A new model of matchmaking in Maryland called “SUN,” or Singles Uniting Network, is taking shidduchim out of the hands of official shadchanim and placing it into the hands of singles.
Founded by David Katzoff, a married father of two children who holds a deep desire to combat what he sees as a faulty shidduch system, the program began locally with recent successful monthly meetings in Silver Spring that he’s trying to now expand to other communities.
Essentially, singles are capitalizing on their own networks by meeting to discuss setting their friends up. They’re getting together with the main purpose of making matches – here the singles are the matchmakers.
Each members brings a list of all the single men and women they know – whether they’ve dated someone briefly or are close friends – and as they go around the room, they describe themselves (or a good friend) and what they are looking for while others present peruse their lists for ideas.
“It empowers singles to get involved in the shidduch process, to think outside of themselves and to look out for each other, to help each other by suggesting ideas of who they should date,” explains Katzoff.
Ideally, each community should have a facilitator, preferably married, to be there at meetings, Katzoff says. Although there’s a formal aspect of sitting around a table, the atmosphere is light hearted, includes refreshments, and starts off with an ice breaker game.
Initial meetings usually have three men and three women; following that each one invites another person to be part of the next meeting. Maryland’s second meeting had nine people, the third had thirteen. Katzoff believes meetings should be capped at twelve people to run smoothly.
“It is exciting to be part of a group where singles are taking matters into their own hands and looking out for one another,” said an anonymous member of Katzoff’s group.
They have witnessed initial successes over the past several weeks, such as single men and women setting up friends of theirs with each other. One young man and woman from the group have even agreed to go out with each other, through Katzoff as mediator. Several members are now making strong efforts trying to set up others.
“That alone is a big success because it means that we now have several additional shadchanim in the Orthodox community that we didn’t have beforehand,” Katzoff explains. “In addition, by being part of the SUN group, many of the singles are networking, whether for Shabbat meals or jobs, and developing friendships with each other.”
An operations research analyst by trade, Katzoff, now 42, has noticed a trend that more and more people are not getting married at the age they want to. Even 20 years ago he was sensitive to what other singles were going through and Katzoff was determined to set singles up while he was in the dating scene: he set up 25 pairs and made one successful shidduch. “I was impassioned about trying to get involved in shidduchim, seeing many great single guys and girls frustrated and I’m trying to do my part to help them out,” he says. His thinking at the time was if he knows 30 guys and dated 30 girls that’s 900 possibilities, so he started setting up his friends with girls he had dated.
“SINGLES UNITING NETWORK is a wonderful idea that should be encouraged by all communities,” commented Rebbetzin Judi Steinig, Associate Director, Community Services of the Orthodox Union, who has been involved with singles programming for over 15 years. “We are all aware of the tremendous challenges facing singles of all religious demographics in the Orthodox community. We have seen many different formats for meeting one another, and each has shown limited success. Creating a forum where singles are empowered to help each other shows tremendous promise. We will be encouraging OU communities to become involved in this initiative and wish hatzlacha to all of those involved. Our hope is that SUN will enable many more singles to meet their zivugim.”
One of the key reasons why Katzoff believes the current shidduch system isn’t working for the Orthodox community, particularly for the Yeshivish and Modern Orthodox, he says is because “on the Yeshivish side, there are many more single women than single men… On the Modern Orthodox side, the local communities are not doing nearly enough to look out for their singles and therefore many singles feel disconnected from their community.”
He would often encourage singles to set each other up and three months ago came up with this idea for SUN. Katzoff personally contacted 30 large orthodox communities in the US to take this on and several verbally agreed they will try, yet, he’s run up against challenges in finding Orthodox community leaders who can expand their roles in helping local unmarried congregants.
“Most people are excited about the idea, but actually acting on it is another story,” Katzoff admits. The problem seems to be finding those in Jewish communities who will commit to facilitating it. Sometimes they put him in touch with the local shadchan, other times they say they will try to find someone. Often, it comes down to Katzoff nudging the rabbi of a shul to find someone to spend time on this important, yet often neglected matter.
“My first question I ask is: Who do you have in charge of singles programming in your shul or community?” says Katzoff. “Out of 30, only three had that. It is not enough to have one or two annual singles events. Rather, I am hopeful that the shuls will have ongoing Friday night onegs, co-ed shiurim, co-ed chesed activities, and other opportunities for singles to meet each other and feel engaged with their shul. As an Orthodox community, we need to look out for each other to help address today’s shidduch issue.”
If you are interested in learning more about this movement, please email David Katzoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.