When Olivia Deutsch first met matchmaker Mindy Eisenman, the idea of an online dating site seemed intimidating and unconventional—but Eisenman convinced her to give it a try.
"She [Eisenman] explained to me that YUConnects caters to people from many different backgrounds and helped me understand how trained connectors were able to search a large database to connect singles with the same goals and interests,” said Deutsch, who is a nursing student at Hunter College. “I was convinced that signing up for YUConnects would increase my opportunities to meet prospects.”
Deutsch was right, and she wasn’t alone. With her recent engagement to Brandon Jerome, a 2009 graduate of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business and accountant at Billet Feit & Preis PC, YUConnects celebrated its 100th match. Eisenman set Deutsch up with Jerome after getting to know him at a YUConnects Shabbaton in Teaneck, New Jersey.
In 2008, after conversations with YU President Richard M. Joel and Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) pooled its unique resources to create a program with a multi-faceted approach to the age-old issue of meeting a mate. The result was YUConnects, a program that offers multiple opportunities for YU students and alumni to meet. The involvement of everyone from roshei yeshiva to mental health professionals to academics, all working on larger, broader communal issues affecting relationship-building, makes YUConnects unique. Both small and large scale social events, educational forums, networking evenings and an extensive online state-of-the-art search engine are all part of the program.
“Our numbers demonstrate, not only our growth, but the confidence that people have in YUConnects,” said Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, the program’s director. “The academic research performed at YUConnects through the University’s resources drives the program’s mission to expand and improvise meeting and networking venues available today. Professional training is also given to volunteer connectors, whose efforts are focused on helping their members build long-lasting, healthy relationships.”
YUConnects is facilitated by more than 100 trained YU Connectors. These dedicated, often seasoned matchmakers, many of whom are also YU alumni, get to know the singles signed up to the site and suggest match ideas for them. To widen the network of available men and women, YUConnects—powered by SawYouatSinai, one of the Jewish community’s largest dating sites—opened registration to the public in 2011 and now has more than 2,200 members. In April 2012, YUConnects also launched the Jewish Matchmaking Alliance (JMA), which brings the leaders of 12 major organizations serving singles around the world together to share resources, professionalize education and increase collaborative efforts to enhance opportunities for the Orthodox Jewish singles population.
“Under the leadership of Rebbetzin Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, YU Connects is able to convene the research arms of the University to explore issues surrounding dating and relationships,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “We are then able to use this research and collaborate with the leadership of yeshivot and seminaries in Israel to simultaneously interact with thousands of our students and alumni to help them through their personal dating journey. We have created a model that both the larger Jewish and Orthodox communities look to for guidance in the area of connecting singles to their future spouses.”
Towards that goal, YUConnects also hosts an array of events designed to enable singles to meet and network with each other in a facilitated, low-key environment. That includes events like a Salad Wars Barbeque and Food Competition in Woodmere last May and a roundtable event for young professionals this summer that discussed the challenges of being Jewish in the workplace. The program also sponsors a monthly co-ed shiur with YU rabbeim in Washington Heights and opportunities for chessed.
“What is especially wonderful about YUConnects is that it doesn’t simply make online matches,” said Marjorie Glatt, YUConnects’ special projects coordinator. “By bringing men and women together in comfortable social events in various communities, YUConnects is actually changing the methods and ways young people meet today. Perhaps we can swing the pendulum back and make the entire process easier once again.”
For Deutsch and Jerome, that personal attention and care played a pivotal role in helping them navigate the twists and turns of a new relationship. “We really loved working with Mindy Eisenman,” said Jerome. “She has a lot of experience and we both felt very comfortable calling to ask her various questions while dating.”
Now planning their November wedding, the two feel they have learned a lot from their experience. “The dating process was challenging for me, but exciting at the same time,” said Deutsch. “This is a major step in one’s life and it should be handled very carefully.” She added: “The YUConnects staff is there to increase meeting venues for singles. Brandon and I have a tremendous amount of hakarat hatov to them, and we look forward to hearing about more smachot that come from this wonderful organization.”
For more information about YUConnects and for a schedule of upcoming events, please visit www.yuconnects.com.