Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a cyber match

One of the most joyous aspects of being a rabbi is performing marriages.

Perhaps this is part of what led Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland to take the plunge into cyberspace by offering some of his single congregants free memberships to JDate.

For those who don’t know, JDate is a Web site designed for Jews who want to date other Jews, boasting membership numbers of 400,000 nationwide and 15,000 in the Bay Area.

It’s been around for 11 years — but the idea to work with rabbis marks a relatively new direction for JDate.

“The first time we were ever contacted by a rabbi was in October of 2007,” says Gail Laguna, JDate’s director of public relations and corporate communications. “He was a rabbi in New Jersey, and someone in his congregation had made an anonymous donation to him — they wanted the funds used specifically for JDate subscriptions.”

In the eight months since then, Laguna added, “We’ve probably had about a dozen rabbis do this.”

But are rabbis supposed to be like Yenta, the shadchan in “Fiddler on the Roof”? Is it their job to help potential couples meet?

“I think that it is sometimes the rabbi’s role to play Yenta,” Bloom says. “I’ve often dreamed of starting my own matchmaking service. I have frequently fixed people up and I think it’s a very good thing to do. People have to be open-minded enough to be willing to be fixed up, as well as open-minded enough to know that it doesn’t always work out, but at least they’ve tried.”

As much as he loves playing matchmaker, Bloom hadn’t considered utilizing JDate until he read an article about the rabbi in New Jersey who pioneered the idea.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea and a great use of the Jewish community’s money,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for two months now. I bought eight subscriptions, and have given out seven. The response has been very positive.”

Bloom is paying for the “free” subscriptions from the rabbi’s discretionary fund, and so far there has been no “payoff” — i.e. engagements or marriages. But stay tuned: Bloom has been at it for only two months.

One couple at his Conservative synagogue did meet on JDate and got married. And even though Marc and Mari met before Bloom’s freebies were available, they both happily credit JDate for bringing them together.

However, Mari did admit that in the beginning, being listed with the service can be a bit intense.

“JDate is a huge Jewish meat market — it’s like my Jewish ovaries wrapped around my neck,” she says with a laugh. “As soon as you get on, if you’re a certain age, you’re like meat. At least for me, I got 60-70 emails, which was fairly overwhelming.”

Adds Marc: “I found a mix of people on JDate. There were interesting people, but it was very intermixed.

There were some great people and some not.”

When Marc found Mari, though, he discovered they shared the same passions.

“She had this very intriguing picture: it was a black and white picture of her looking out a rainy window,” Marc remembers. “She also had a clever comment in her profile where she mentioned going to Italy, Ireland, Israel and other countries that begin with the letter ‘I’, and I love to travel as well. The picture in my profile is from when I went to Laos, so the main thing we both talked about in our profiles was travel, so that was great.”

In the end, both Marc and Mari were glad they signed up for JDate, and they praised Rabbi Bloom for his new initiative, which many congregants found out about after an April article in the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune headlined “East Bay rabbi adds ‘matchmaker’ to job title.”

Marc said that the free memberships have the added benefit of diversifying the congregation’s membership.

“One of the great things about being at the synagogue is that there are a lot of young couples,” he says. “Where my wife and I grew up, there were some younger families, but it was mostly older people. It’s really cool to see this thriving younger Jewish community, as well as ones with kids.

“We have this potential to build this community, which I don’t think really existed 10 years ago — definitely not at this temple. The rabbi has created this whole new community where people can appreciate each other.”

Rabbi Bloom hopes to expand the program and bring even more couples together.

“I praise JDate for starting their service,” Bloom says. “I think that about half of the couples I marry met on JDate, and many rabbis I know say the same thing.”