Flirt, network and party

It’s 9:45 on a Friday night at Suede, an elegant small club on the north end of Bay Street in San Francisco. Thirtysomethings, flirting with drunkenness, dance to R&B. The more sober, seated around the dance floor, flirt with each other.

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly Jewish about this private party. (It’s Shabbat, after all.) In fact, the word “Jewish” isn’t even on the Evite invitation to the party. And when asked about the Jewish social scene, many ask, “Is this a Jewish party?”

But most of the attendees are Jewish — more than 60 percent, according to the organizers. They’re at Suede for the simple, unassuming feel of a low-key get-together. The twist is many of them want to meet Jews in a non-Jewish setting.

The group has humble origins. A few years ago, Jeff Roodman invited a group of 15 Jewish friends to Amnesia, a bar in the Mission District. He wanted them to try Leffe, his favorite new beer on tap. Jen Ruderman showed up with a group of her friends. At the next gathering, the numbers doubled. And then they doubled again.

Roodman and Ruderman began to organize parties, which they named R&R, at locations across San Francisco from Julie’s Supper Club in SOMA to 1751 Social Club in the Western Addition. Their Evite list grew to an impressive 2,100 e-mail addresses.

They are part of the growing trend of online planners who use e-mail lists to organize parties. The R&R gatherings work as an alternative to singles events organized by the local congregations, Jewish community centers and exclusive singles-only organizations.

R&R ([email protected]), Roodman said, has taken on a “viral semi-following” for Jews and their non-Jewish friends who like to flirt, network and party.

“I was not associated with the Jewish community until I was 25 because it felt so organized. I veered away from it,” says the 28-year-old Ruderman. “I didn’t like the pressure at single Jewish events. They didn’t feel relaxed.”

So she and Ruderman tried to create an atmosphere where smart singles could continue to meet, minus the nervousness and the hype of the traditional dating scene.

“Because it is not marketed as a singles Jewish event and not everyone’s single, you don’t feel the pressure of needing to meet someone,” 34-year-old Roodman explains.

Amanda Neborsky, who went to Suede with her boyfriend, is one of more than 400 attendees at the Friday event. She says R&R parties are better than more formal events.

“It is a mixed crowd,” she says. “At the planned Jewish happy hours, there’s more pressure to meet someone.”

Roodman says creating an inclusive, welcoming environment is one of his priorities. “At Jewish singles events, it is difficult to get friends who aren’t Jewish to come because they feel like they don’t belong.”

Dana Poron, 38, agrees: “I like the diversity. I’m tired of the typical Jewish social scene. It is limited. You feel like you’ve already met everybody and the only new faces are the really young faces. I’m trying to branch out.”

Branching out for many doesn’t necessarily mean meeting non-Jews. But it does mean meeting people in social situations that they say are less formal and stressful than most Bay Area singles events.

Josh Ruteberg, 33, who is accompanied by two attractive non-Jewish women, says of his potential partner: “I’d like her to be Jewish.”

Ruteberg moved from Boston to San Francisco two years ago. “Ever since I came out here, I didn’t get a sense of a big Jewish community. Jewish people in Boston are OK being Jewish. People leave if they don’t want that scene. They come to San Francisco for lifestyle and to be outside, for jobs, for the single age-group, for the weather — not for the Jewish community.”

Robert Strong, a professional magician, also organizes his own singles parties. With a Web site at, he has a personal party list similar to R&R, but more exclusive and focused.

He went to two Jewish singles events and walked out thinking they were “poorly organized, in terrible locations and overall awful. I left thinking, wow, I could do better than that.”

Soon afterward Strong advertised a party on Craigslist.

“I wrote that you must be Jewish, professional, single, active, intelligent. I got a lot of hate mail, but over four months I got 400 e-mail addresses. There are strict rules — show up on time, dress code, etc. And people take it very seriously.”

R&R turned a profit at the Suede event. The partners now are preparing to launch a Web site and have filed for limited liability corporation status. And attending parties on a Friday night? A conflict for Jewish singles?

Susan Friedeberg, a striking woman with wandering eyes, doesn’t have a problem with that. “My first priority is to meet a spouse. That comes over services.”