For Jews, tonight marks the beginning of the High Holidays — Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — a time of year filled with joy, penitence, introspection, holiness, and … looking around.
You know — looking around at temple, seeing who's there, who's still single, who lost 20 pounds and is suddenly, shockingly cute. Looking in the direction grandma is pointing. Grandma, please. Looking at who's looking back.
God bless her, she's got a point. For Jewish singles, the High Holidays bring high hopes, perhaps because they also bring together so many eligible prospects.
"I could see — I don't want to call it ‘stalking,' but flirting rituals going on," a rabbi who conducted High Holiday services in New York for 30 years, Larry Raphael, said. From his pulpit at Hebrew Union College's community services, he witnessed the first flowerings of about 10 marriages for which he was later asked to officiate. "It certainly made me pleased."
Even Jews who rarely go to synagogue tend to show up on the High Holidays, the way Christians show up in church at Easter.
"It's like a reunion," the host of OnDating.tv, Andrea Syrtash, said. As hers is a dating advice show, the Manhattanite added, "Take advantage of it."
My best friend, Gigi Cohen, dutifully attended High Holiday services with her family every year, and every year she noticed the cute, tall, blond guy also there with his parents and siblings. "I thought he was lovely and his family was lovely — they would hug and kiss," she said. "And then one year, I saw him with a baby on his shoulder and I thought he was taken."
It wasn't until she saw him again a few years later at a Jewish singles dance that they finally talked. She asked him about his baby. "That's my nephew," he replied. Now they're married with three girls.
The founder of JRetroMatch.com, Marc Goldmann, said he talks with people who run other Jewish dating sites and "this is a very heavy time of the year, either for reacting to the other profiles, or for signing up." That's because it's the new year — always a time of resolution — combined with a time of intense meddling.
In his 20s and even his 30s, publicist Peter Shankman returned to the Staten Island synagogue of his youth, only to face what he calls the "Yente Mafia" — all his mother's friends who had watched him grow up.
"Last year I was training for the marathon, so I had sworn off all dating," Mr. Shankman recalled. "I was in great shape, I'd just had a book published, I was running a couple of companies. None of that mattered. The yentas said, 'Look at how successful you are! Why are you single? Are you too picky?'"
He left temple, deflated.
JRetroMatch.com's Mr. Goldmann said singles sometimes need to try a different venue. "There are services that actually cater to singles," he said, citing one being held at the Puck Building tonight, sponsored by Manhattan Jewish Experience and followed by cocktails. (To find more, go to nyblueprint.com.)
Naturally, there is the distinct possibility that singles who already met online will meet again on the holidays. "I had that last year with a friend of mine," Ms. Syrtash said. "She said, ‘Oh my god, that guy's contacted me like a million times! He can't see me because I can't be rude on the holiday!'" So she ducked.
In the spirit of the holiday, let us hope that the duckee somehow found someone else. Mr. Shankman finally did, on JDate, and now — at 35 — he is psyched to return to his parents' temple.
As his girlfriend was modeling dresses the other night, wondering which she should wear to services, Mr. Shankman pointed to the prettiest one.
"You look totally hot in it," he said. "And it goes with the sign that says, ‘Here she is! With me! Everyone now please shut up.'"