By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, put an open call out to members of the Orthodox Jewish community to share their thoughts and feelings about the shidduch crisis and being single. She could not have anticipated the outpouring of responses she received. Hundreds of stories of people being discriminated against, unhealthy stigmas and ill behavior flooded her mailbox.
In other words, what Weiss-Greenberg found is that many singles feel isolated from and stigmatized by the Jewish community.
In an email to eJewish Philanthropy, Weiss-Greenberg shared examples of prejudice and racism, such as Jews of color only being set up with Jews of color and individuals from the Former Soviet Union being paired with matches solely based on geography.
Similarly, she said older respondents and those widowed and divorced said they received second-class treatment by matchmakers and felt stigmatized by the community.
After Bracha Bennett-Garland was divorced, she met with several matchmakers and found they had “a very negative attitude toward divorced women.” Her first match was a 47-year-old man; she was 31 at the time. When Garland complained, the matchmaker told her, “That is the age range we have for people in your situation.”
Garland, who lives in Israel and is now remarried, said she believes the community fails to consider divorced women as eligible matches because “women carry the stigma of divorce. People ask, ‘What’s wrong with her?’”
Further, singles in general say they feel ill-judged by their communities simply for not being married.
“I find the term ‘singles’ offensive when I am referred to as only my romantic relationship status,” wrote one woman to Weiss-Greenberg. Another writer said that idealizing marriage teaches those without partners that they are failures if they don’t end up exactly the way most other people do.
At one singles shabbaton, a rabbi gave a commentary on the Torah in which he compared being single to going through the Holocaust, according to a respondent.
Singles further bemoaned that young married girls are given more responsibility and respect based on their marriage than older and possibly more successful women. Others noted how much they hated to go home for holidays because they would be seated at the kids table or taken advantage of to watch the nieces and nephews while their married siblings went out.
And, of course, there are those who blame the women singles for their marital, saying these women are not trying hard enough, not religious enough (or too religious), not pretty enough, are too fat or too picky.
The reality, however, is simple math.
According to 2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million such men.
“Relatively few Orthodox Jews realize that the shidduch crisis boils down to a math problem,” said Weiss-Greenberg.
That does not mean the community is not without responsibility.
“Our communities need to take more ownership of the state of affairs,” said Ellen Kamaras, a matchmaker and certified relationship coach. She said members of the community should be on constant lookout for potential matches, fulfilling the mitzvah of, “Every Jew being responsible for one another.”
Kamaras, who herself has made four matches – two as a matchmaker for SawYouAtSinai – began dating at age 20, but was only married at 28 – considered late in the Orthodox community. She said she received constant pressure from family and friends to find her beshert, was labeled picky, and was told her biological clock was ticking.
Kamaras said she has seen firsthand at her own shul how members rarely approach those they know need matches for their sons and daughters with suggestions or who are even willing to engage in dialogue on the subject.
“It is very important to network,” said Kamaras, encouraging rabbis and rebbetzins to get more involved, too.
Hannah Heller of Baltimore, who was widowed and never remarried, shared similar observations.
She recommended that synagogues and other community organizations create more kosher and non-threatening events at which young couples could meet.
“The continuous separation of genders for every activity eliminates the possibility of couples meeting each other in the natural course of events,” said Heller.
She, like Kamaras, said married couples should be supportive.
“Invite them for Shabbat meals,” said Heller. “Also, think of them when planning a family outing and give them the opportunity to join you. They can help out with young children and become mentors to them while taking in a fun experience with the adults as well.”
Many singles noted that a disproportionate amount of community funding is spent on families with children and that singles need support, too.
“Philanthropists can get involved by providing funding to help those of limited means,” said Heller. “If basic needs are met, singles will have more time and resources to go out and meet one another … [greater] ability to attend social events, dress nicely and build a Jewish home.”
“People who are single are people,” added Weiss-Greenberg. “They should be identified for the good they do in this world.”