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Digital dating: the trendy form of shidduch-making

  • DigitalDating1
“I love her sense of humour, how she laughs. When she laughs, it makes me want to laugh. I love her kind heart. I love that she is pretty. I love that she is generous. She is sensitive; she always takes other people into consideration; she’s warm…”
by MIRAH LANGER | May 03, 2018

At that point, Michael Alhadeff’s soliloquy in tribute to his wife of nearly a year, Michal Lipschitz Alhadeff, has to be cut short as he could go on forever.

The comfortable ease with which Michael and Michal sit together in a coffee shop against the dusky Johannesburg skyline is an everyday moment that belies the incredible digital dating journey that saw them going from strangers to soulmates and got them here in the first place.

“They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, yes, you do have to be a little insane to keep going on these dates,” says Michal, chuckling about her Internet experience.

“But in this case, there was a different result. That’s the proof that there has to be something to it. If technology is the way to find love, so be it,” she says.

Michael, 45, and Michal, 39, are just one of many Jewish couples turning technology into a new match-making tradition. There are many dating sites, including quite a few for Jewish singles.

While dating site JDate is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, an app like JSwipe is just four years old. The app works in a similar way to Tinder: the user sorts through profile pictures and information, linked to Facebook, before deciding whether to swipe left to dismiss the match, or right to show interest.

When both users select each other on JSwipe, an animation appears depicting either a Hora dance, complete with chair being lifted as in a wedding ceremony; or a dreidel landing on the lucky gimmel spin.

There are about 5 000 users from South Africa across the JDate and JSwipe dating platforms, with a 60/40 split of men to women. The largest proportion of users are aged 20 to 40.

It was on this platform that in March 2016, Michal, originally from Cape Town, and Michael, who is based in Pretoria, met.

“We are both outliers; we weren’t raised in Johannesburg amid a massive network, with mothers and aunts and sisters looking [for a match]. So, our meeting the way we did makes sense in terms of who we are.”

Michael is grateful that it allowed him to find a Jewish partner, despite being somewhere beyond the boerewors curtain. “Although I’ve been stranded in Pretoria for the past 30 years, I went to a Jewish school; I come from a Jewish family. Deep inside, I never lost my Jewish identity. And when I eventually found my Jewish partner, that sense of identity was reignited.

“I remembered why and how much I want to be Jewish and have a Jewish home.”

From their first date at a pub, which Michal wryly says was “very romantic, overlooking Oxford Road in Rosebank”, the connection was sparked: “It felt like I was picking up a conversation with a person I’d known my whole life.”

And the most recent development in their relationship? “There’s a baby on the way!” says a delighted Michal.

Corresponding from New York, founder of JSwipe David Yarus affirms that stories like Michael and Michal’s are the intended outcome of his digital platform.

Yarus, aged 31, founded the app after his own experience of trying to meet a “nice Jewish girl”. He found that most Jewish singles events were “awkward and uncomfortable – everyone was looking around the room and checking out everyone else while you were in conversation with them! No one was fully present. It was just weird.”

Around the same time, the first “swiping-style” dating app, Tinder, came on the market. Yarus saw the opportunity to use this “innovative new form of technology” to connect the Jewish community.

“We have a purpose and a passion: to create the space for people to connect with other Jewish singles from across the world or their local community by leveraging the latest technology to make this fun, effective and easy,” he explains.

Yarus has this to say to people who use dating apps or sites: Once you meet someone you’re interested in, get offline. “That is where the magic happens. No one wants a penpal.”

“Have the courage to show up vulnerably, with an open heart and an open mind. People today are so guarded, it’s hard to tell who they really are behind that. Show up fully, authentically and unapologetically as yourself.”

If you are even a bit curious about someone and you have a great date, he adds, “lean in to the unknown. See what happens.”

Not everyone has had a happy experience.

Megan, in her early 50s, said that when she first joined JSwipe, out of the 85 “likes” she got, she soon realised most of them were fraudulent.

The first sign of a con was that while many said they were in America or Italy, the GPS location recorded by the app showed that they were about 2 800 miles away. “The only city 2 800 miles away is Lagos, Nigeria.”

A reverse search of their profile photographs showed that they were taken off other sites or from advertisements. The dead giveaway was the grammar used by these men. For example, when asked what religion they were, their response would be: “I’m a Jewish.”

Asked about this, Yarus says: “User security is a top priority and there is a process to report, review and block those showing ‘non-kosher’ behaviour.”

But singletons, take heart: Here are a few more love bytes across cyberspace:

Leigh and Netser

After being matched together on the OkCupid dating website in 2015, Leigh, now 29, thought 31-year-old Netser’s profile was appealing, but the possibility of a long-distance relationship was not. Nevertheless, a chat on the site ensued.

“About a week later, we had our first Skype date, which was cool,” she says.

“He made me an origami flower and we each had a glass of wine over our computer screens. That is how we met.

“Two months later, I moved to Israel. We lived together and we got married. Now we’ve just bought our first apartment together. We have three cats and it’s great!”

Lori and Ilan

Lori and Ilan met on Jewishmingle.com, but their first contact in the real world was not promising.

“The first time he called me, he was driving home and as he arrived home, there was a domestic disturbance involving someone else living on the property. He said: ‘HI, I can’t talk right now because the police are at my house. I’ll call you back.’

“I was at a friend’s house. She asked: ‘Who was that on the phone?’ I replied: ‘Some nutcase. I doubt I’ll talk to him again.’

“Now, 13 years and two children later, things turned around rather wonderfully.”

Debbie and Rob

Debbie and Rob were one of the first online couples, having met on the Internet 21 years ago when Debbie lived in Cape Town and Rob, in Canada.

“I bought a computer and hooked up to the Internet, not knowing exactly what the Internet was or how email worked,” says Debbie.

“On my first day with the computer I searched under ‘Jewish’ to see what this Internet could find. The first thing that popped up in search results was Jewish singles. The website was basically a list of names and dates of birth – no pictures.

“I picked one name from the list (Rob from Canada) and wrote: ‘We will probably never meet. I just wanted to see how email works.’He wrote back, and we found we had a lot in common.”

Emails and chats ensued.

“After a few months, he sent me a picture by regular post and I sent him a picture of a topless African woman. A few months later, we met in Israel for our first date, and a year and a bit after that, we got married in Israel.”

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