Navigating the singles scene
After a series of failed relationships and disastrous dates, it’s easy to lose faith in the idea of ever finding “the one”. Yet, say those in the know, it’s often about releasing preconceived ideas and opening yourself up to new possibilities.
“When my ex-husband and I separated, all my friends were married,” says Lisa Kowalsky, who runs a Facebook group called South African Jewish Singles 30+, which has more than 1 000 members. “I suddenly found myself with no one to go out with socially and no one who could relate to my new status.
“Although I met someone after eight months, I started the group because I understood how lonely being single can be. As a single mom, I also understand how overwhelmed one can sometimes feel. It’s vital for people who are alone and feel vulnerable to have a safe space where they can connect with others in the same position, for dating or friendship.”
She initially started her group for Johannesburgers over the age of 35 but later opened it to Jewish singles from all over South Africa – as well as expats – and lowered the age limit slightly “as older men tend to like dating younger women – many are looking to meet women who can still have children”.
For slightly older single women, this preference can be challenging. “If a religious or secular woman is not married at a specific age, usually after 35, men see them as too old,” says Debbie Singer*, a single ba’alat teshuva (a secular Jew who has become religious) in her 40s. “They want to know what’s wrong with you, why you aren’t married, and they think you’re too old to have children. Yet single women of that age also want to settle down and have children, so what do they do?”
Both men and women become set in their ways after a certain age, she adds, and may be divorced and have children, which can bring challenges. “It’s ultimately about having trust in Hashem that when it’s the right time, you’ll meet someone. But it’s not always easy,” she admits.
There is hope, Kowalsky stresses. She helps facilitate singles events and encourages group members of all ages to organise and advertise exciting events or getaways for specific age groups. “There are people to meet, it just takes initiative and creativity. Get out there and find ways to connect with other singles. You may just meet your soulmate.”
Hosting speed-dating and high-end singles parties, Casey Shevel became known for facilitating great nights out – and lasting love – with her initiative Casey’s Schmingles. But as people increasingly requested one-on-one dating, and Covid-19 hit, Shevel focused on dating coaching and matchmaking.
Passionate about Jews marrying Jews, Shevel works with people of all levels of observance and doesn’t charge for her services. Her tips for singles? “To know yourself and not get in the way of your own happiness. Marriage is not about two people gazing into each other’s eyes; it’s about two people gazing in the same direction. It’s about finding someone who is heading the same way as you, who will be your partner and your equal and hold your hand through life.” We often focus on externalities like looks and job titles, which aren’t nearly as important as having a shared destination, she says.
Shadchan Cindy Silberg matches religiously observant singles, primarily between the ages of 18 and 40, who are seeking marriage. She usually facilitates a couple’s first few dates to build momentum and circumvent issues like people not calling when they say they will. “This is especially important at the beginning because the couple is not sharing everything yet. Here, you’re able to be real with someone else and iron out issues early on instead of ending things when something crops up.”
While Silberg acknowledges that South Africa’s Jewish dating pool has shrunk through emigration, she says that people underestimate the value of having a shared culture. “I’m getting calls from many singles who have emigrated, mainly to Israel, who are asking if I have anyone for them because they’re finding the dating scene there very hard. They’re realising that culturally they still want a South African – someone who ‘gets’ them.”
Within South Africa, Silberg says that everyone in the community thinks that they know each other. “But they’re judging someone when they’re with their friends or in a public setting and not getting to really know the person. It could be that someone is more reserved in a crowd and they’re actually very engaging. I have to convince many clients to give people a chance. I’ve got couples who I had to initially beg to go out with each other who are now married!”
Ethan Green*, a 29-year-old single man, feels that shuls should be organising regular young adult events. Seeking someone who shares his level of observance, he’s a regular shul-goer but says other young singles generally don’t attend.
“Dating apps haven’t been successful for me. There’s a small pool of Jewish users. I would get a few matches, but I struggle with small talk. I prefer to get to know a person face to face.”
Open to meeting people of different faiths, Bianca Bayer*, a 40-year-old, says that dating apps and websites have been useful for meeting like-minded people. While she enjoys the excitement of possibly meeting someone with whom she can form a multifaceted connection, she says dating can take an emotional toll when men who are initially extremely keen quickly lose interest. “It takes a lot of energy to invest in the dating world.”
Marc and Shayna Berman, who got married in February, agree with waiting for the right person. Fixed up by Shayna’s cousin, a friend of Marc’s, the two felt an immediate connection. ”After our first date, I knew that there was something there,” says Marc.
“High expectations are good when you’ll be spending your life with someone,” adds Shayna. “But you also need to give everyone a chance. Marc is eight years older than me. I could have said I don’t want a relationship with such a big age gap, but then I wouldn’t have met him. Your person is out there, you just need to be open to anything.”
*names have been changed