Single Jewish chick seeking same finds it — at S.F. shul

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When I first moved to San Francisco, a close friend offered me some advice on how to meet Jewish women.

"Go to the gay-friendly synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," she imparted. "It's a total cruise zone."

Um…what?!? I was a little lost on how that worked: Do you ask the hot butch three aisles over for her phone number, and then atone, or vice versa? Something about going to shul with the added agenda of hooking up seemed problematic to me, and how a Jew would fail to feel guilty about that — while impressive — just escapes me.

But what if your congregation purposefully orchestrated an occasion — beyond yenta-like introductions at oneg Shabbat and certainly not in conjunction with the High Holy Days — to facilitate same-sex matches? Now that would be something.

And it was.

"100 Dates in One Night," billed as "an express way" to meet other GLBT singles used a concept similar to that of SpeedDating — the trademarked latest rage in the straight Jewish singles circuit — adapted for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Jews for an evening of round-robin dating.

Basically, I mingled with some 50 Jewish women, went on a six-minute "date" with 10 of them, and (innocently) rode the J-Church home with one over the course of three hours on a Saturday night in late February. I'd say "express" is a good way to put it.

I know what you're thinking, another "only in San Francisco" occurrence. It's a cliché I'm not fond of, but I will say this — and endearingly so — only at Sha'ar Zahav.

A yasher koach to the progressive Reform congregation for recognizing that the existing Jewish singles scene is not accessible to the queer community. Primarily, dating services and events are offered for a specific reason: to reduce the casualties of intermarriage in the Jewish community. Since gays and lesbians are excluded from legally tying the knot, small wonder few institutions bother to help us find our beshert.

But indisputably, the demand is high. An organizer told me that in the four days prior to the event, they had to turn away 50 people daily — twice the number of participants they could actually accommodate.

So there was a lot riding on "100 Dates in One Night," presumably the first queer dating service of its kind, and Sha'ar Zahav knew it had to deliver.

At the start, the lobby overflowed with sharply dressed, anxious members of the tribe spanning several generations and slightly confused about what would transpire over the course of the evening. After checking in at one of two tables, marked "boys" and "girls," I was given a nametag, handed a packet with strict instructions not to open it and directed to the women's floor. (My assumption is that bisexual and transgendered folks who signed up would have to be in the market for meeting someone of the same gender for the night.)

That's when it hit me: How was I to get around the fact that I was TJ, the journalist on assignment, and TJ, the available lesbian? Oy. Disclosure was imperative, but I crossed my fingers that my dual status would not work against me, in either regard.

Upstairs, one of the volunteers — there were a gazillion of them by my estimate — greeted me and explained the icebreaker game, "Havera (Friend) Bingo." First, I had to answer a sheet of 25 questions, ranging from my favorites — movie, Yiddish word, "Wizard of Oz" character — to the less innocuous "Are you introverted, extroverted or just plain perverted?" To fill in a square on my bingo board, I had to identify those who answered identically by striking up mini-conversations.

Instead I took a quick detour to get some nosh and a glass of wine.

That's when Lisa approached me. Completely ignoring what my zodiac sign was or which Jewish food was least tempting to my palate, she wanted to know if that had been me pacing at the Muni stop on Church and 24th streets, checking my watch, only five minutes before the event was to begin?

I blushed. I had been relieved that "Are you courteously on-time or perpetually running late?" did not appear on the questionnaire. No matter though, as Lisa and I compared our Noe Valley addresses, laughing that neither one of us particularly fit the stereotypical demographic.

Then she offered me her card. Wait, that's against the rules, I thought, apparently out loud.

"The rules? Who cares about the rules?" Lisa asked, immediately winning more than geographical proximity points with me.

It is important to note that in the lesbian community, it's difficult to decipher between what is chemistry and what is platonic. Despite this, I knew that she knew and she knew that I knew that our connection was the latter.

Then she explained why she had registered for the event: Most of her friends were a) in couples or b) in couples having babies. Lisa wanted to meet Jewish women for socializing who had not yet found their way to the "lifecycles" section of the Bulletin.

And that's the cool thing about the emerging GLBT Jewish "meat" market — it's not.

Soon enough, Lisa and I found Betsy, an irreverent, raucous woman who also lived in our neighborhood and immediately took to calling me "Teej," a nickname usually reserved for my closest friends.

And then I met several women who looked at me with a mixture of scorn and suspicion after they asked, "What did you put for 'Where is the best place to meet girls?'" and I replied, "A bar." Evidently, this was the one question for which there was only one right answer: at synagogue.

Uh-oh. The punishment for my faux pas? A crucial square on my board would remain blank.

Of course, the game was structured not so much to get five matches in a row and shout "bingo," but more so to loosen up and shmooze with others who may not have wound up in your respective cluster of dates. Sha'ar Zahav's high-energy Rabbi Camille Angel also eased the edge, by offering us some spiritual words and praise for our courageousness.

I think it was a combination of that, plus the wine.

Anticipation for the round-robin-style date session was soaring as Caryn Aviv introduced herself as "The Facilitator" of the women's group; I silently crowned her "Diva of Dyke Dating," as the event itself was conceived by her. Then she delivered the do's and don'ts. For obvious reasons, there were a couple of off-limit questions, namely, how much money do you make and are you a top or bottom?

We opened our packets and pulled out our "dance card" — a sheet with 10 slots for your dates' names and notes. And a checkbox, yes or no, if you wanted to get in contact with her again. If, and only if, you both indicated interest, Sha'ar Zahav would swap your phone numbers and e-mail addresses a few days later. The card also had a space for additional people's names, i.e., someone you met during the icebreaker, perhaps a cute organizer.

We broke off into three groups, presumably by requested age range and the careful efforts of Caryn et al. to keep the inevitable ex-lovers away from one another. Within each of those groups, we formed an inner and outer circle with our chairs. The inside ring would stay put, outside would rotate. And no getting up to use the bathroom.

One by one, I informed each of my dates I was a writer. One by one, most of them informed me I was not to use their names.

We were supplied with a list of suggested questions, but I failed to see how a superb answer to "What three people would you invite to a dinner party?" would somehow, magically, ignite flames if you were absolutely not attracted to someone. Conversely, when a few minutes is all you've got, there's little wrong a Gina Gershon-as-Corky-in-"Bound" look-alike could say to sour the situation, minus extremes like, "I'm a redneck and I shoot heroin."

When you're unsure if you're physically drawn to a date, that's when what they say — or what they do not say — counts the most. But after the first couple of rounds, your throat becomes dry, your tongue gets tied. Midway, I definitely began committing the sin of recycled one-liners. If someone was semi-attracted to me — say, date No. 7 — I'm sure I sounded so ridiculous by that time I couldn't tip the scale in my favor.

Shifting one seat over like Pavlov's dog every time the "bell" sounded — a few clanky bars of "Sunrise, Sunset" or "Shalom Aleichem" in a Fisher-Price xylophone-drum duet by Caryn and a volunteer — I exchanged details with whatever woman faced me, primarily about our careers. (Which, by the way, happens to be a no-no subject in the heterosexual counterpart, SpeedDating. Ha-ha.)

My final date, for whatever logistical reason, wound up being a "three-way" with Reba, a therapist, and Mariana, the first first-generation Argentine-Polish, Spanish-Yiddish-speaking dyke I've ever met.

And then it was over. No worrying about good-night kisses or awkward silences. Around me, everyone looked exhausted, but the mood was high. A few were disappointed, but far more were thrilled. Life in the fast lane was a little overwhelming for me; all I could think about was a glass of water and running to the restroom.

And locating my new buddies Lisa and Betsy to get their take on what had just gone down.

We drew one conclusion based on an unscientific survey: There are a disproportionate number of Jewish lesbian therapists and teachers.

With permission, I took a peek at Betsy's dance card. In the note section following each person's name, she had jotted either "San Francisco" or "East Bay" — apparently the lone determinate of who would get her digits. An anti-shlepper. We were definitely going to become friends.

Lisa, meanwhile, was making arrangements with another woman to grab a bite to eat. Hmmm.

Riding the J-line back to Noe Valley, Betsy and I, sans Lisa, gossiped as if we had been friends since high school. What was the deal with Lisa and that woman? The burning lesbian question: Was it platonic, or chemistry? And didn't Lisa say she wasn't looking for love?

TJ the writer decided they must have spotted each other during High Holy Day services and never had an opportunity to do anything about it until now.

TJ the available lesbian got a call a few days later from Sha'ar Zahav, to give me the phone number of a certain cute femme.

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