Venture into speed dating from your computer screen

It had to happen: The latest craze among Jewish singles, speed dating, has hit the Internet.

Now you, too, can race through seven meetings with potential mates in one hour without leaving your keyboard, thanks to Aish HaTorah's brand new site devoted to on-the-fly romance.

First, some background. Speed dating, now available in a number of cities, including the Bay Area, brings Jewish singles looking to meet members of the opposite sex together for a kind of romantic buffet. Participants meet with a number of potential mates in a short period of time; if any of the connections click, they can move on to real dates.

Aish HaTorah, the pioneer of the concept, has now brought it to the World Wide Web. It works like this.

First, you have to register, which involves answering a lot of questions about who you are and what you like. Oh yes, it also involves money; you didn't think this service was free, did you? Membership is $60 for a year, $40 for 6 months or $5 for a one-time trial. But for now, at least, the site is offering free three-month trial memberships.

At a designated time, registered participants can log on to the Web site. Once a session begins, a fancy computer program sorts through 30 variables based on your registration information, and then picks a bunch of potential mates it thinks might be right for you.

Then, you go into private chat rooms for brief one-on-ones with your potential partners. When you enter the room, you'll see a photo and a profile of your chat buddy.

But don't get too chatty; you only have seven minutes before you move on to the next lucky customer.

"Couples are encouraged to talk about meaningful topics such as life goals and values," according to the Aish folks.

Yeah, right: in seven minutes?

If you hit it off, you check a box that gives Aish permission to give your chat partner your e-mail address. Then, you're on your own. "is open to Jews of all ages and affiliations," the Orthodox outreach group says.

The site also provides a database of participants and special features on love and relationships. Does it work? The online version of SpeedDating is just starting up, so the jury is still out. Be sure to check it out soon, though, as "National SpeedDating Week," Feb. 11-18 has special events not to miss.

And Aish has gone all-out with this service; the SpeedDating home page is attractive and a model of matchmaking efficiency. The one-minute "flash demo" offers a good demonstration of how the service works. Check it out at

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There are dozens of Jewish singles sites on the Web, and generally they follow certain conventions. There are pithy, vague descriptions of the seekers, cute pictures and a lot of rah-rah stuff about how much fun it is to be single., which has been revamping its site, is no exception. The "new and improved" Web page should be up and running at press time. There's absolutely nothing unique about this site, but it does its primary job with efficiency and not too much artificial perkiness.

The current home page is attractive and easy to navigate. Go to the search box and tell it your heart's desire — gender, age, area of the country. Then scroll through the "hits," each with a little picture and a sparse paragraph of personal information. One note, the site accommodates heterosexual singles only.

Each user has a screen name; some are cute, some a little pathetic.

Click on a picture to get…well, another version of the same picture. Click on that picture (don't ask why) to get a little more information, including data on marital status, location, level of religious observance, "smoking habits" and so on.

There's a place near the bottom for advertisers to write the usual "loves ocean walks, fine dining and spirituality" personal profiles.

You can browse the ads or post one of your own for free, but to contact an advertiser — the point of the whole exercise, in case you missed it — you have to pay a membership fee.

The basic cost, which has been $14.95 per month or $34.95 for three months, is in line with other Jewish singles services. You can also pay as you go with "tokens," which means you'll only be charged for the e-mails you send.

The site also offers chat rooms for members, but mostly it's a no-frills place;, at least in its previous version, lacks some of the features of other singles sites, but it's straightforward, easy to use and seems to have a substantial database of eligibles.

Check it out at

The writer is a Washington-based correspondent who has been writing about Jewish Web sites since the early 1990s. His columns alternate with those of Mark Mietkiewicz. Besser can be reached at [email protected]