By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Yet, at almost any time in a Jewish chat room, there are likely to be at least a couple of Lubavitcher youths conversing across gender linesand not necessarily only with other members of the sect. Some of this cybersurfing has led to matrimony.
Moshe, for example, was lonely in England before a friend recommended that he hook up online. Within a week, he found a Lubavitcher girl in Los Angeles. They married a short time later.
Menachem"Niceboy," as he signs himself on AOLis still seeking a wife in cyberspace. He grew up in Brooklyn, and is now 24. Time to marry is running outLubavitch males are expected to be wed by their mid twentiesand Menachem has been having trouble finding a mate. His rabbi recommended the Internet.
"Chat rooms are beginning to change the social order," observes one 26-year-old college-educated Hasid. Boys and girls are arranging their own dates and marriages. They finally have a socially safe way to get to know one another.
Traditionally, in Crown Heights, professional shadchen (matchmakers) organize meticulous index files containing photos, educational backgrounds, family information, and medical histories of marriage-aged prospects.
Parents set up in-house, supervised dates. If all goes well, a pair ventures out on their own to a public place like South Street Seaport or Central Park. Couples date on average two weeks to three months before an engagement is announced. (In other Hasidic sects, couples meet only once before they marry.)
"Getting matched up is becoming 'in' now," says Lubavitcher Pearl Lebovic of the matchmaker center Likrat Shiduch (Toward the Match), which serves Jews of all sects. Lebobic and her husband Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic have been connecting young people since 1981.
"Details get in the way," she emphasizes. It's the demeanor, or the "feeling they give off," that she clearly remembers in every person she interviews. Her service is responsible for approximately three to four engagements per month.
"The system isn't perfect, and it doesn't work for everyone," says a recently wed Lubavitch woman, referring to the exposure of abuse that has emerged in documentaries about arranged marriages. "But this is the system we know and trust, the way we couple, and the way we learn to love.
"So it works for most of us."
Research: Lauren Reynolds