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YU aims to help singles connect

 
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Singles in search of a mate should take advantage of multiple avenues and media, advises Efrat Sobolofsky, who spearheads a social networking group for Jewish singles.

“You can sign up on several Websites, go to a variety of singles events, and try more than one matchmaker,” said the rebbetzin. (Her husband, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, is rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and religious leader of Cong. Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield.) “One never knows where you will meet someone.”

Sobolofsky, who holds a doctorate in social work, is the director of YUConnects, a Center for the Jewish Future initiative devoted to creating matchmaking opportunities for Orthodox Jewish singles.

The group aims to help YU singles and alumni meet through its Website and events such as barbecues, bowling, chesed projects, and lectures.

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Game-playing is a way to break the ice at a YUConnects event.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said the program is creating healthy social interactions and appropriate places where young men and women can meet. “When we send 1,000 students a year on chesed and service-learning programs, while its goal is to enable them to actualize their capacity as change agents within the world, often such like-minded students find their soul-mates on these programs,” he said.

Brander added that YUConnects has succeeded in helping to launch a network around the world of informal “connectors,” trained volunteers who function like matchmakers, “and changing the paradigm of how dating happens.”

Brander said he hopes the program will eventually help arm singles with the tools for creating stronger relationships. “We want to set a new prototype for how people should date,” he said. “Dating shouldn’t come with a forensic checklist. People are not hiring a spouse, they are looking for a soul-mate. What is wrong if someone you trust suggests going out with a young lady or young man to just try it? This is not like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or picking music for your iPod; people cannot be customized. I can understand the need to be on the same page, but too often, people are looking to be on the same line.”

As for whether the initiative reinforces negative stereotypes about YU students being overly concerned with dating, Brander said YUConnects offers relief from dating pressure. “It leaves them free to focus on their academics, and when they are ready, they know they can turn to YUConnects,” he said.

The program was launched after Sobolofsky and other communal leaders approached YU President Richard Joel several years ago suggesting that the university help generate more healthy opportunities for young men and women to meet.

YUConnects filled an important need, said Sobolofsky. “As people leave structured environments or places where they can meet other suitable people, it’s essential to help them network with other Jewish singles,” she pointed out.

The YUConnects Website is powered by SawYouAtSinai (SYAS), the Jewish matchmaking online service. To protect participants’ confidentiality, members are not permitted to surf through all the profiles. Instead, members select their connectors to conduct searches and propose matches for them, which follows the model of SYAS, said Sobolofsky.

Many of the connectors attend YUConnects events and become acquainted with participants so they can comfortably introduce them to the most appropriate participants. Connectors also helps people at events sort through the information and meet others who share common values, she said.

But the program doesn’t stop there: It also offers workshops on dating and relationship-building, and can even refer individuals or couples to relationship-building specialists, she said.

In the past three years since the inception of YUConnects, 42 couples have become engaged through the program, she said.

One success story was Yeshiva College’s own student council president, Shloimie Zeffren, a business major, who credits YUConnects in part for his recent engagement. “One of the connectors at YUConnects was very helpful in making it happen,” he said, declining to divulge more details. He added that he’s not the only one who has enjoyed the fruits of YUConnect’s labors. One of his friends also is getting married to someone he met through the organization.

The events are not for everyone. Some students appreciate the opportunity to meet others and consider it a part of their educational experience, others may not be comfortable attending co-ed events, and others may not be ready to date altogether during college, Sobolofsky said.

The YUConnects model is ideal, she continued, because it meets the needs of a broad range of groups within the YU community. “If people want to go out and meet people, we have events to help people meet,” she said. But if students are too busy studying to attend events, or if a young man is busy learning in the beis medrash or a young woman doesn’t feel comfortable putting herself out there, they can be set up through the Website, she said.

Despite all the successes, challenges remain. Among them, said Sobolofsky, is that a stigma is associated with what are considered “singles events.” The other obstacle is the male-female ratio. Of the nearly 900 members in YUConnects, the majority are women.

Sobolofsky notes that such statistics are common among many dating venues because of a hesitation among men to participate. “We’re working on changing that,” she said.

“As the program and the multiple venues demonstrate success, the numbers of participants has been increasing. Success breeds success.”

 
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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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