By: Jeffrey Zaslow

Across America each week, crowds of Jewish singles gather together to celebrate Shabbat, or to rally together for a good cause, or to hear a speaker explain what it means to be Jewish. At each well-intentioned gathering, the ritual is repeated.

The singles eye each other, and many of them come to similar conclusions: This guy's too bald. That one's too pompous. She's too Jewish. He's not Jewish enough. She's fat. That one's a nerd. They're all nerds. Flaws and more flaws, all obvious and insurmountable.

As a newspaper advice columnist, I often give speeches to Jewish singles groups. I come on after they've mixed, mingled, and realized that they've dated half the people in the room. As for the other half, well, it sure is a sorry group of eligible Jews in this town!

I could stand up there and tell them to look beyond the flaws, to link arms in perfect harmony and pair off to the chuppa. I could spend the night sharing success stories of couples who met at Jewish singles functions and lived happily ever after. But I try to be more realistic.

Being single and Jewish in the '90s can be a formidable challenge. There are more Jewish singles than ever, according to the Council of Jewish Federations' most recent population survey. The reasons: divorce, of course, and the fact that more Jews, especially women, are getting an education, becoming professionals, and postponing marriage. Also, more homosexuals are staying single rather than marrying straight people as a front.

A generation ago, just 4 percent of American Jews hadn't married at least once by age 45. Today almost three times as many Jews (11 percent) haven't married by 45.

In the United States, Judaism has a higher percentage of singles than Christian faiths have. About 961,000 (22.5 percent) adult American Jews have never been married. Another 326,000 (7.5 percent) are divorced, and about 300,000 (7 percent) are widowed. The good news, demographers say is that 89 percent of Jewish singles eventually marry. The bad news: More than half of them marry non-Jews.

I don't have all the answers for Jewish singles, but I do have tips and tales that might be helpful. Actually, I really admire the folks who go to Jewish singles functions. They're proactive. They've gotten out of the house, which is the most vital step to success for someone looking for a relationship. They know that if they're home on the couch, moaning about their inability to meet someone, the only person they'll meet is the non-Jewish pizza delivery guy.

You can leave your house 899 times - go out alone and come home alone-but on your 900th attempt, you might just meet Mr. or Ms. Right. That's how it happens. Then all you've got to do is wrestle that person to the ground, slap on handcuffs, and take him or her home with you.

Jewish advice columnists like me have been around for a long time. The Yiddish daily Forward began its famous advice column, called "A Bintele Brief" (A Bundle of Letters), in 1906. In one early letter a young immigrant was beside himself. "Worthy editor," he wrote, "I recently met a wonderful girl. She has a flaw, however: a dimple in her chin. I'm told that people who have such a dimple quickly lose their spouses. I love her very much, but I'm afraid to marry her, lest I die because of the dimple."

The Forward's reply: "The tragedy is not that the girl has a dimple, but that some people have a screw loose in their heads."

Later, in other papers, Ann Landers, who is Jewish, continued the Forward's tradition of pithy responses to singles. She advised Jewish singles to seek out other Jews, and she practiced what she preached. Her first date with Jules Lederer, the man who became her husband, was at a Hadassah dance. When she brought him home to meet her family, her father wanted to make sure Jules was Jewish. "Say something in Yiddish," her dad said. Jules replied, "I vanna go for a valk." Her father was satisfied. She married him.

As the person who replaced Ann Landers at the Chicago Sun Times nine years ago, I also like to invite single readers to share what they've learned.

A recent classic of the genre is a small book called The Rules-Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (Warner Books, 1995), by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. Having read their rules I've come up with a few parallels that might be of particular use to "our crowd."

From The Rules: Stop dating him if he doesn't buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine's Day.

My Jewish rule: Stop dating if your partner can't join you for at least one Seder, one day of Rosh Hashanah, or one day of Hanukkah. There are reasons why Jewish holidays last more than a day.

From The Rules: Don't accept a date for Saturday night after Wednesday.

My Jewish rule: Don't accept a Saturday night date before sundown. And don't start dating anyone during Passover, because people never look their best when eating matzah.

Here are some more of my own "rules"-some light, some weighty, some both.

Don't date non-Jews. This is the most important rule of all, at least if what you want for yourself is a Jewish life and family. The time you spend courting non-Jews can be better spent looking for the Jew with whom you might build a future.

Don't stereotype. When it comes to complaining about Jews, Jews are often the worst offenders. By writing off huge numbers of your fellow Jews, you're just giving yourself excuses for not making a greater effort to date within the faith.

Involve yourself in Jewish activities. The obvious way to meet Jews is to hang out with other Jews. Join a synagogue, a Jewish community center, or your local Federation. If you do volunteer work, focus on Jewish causes.

Make the rest of your life as Jewish as possible. Any area of life that has a Jewish flavor increases the chances you'll meet someone else who's Jewish. For example, if you join a health club, don't join the local Vic Tanny; join your local JCC health club.

Be willing to look out of town. If you believe you either know or have dated every eligible Jew in your town, try another city.

Long-distance relationships can work. When I met my wife, I was working in Chicago, and she was in Detroit. People would ask, "How far is Chicago from Detroit" I'd answer, "$83, round trip."

If you're older and single, organize events for people your age. Older, widowed, or divorced singles are often ignored by the community, so you've got to take charge yourself. It's not really hard to plan a Shabbat or a lecture for singles. A little free publicity in your local Jewish newspaper might be all you need to get your program off the ground.

Let people know that you're Jewish. Be proud. If you're at a secular event and want people to know you're Jewish, wear a Star of David or a chai. Case in point: Every year I host a singles bash in Chicago to which some 6,000 readers show up. The smart Jewish attendees find subtle ways to make themselves known.

Try the personals. Read them in your local Jewish newspaper and take a chance, or write a creative ad and see what happens; ads are not just for losers. When writing an ad of your own, don't be afraid to pitch yourself in the best light possible, but at the same time be sure you can believe your own ad.

When responding to someone else's ad in a small community, you might find yourself answering an ad from someone you've already dated. As bad, you might end up on a plain bum date. A solution: Make the first date for lunch only.

Enjoy your Singlehood. A part of you may envy couples; on the other hand, a part of them may envy you.

I once asked the comedian Henny Youngman how he stayed married for 58 years. "Twice a week my wife and I go out to a lovely restaurant," he said. "A little wine. A little candlelight."

He paused. "She'd go Tuesdays. I'd go Fridays."

Rent Crossing Delancy. It's the ultimate film for Jewish singles warm, funny, inspiring. It'll give you hope that your Pickle Man is out there somewhere too.

Let matchmakers ply their, trade whoever they are.

Parents, friends, parents' friends ... anyone. Matchmaking was always part of Jewish culture, and with good reason: It often works.

Don't be afraid of rejection. Rejection is part of living-and certainly of loving. Rather than retreat, let rejection motivate you to move on.

In college, I once dated a beautiful young woman who, after we had gotten together a few times, announced that she was interested in three guys on campus. I was crestfallen. "Three guys?" I asked. "Gosh, who are the other two?"

She looked straight at me and said, "The other three."

And that was that. I dusted myself off and moved on.

Be positive. Go on each date with a sense of promise, not pessimism.

Lend fate a hand. A reader wrote to me saying he planned to let God find his dream wife for him. My response? You can sit on your couch waiting for God to deliver someone to you, but unless that someone is a mail carrier, it's unlikely he or she will appear on your doorstep.

Do what interests you. Yes, you want to get out and do things that allow you to meet people, but don't take a course on Masada or the pyramids if you're not interested in archaeology.

The nice thing about being single is knowing that at any moment the person of your dreams could appear. The bad thing is that there may be spills along the way.

In the end, my best advice is simply this: Lighten up. Act as though you're playing yourself in a movie of your life-a sort of combination comedy-drama-adventure-horror flick.

Think of yourself as the star. Sooner or later, for someone you have yet to meet, you very well may be.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin and his wife, Z'hava, at their engagement!

What do you think? Please feel free to share your views
with us and contact us.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Director of J.P.I.

Jewish Professionals Institute,
1638 East 21st Street,
Brooklyn, NY 11210-5038
Tel: 718-382-8058; Fax: 718-382-3508

rudomin @ jpi.org

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