Wedding bell blues

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new york | David Smith believes Orthodox Jewry is facing a crisis, and that a communal day of fasting and prayer, like those held occasionally about violence in Israel, is needed to address it.

The crisis: Smith, and thousands of other Orthodox Jews, still are not married.

“Why don’t they have a fast for people who are single, to say tehillim or something?” Smith said, referring to psalms.

“The first mitzvah in Beresheet is ‘pru u’rvu,'” he said, specifying the commandment in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.”

“No one helps,” Smith continued.

“Among the singles themselves, there’s no direction of what to do. Something has to be done.”

Smith, 50, was one of 300 singles, parents and community professionals to turn out for the third annual Shidduch Emergency Conference, held recently in New York.

Organized by the National Council of Young Israel, the conference addressed what many community members say is a growing problem. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Orthodox Jews are marrying later in life than did their parents, alarming many in a community that is preoccupied with family and Jewish continuity.

Sociologists say single Jews are less likely to be active in Jewish communal life than family members, and community leaders are worried that a later marrying age will translate into fewer children.

At stake, some say, is nothing less than the perpetuation of Orthodox Jewry.

“It’s a huge problem all around the country,” said Harvey Blitz, president of the Orthodox Union.

“The family is really the center of existence in the Orthodox Jewish community. So people are obviously very pressured to get married, and the intensity of the pressure only increases when you get older.”

For singles, the inability to find a mate can trigger depression, cause stress in relationships with parents and significant others, and alienate them from the community.

The recent conference in New York, which aimed to tackle that problem, was part-networking event, part-symposium and part-workshop. Matchmakers were on hand to interview prospective mates, psychologists were there to talk about overcoming fears of commitment and rabbis instructed attendees about what to look for in a husband or wife.

The organizers could not have chosen a more appropriate location than the Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Filled with young Orthodox Jews, the Upper West Side has become something of a singles mecca, drawing thousands of young Jews from as far away as Europe and Israel, all seeking mates.

Some say that’s just the problem.

Nearly everybody at the conference seemed to agree that Orthodox Jews, like Jews and Americans generally, are marrying later in life. But opinions differed on why Orthodox Jews were staying single longer, and what could be done about it.

“Maybe they think there’s somebody better around the corner,” said Bonnie Keller, a mother who came to the conference to help others in her community meet mates or find mates for their children.

“And if they’re older, maybe they say: ‘I’ve been around for such a long time, should I really settle for this?'”