Traveling panel will focus on ways the Orthodox community and its members can enhance the lives of single men and women
Many Orthodox American single men and women feel alienated from the broader Jewish community, which may treat them as inferior because of their marital status.
This was one of the conclusions of the recently released “The Challenges of Singlehood Among American Orthodox Jews” study conducted by the Orthodox Union’s Center for Communal Research (CCR). The CCR’s mission is to help the OU and beyond to better understand and serve the Jewish community through data.
“A core responsibility of the Orthodox Union is to use every means at our disposal to enhance the community’s ability to value and support every one of its members,” says OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “This study will help achieve that by helping us all understand that single men and women seek to be seen and respected for who they are and valued for the contributions they so badly wish to make to their communities — if only we will let them.”
Coined the “crisis of experience” by The Shidduch Center of Baltimore’s executive director Rabbi Shlomo Goldberger, the majority of single study participants agreed that negative communal attitudes and treatment of single community members represent their greatest challenge during singlehood.
The study was published in anticipation of the yamim noraim, a time for religious and interpersonal reflection and self-improvement, with the aim of elevating communal support of single men and women. In order to amplify the study’s findings, the OU is promoting a serious public dialogue about the crisis of experience. In the days leading up to Rosh Hashana, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer, motivational speaker and advocate for single community members Tzipora Grodko, and former applied researcher at the Center for Communal Research Channah Cohen will lead engaging panel discussions in Florida and Maryland, followed by a livestream broadcast from New York on Tzom Gedaliah.
“When people talk about the ‘shidduch crisis’, they actually mean two completely different things, according to Rabbi Goldberger,” says Cohen, who will serve as the panel moderator. “One issue is the ‘crisis of process’, meaning how people date, for example, whether they have sufficient access to dates, do shadchanim work, is there an age-gap issue demographically that’s preventing some people from getting married? The other issue is the ‘crisis of experience’, which is a feeling among singles that as long as they’re unmarried, there’s no place for them within the Orthodox community.”
The CCR’s mixed-methods study included a quantitative, 25-minute survey taken by over 2,300 single participants that was disseminated through eight major Orthodox dating platforms and websites such as Partners In Shidduchim, SawYouAtSinai (including YUConnects) and The Shidduch Center of Baltimore, among others. In addition, approximately 50 single men and women, and about 50 shadchanim and community leaders were extensively interviewed.
Cohen, who was one of the researchers, notes that many single people feel completely invisible in the Orthodox community, particularly after age 25, and especially at shul.
Cohen says, “Single community members say, ‘At work I sit at the head of a board table and run presentations and everyone says I’m still so young, I have my whole life ahead of me, I’m professionally accomplished. Then I go to shul and people view me as a nebach because I’m not married.’”
Tzipora Grodko never imagined she would become an advocate for single community members. The 29-year-old from Monsey, New York, herself unmarried, holds an LMSW and is a transformative coach while managing Aim Hire, a nonprofit that helps provide employment with dignity to seasoned professionals ages 40-plus that have been unemployed or underemployed for 18 weeks. Inspired by her friends and acquaintances and the hurt she says they continually experience in their communities, Grodko gave her first speech at Monsey’s Beis Medrash Ohr Chaim in March on “Things Shadchanim Should Know.” Her presentation was uploaded to YouTube; within four days it garnered almost 6,000 views and she received overwhelmingly supportive feedback from parents, single men and women, and matchmakers.
“I had no more tolerance to see so many people I care about get hurt, when it’s all preventable,” says Grodko. “Age is so subjective, and people view being an aging single as shameful. When my single friends age, they don’t want to talk about it; they pretend it’s not happening. They have so much to live for, they’re in their prime. But there’s so much shame because of the expectations and standards that have been created in the community.”
Grodko wants shadchanim to appreciate the vulnerability of those they are helping and to encourage rather than pressure them, while recognizing that they are shlichim and are only in control of how they treat single community members – not the outcome of their shidduchim.
“It’s really important for us as a community to be able to differentiate between the crisis of process and the crisis of experience,” Cohen maintains. “Often community leaders will acknowledge the difficulty of being single and feeling isolated and try to help single men and women by creating a WhatsApp group, for example, and sharing people’s profiles publicly. That’s trying to solve the crisis of experience via the crisis of process, which only exacerbates the former.”
The goal of both the study and the panel, says Cohen, is for the broader community to understand why it’s important to shift the way it relates to single men and women, and to learn how to do so practically, using the large-scale guidelines offered by the single community members themselves.
She notes that people often think the only way they can make a dent in the world of shidduchim is to set people up.
“It doesn’t start there,” she says. “I believe the first achrayus of every single member of our Orthodox community is to welcome single men and women and to relate to them with basic etiquette and menschlechkeit. I would love it if everyone watching the panel gained an understanding of the crisis of process versus the crisis of experience, and realized the huge impact they can have on the shidduch crisis by doing small things, starting today.”
For her part, Grodko feels that the term “shidduch crisis” only contributes to negative communal attitudes and treatment of single men and women.
“Crisis means something is out of control,” she says. “Hashem is in control of every single thing that transpires. If you view it in this perspective, as a parent, you’ll treat your child differently, and as a matchmaker, you’ll act differently. That message is so profoundly important, because it removes so much of the fear and negativity attached to those of us who are not yet married.”
Grodko’s goal as a panelist is to sensitize audiences to the undue pain and anguish they may inadvertently be causing single men and women, and to encourage them to be more inclusive, sensitive and supportive. She also aspires to empower fellow single community members to live their best lives rather than be deterred by the fact that they are not yet married.
Grodko is both touched and incredibly grateful to the OU for kickstarting this communal conversation via the upcoming traveling panels.
“The fact that the OU is taking action and investing so much time in creating change reflects how authentic the organization is to its mission,” she says. “I’m incredibly emotional and humbled because it’s very easy to talk about a trending idea, to write an article, or to give a speech. It would be easy to just publish the findings of the CCR study and move on. But the OU is doing whatever it can creatively think of to make the issues stand out. I think it’s an incredible start and am thrilled that the OU is using its voice to work towards change.”
The traveling panel will present at the Boca Raton Synagogue, joined by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, on September 11, 2023 at 8 p.m.; at Ner Tamid in Baltimore joined by Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim (SOTC) on September 13, 2023 at 8.p.m.; and live-streamed from the OU’s headquarters in Manhattan, joined by NCSY Education Director and 18Forty media company founder Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin on Tzom Gedaliah, September 18, 2023 at 3:30 pm. To join the event, visit https://www.ou.org/roundtable/
To read the CCR study, “The Challenges of Singlehood Among American Orthodox Jews”, visit https://research.ou.org/shidduch/.