of people online (they can also click to meet someone they like).
Before electronic dating hit the scene, I once placed a written personal ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It was 1980 and I wrote the headline: “Summer Sublet in My Heart.” It sounded sweet, but actually I was in college and just home for a few weeks, so it was more of a coded expression for “fling.” I received two responses, one from a real person (who wasn’t interested) and another from an organization wanting to showcase my clever ad in a book on personal ads.
Another Valentine’s Day rejection.
Fortunately my story has a happy ending. Jody and I met and it was love at first sight (well, my sight; it took another year to convince Jody to even go out with me).
And yet, despite what seems to me - now the happily married man - a singular sense of gloom, everyone seemed so truly happy at Lynne and Adam’s wedding. The dancing was so freilich.
How could this be? Shouldn’t they be desperately seeking someone, like I was for so long? Like I always I imagined I would be at 35, 40, 42?
It makes sense, of course: their wedding was its own coded message to the entire community of singles. A message that said if Lynne and Adam could find each other, after so many years of searching, there is still hope for those who remain single, with any luck, not for much longer.
Happy Valentine’s Day!