Jewish dating Web sites attract people of all faiths
At 26, Mariana Bonino had just moved to Miami from her native Bolivia to take a job as a real estate agent. The job carried substantial time demands and prevented Bonino from enjoying the South Beach singles scene.
“I had no social life," she said. “I didn’t go out, and I didn’t meet anybody.”
Bonino signed up with Jdate.com, a dating Web site aimed at helping Jews meet other Jews, after hearing about the site's success rate from friends seeking companionship online.
But Bonino wasn’t Jewish; she was Catholic.
“I thought I’d join just to make friends, but if I found something, I’d think ‘wonderful,’” she said.
Now married and known as Mariana Rosenbaum, she is one of a growing number of non-Jews who are joining Jewish dating Web sites. Some are specifically looking for someone with a Jewish background; others are simply attracted by the success rate of the sites.
“My father, an engineer, worked closely with a Russian Jewish family,” Rosenbaum said. “I always had an impression that Jewish people were hard-working people, that Jewish men were family men. I know you cannot generalize, but when I joined Jdate I was kind of hoping for that.”
After only two weeks, Rosenbaum received an e-mail message from Michael Rosenbaum, an attorney in Miami.
“We connected immediately,” she said. The couple got married in July 2005 after a nearly three-year courtship. Mariana converted to Judaism before the ceremony.
Jdate does not seek to verify a person's religion. The site simply asks users to indicate their religious background (you can select anything from "Orthodox" to “secular,” “unaffiliated,” “willing to convert" and “will tell you later") and whether they go to synagogue or keep kosher.
“My profile said I wasn’t born Jewish, but that didn’t appear to be a negative thing,” Rosenbaum said.
There is no way to determine the number of non-Jews using the site, but the percentage who identify themselves as “unaffiliated” has grown to more than 13 percent in March 2007 from 7 percent in 2002, said Gail Laguna, a spokeswoman for Jdate.
“But unaffiliated is ambiguous,” Laguna said. “It could be not Jewish or just Jewish but not religious at all.”
Laguna cited the increased brand recognition of Jdate as a reason for the rise in the number of non-Jews using the site.
“As the name and size of the Jdate community grows, we are mentioned more in the mainstream media and obviously it’s going to start to cross cultures there,” Laguna said. “People are impressed by the success stories.”
While Jdate has no way of officially tracking its success rate, Laguna points to a 2005 master’s thesis by graduate student Miriam Pullman at Hebrew Union College that showed some promising results. Of a random sample of 611 Jdate users, 19 percent were married or engaged to someone they met on the site, Pullman’s study showed. Another 33 percent were in a relationship of more than three months with someone they met on the site.
But not everyone is pleased with the cultural crossover.
“Not having Jdate as a pure resource concerns me,” said Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Center in Merrick, N.Y. “We need a Web site like Jdate and we need it to be an exclusively Jewish Web site, and you don’t want that compromised.”
Rabbi Diana Manber, a project coordinator for the New York Board of Rabbis in New York City said there were other general-population sites for people who were just looking to date.
“Most Jews go on Jdate to find another Jew. That’s why they join Jdate instead of like, Match.com,” she said. “We do it because we have a belief that it will lead us to a Jewish partner.”
Interfaith marriage rates for Jews have increased substantially in the past 30 years. Only 13 percent of American Jews married outside their religion in 1970, but in 2001, 47 percent did, according to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, which is conducted every 10 years by United Jewish Communities.
The rise in interfaith marriages created a market in the 1990s for Jewish dating Web sites like Jdate and TotallyJewishDating.com. The recent increase in the number of non-Jews using the sites has upset rabbis who believe it is a Jew’s responsibility to date and marry another Jew.
“The entire pretext of the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible] is to keep our community together,” Manber said. “Jews should marry other Jews. We worship together, we eat together, we dwell together, and the Tanach says we should be together. It’s more than prescribed by our tradition. It is our tradition.”
Jdate users are attracted to that sense of community and tradition.
“It isn’t just a religion, it’s a culture,” Rosenbaum said of her attraction to the Jewish faith. “It’s not just how you pray and who you pray to, it has a cultural background.”
Toby Mason, a spokesman for TotallyJewishDating.com, said the site was also experiencing a crossover.
“While many 20-something Jews these days do see religion as an important aspect of their life, it is perhaps the close family ties and cultural influences that are more prominent," he wrote in an e-mail message. “Perhaps it is these things that some non-Jews find appealing.”
For Rosenbaum, love rises above all obstacles.
“Regardless of religion, every woman wants a good guy,” she said. “There are many people out there who are afraid of rejection due to religion concerns and we are living proof that love has no nationality, background, religion, color or race.”