The COVID-19 crisis has presented people from all walks of life with new and unprecedented challenges. A segment that has been especially hit hard is the Orthodox single population.
Thankfully, the dedicated team at YUConnects won’t let a pandemic keep them from finding creative and effective ways to help singles meet. During this time, they’ve undertaken an all-out effort to host exciting initiatives and online programming designed to help singles meet new people in a relaxing and comfortable environment. The virtual events have proven to be very popular and eagerly anticipated, at times with hundreds of applicants interested in participating.
Open to Yeshiva University undergraduate students, graduates, and the general public ranging from college age and above, YUConnects has designed and hosted healthy meeting opportunities for singles across the spectrum of the Modern Orthodox community: traditional, centrist, yeshivish, and black hat, or however one chooses to classify him/herself. The organization relies on donations from generous individuals to support its work and is based at Yeshiva University’s uptown campus.
“YUConnects has adapted and expanded in recent weeks,” said Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, director of YUConnects. “As dating has gone virtual, so has the programming. What is truly surprising is the advantage of a greater reach and impact on the Orthodox dating world. Our webinars, events, and resources are widely shared and accessed.” She added, “Our membership has increased, and we are hopeful this will translate into more relationships and eventually more marriages.”
Recent virtual events include a Zoom webinar called “The New World of Dating” with over 300 participants, multiple social events called “Zoom with Whom?” with over 400 applicants, and a Zoom panel organized by Stern College for Women’s Office of Student Life and the YU Counseling Center to address the dating inquiries of students.
“Zoom with Whom” events have become especially popular since they allow a smaller setting for people to meet virtually. For these events, the YUConnects team sorts through applicants to match their age range and religious orientation and then groups them into four “rooms” of 10 compatible people. After the invitees are selected, e-mails are sent out to those individuals asking them to confirm their participation for that specific date. After they confirm, they are sent the Zoom login for their room along with “helpful hints” so they know what to expect. The team is currently running multiple events each week, servicing 10–12 singles in each one. A facilitator joins every Zoom room, encouraging discussions among the participants about various topics.
“Our top-notch facilitators make the conversation comfortable and enjoyable,” said Margie Glatt, events coordinator and community liaison of YUConnects. “After the ‘Zoom with Whom’ sessions have ended, we’ve had an astounding 60% match rate of participants interested in pursuing a date with someone in the Zoom.” She added, “Virtual events like these have many advantages over other social events as their simplicity attracts more applicants than usual.” Thanks to the popularity and success of “Zoom with Whom” events, the staff at YUConnects hopes to continue them after the health crisis ends.
YUConnects members are also using Zoom as an opportunity to have a meeting with their connectors. This forum allows connectors to get to know their members better and understand their preferences for better match suggestions. Zoom meetings are turning out to be an unexpected blessing in many ways.
In addition to its work helping the singles community, YUConnects also offers events geared towards married couples. One recent event, a marriage enhancement workshop called “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” was hosted by Rabbi Dr. Ari Sytner, director of community initiatives at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. The event was a four-part, six-hour online webinar for engaged and married couples designed to enhance relationship skills and was enormously popular and well received. Over 225 couples signed up and gained from the sessions.
YUConnects members hail from many countries including the United States, Israel, Canada, France, England, and Australia, to name a few. Its programming has been so popular and successful that many other matchmaking organizations around the world have reached out to them to learn techniques and programming ideas to implement for their own needs.
Roshei yeshiva of YU and medical experts on the YUConnects Advisory Board navigate the complex halachic questions in the dating realm, and the organization also offers resource sheets for virtual dating ideas and guidelines available on its website. A recently rolled-out new platform developed by SawYouAtSinai, the technological host of the YUConnects site, has improved the staff’s capabilities to follow up with event participants to help facilitate matches.
Upcoming planned events include a financial lecture webinar for singles, a special program for rabbis and rebbetzins, and numerous social events in various platforms.
The YUConnects team has over 80 volunteers making online matches and is proud to announce its 411th engagement just a few weeks ago. They invite anyone interested in joining its over 3,500 members to visit their website and sign up at yuconnects.com. Personal appointments can be made to meet Mindy Eisenman, Malky Galler, and Naomi Landsman, the experienced and friendly staff and regional connectors. For more information, email Rachel Novick, the YUConnects administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org