Registry of deaf Jewish singles attracts worldwide clientele

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"People fly in for our events simply because there are limited opportunities for deaf Jewish singles to meet each other," said Landau, who is deaf and has made 14 matches in the past few years.

In the past decade, the white-haired, 5-foot-6-inch shadchan (Yiddish for matchmaker) has earned an international reputation for finding elusive soulmates. "I even started getting e-mails from Australia," he said.

Said a deaf man in his early 20s: "Shmuel takes a personal interest in people. For him, setting people up is a labor of love."

The Orthodox Union created the registry in response to the rising numbers of intermarriages within the Jewish deaf community. The registry, which is part of the O.U. National Jewish Council for the Disabled Our Way program, claims to be the only matchmaking service catering specifically to the Jewish deaf.

Deaf people seeking Jewish partners have a particularly difficult time.

"Ninety-five percent of deaf people marry deaf people, but there are only about 10,000 Jewish deaf people in the world. It is a very limited population," said Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, the director and founder of Our Way.

"The Jewish deaf person is constantly confronted with the question, `Am I Jewish or deaf first?'" he said. "Many choose the latter."

Lederfeind, who is not deaf, is the son of deaf parents and the father of two deaf children. "For a deaf man to travel to England or Israel for a date is not uncommon. The pool of eligible people is very small. I know a number of religious deaf men and women who have dated only two or three times in their lives."

Deafness is also one of the most isolating handicaps, according to Landau. "Because deaf people tend to have their own deaf culture — replete with their own social clubs, athletic leagues, television programs, university, publications, international Olympics and of course, language — many deaf people are plagued by a hazy Jewish identity and a strong deaf identity," he said.

The registry, which is published three to four times a year and sent to deaf Jews all over the world, contains nearly 100 descriptions of deaf men and women from ages 20 to 65, spanning the Jewish ideological spectrum.

For $10 a year, subscribers receive an anonymous ID number and prepare a description — in 65 words or less — of their appearance, background, favorite hobbies, religious level, qualities sought in a mate and communication style. All correspondence is then forwarded to the appropriate admirers through the O.U. offices.

Open to the never-married, the divorced and the widowed, the registry maintains one requirement for applicants: You must be Jewish according to Orthodox law. Halachic questions regarding a person's Jewishness are resolved by an O.U. rabbinic team. And, when the situation arises, the organization works with other Jewish organizations to help people obtain a Jewish divorce.

"We combat intermarriage not by preaching to young people to marry Jewish but by helping them to marry Jewish," said Landau. "The most important thing is that we show people that we care; we are working to give them opportunities."

The work seems to pay off. The most recent success is Joe Suissa from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Shoshana Sabbagh from Haifa, Israel. The couple corresponded for nearly a year before meeting. They recently married in Israel.

One of Landau's favorite stories involves a couple who were once introduced but felt "they were not for each other." Soon afterward, they unintentionally began corresponding through the registry. A few months later, the woman, who was from Dublin, Ireland, met the suitor from Brooklyn.

"It was only then that they realized that they knew each other," said Lederfeind. "But by then it was too late." The happy couple live in Queens, N.Y.

The registry also publishes a periodic newsletter with articles of interest to the deaf single community. And it sponsors events such as rafting trips, hiking, roller skating in New York's Central Park and barbecues. The events are held in the New York-New Jersey area three or four times a year and attract dozens of men and women of all ages and all Jewish affiliations from around the globe.