The growing number of Orthodox Jewish singles is not a major concern to the average Orthodox married couple. Those who are married often feel that this is a problem that singles have to work out for themselves—after all, married folks have their own issues to deal with, right?
Wrong! The truth is that the difficulty that singles regularly face in the shidduch (matchmaking) world is a community problem, not just an issue for singles. And with just a little bit of effort, there are many things that married couples can do to ease the burden of Jewish singles—and in the process create more marriages.
Below are ten specific things that can be easily accomplished by married couples within their communities:
1) Stay in contact with your single friends after you get married. Many singles feel abandoned by their friends once their friends tie the knot. Although your needs and priorities change greatly once you get married, that doesn’t mean that you should stop all contact with your single friends. Call them occasionally and find out what’s going on in their lives. Take an interest in what interests them. Ask them for advice, and share your own joys and hardships with them. Invite them over for a Shabbat weekend. They will appreciate the contact – and feel better about themselves.
2) Be supportive. Instead of simply dishing out advice, listen to what your single friends are saying. Show them that you care. This, in turn, will lead many of your single friends to share more details about their lives with you, without making it seem like you are prying into their business.
3) Avoid making judgments about current relationships in which your single friends may be involved. If you are specifically asked by your single friend about a person he or she is seeing, you can be honest and forthcoming about how you feel, but steer clear of passing judgment. Certainly don’t feel obligated to volunteer the information yourself.
4) Give thought to setting up singles. Actively network with others both within your own community and in other to increase the pool of potential singles that can be matched up. Don’t suggest a date simply because two people are the same age, or because someone asks you whether you know a good guy or gal. Get to know singles personally, rather than treating them like index cards. Respect confidential information shared with you. Don’t assume someone is available and interested before checking first. And if you’ve suggested a potential date to person, and he or she is interested, make sure to follow up on the suggestion and not leave the person hanging.
5) Include single members of your community in the planning and development for your shul. If they deserve to be honored at a dinner, don’t exclude them simply because they are single. There’s no halachah (law) that a shul president, treasurer or dinner chair has to be married. You can value singles for their skills and accomplishments by rewarding them with honors and board positions, without validating singlehood as a long-term goal.
6) Invite singles in your community to your Shabbat meals. This is a great way for singles to meet each other in a normal and non-pressurized environment. If two singles seem to hit it off at a meal, they can always go out on a real date at a later time. If there are only a few singles living in your community, plan a different kind of singles Shabbaton, where 40-50 singles can spend a Shabbat weekend in your community—and various couples can host 6-8 singles each for Shabbat meals.
7) Don’t give in to pressures to conform. If someone asks you a stupid question that has no bearing on a potential shidduch (match) for your child or for a friend’s child, don’t answer the question—and make it clear that you refuse to participate in such silly behavior. Although the tablecloth color question might be an urban legend, it’s unfortunately very common for individuals to ask inappropriate questions, such as a potential date’s mother’s dress size and other such irrelevant matters. Also, many potential dates are initially rejected because they don’t fit neatly into a very narrow hashkafah (religious outlook). Avoid the labeling that has become so common in the Orthodox community, and treasure the rich diversity within our ranks.
8) Encourage the practice of mixed seating at weddings. There are few better ways for large groups of singles to get to know each other in a comfortable and natural environment than at a mixed table of singles at a wedding. Countless shidduchim (matches) have been made in this fashion (Rav Aharon Soloveichik, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the 20th century, met his future spouse at a mixed seating wedding), and many more shidduchim can be made in the future if we encourage this practice.
9) Get involved in creating normal, healthy social activities for singles. Put together a planning committee consisting of both singles and married people from your shul. Plan a symposium where speakers can talk candidly about shidduch-related issues. Organize social events for singles, such as an arts festival or a chessed (loving-kindness) project, which allow singles to interact with each other without the program feeling like a typical singles event.
10) Empower singles that you know to arrange their own dates. While using a shadchan can work for many singles, others can achieve great success in finding a mate through informal meetings and natural activities. Singles can become more proactive in socializing with members of the opposite sex outside of formal dates, and married individuals can encourage them to get more involved in different kinds of activities, which will increase their chances of finding a shidduch on their own.
Ultimately, the ability for more Orthodox Jewish singles to get married will fall on the shoulders of singles themselves. However, if we can mobilize the efforts of those who are already happily married and get more people in our community involved in helping singles, we can create many more marriages—and greatly alleviate the challenges that Orthodox singles are regularly facing in today’s world.
Michael Feldstein is the marketing director at Boardroom Inc., a direct marketer of books and newsletters. He also serves on the Advisory Committee of YUConnects, and is a member of the board of the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS). He was the founding chairperson of the Committee to Advance Modern Orthodoxy in Stamford (CAMOS), a community growth initiative that has successfully attracted many young Modern Orthodox couples to relocate to Stamford. You can reach Michael Feldstein at email@example.com.