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January 16, 2004

How to find your basherte in 2004


Once upon a time, using the Internet to find a date held a stigma akin to taking out a cheesy personal ad. But today, more and more people are using chatrooms and emoticons to find a match, and with this popular phenomenon has come a plethora of online dating sites catering to the Jewish market.

There's the ever-popular JDate.com, a harbinger among Jewish dating Web sites, which opens its membership to all stripes of Jews. But it also attracts non-Jews who are interested in dating Jewishly. Then there is Frumster.com, which has gained popularity over the past two years by pushing itself as a site for serious Jewish daters, focusing on the more observant crowd. But what's out there for people who don't fit in to the religious crowd and who want a site catering to Jews only? How can the neophyte to online dating choose among the dozens of sites available?

"All dating sites have roughly the same features today," said 25-year-old founder, who runs UrbanTraditional.com (UT), a Jewish dating Web site based in Montreal.

"In my opinion, the real distinction between online dating services lies in their ability to attract different segments of the dating population," he said.

Unique among most dating sites, UT markets toward Jews who are not religious or secular, but fall somewhere in-between. Not all members practise kashrut or observe Shabbat, but they are looking for Jews to date who have a very strong Jewish identity.

The founder, a computer engineering graduate of McGill University, began working on UT two years ago. He started the site not only to make it easier for Jewish singles to find their basherte (soulmate), but also to keep Jewish Generation Y dating within the tribe.

"I feel that the big Jewish dating sites out there have a secular feel to them. I want UT to be a warm site that is comprised of Jewish singles who love Jewish traditions and Jewish life. More importantly, the rate of intermarriage is rising. UT is my way of trying to slow it down."

The founder wants his site to attract the modern Jew with "traditional" Jewish values.
"UT reminds us that Jewish values and traditions do not conflict with modern urban lifestyles," he said.

"Karen," one of 750 worldwide members of UT, has been "messaged" many times on the site.

"Well, it's a little funny the way it happened. I was very skeptical at first about online dating. My friends pushed me to sign up. After receiving so many messages, I started getting into it," said the 27-year-old dental assistant from Montreal.

Karen has gone out on a few dates since the summer as a result of UT. "I'm a busy person and am very particular about the guys I date. Urban Traditional is an easy way of getting in contact with many people. Also, Urban Traditional is a very easy site to use."

What also seems to be a big distinguishing factor beween dating sites is the cost.

UT's service is free for the time being and stands out among many other dating sites whose focus is on the business bottom line.

JewishLovePotion.com is a Vancouver-based dating site that offers the same services as most dating sites but is less expensive than many others at about $23 per month. You do not have to be a paid member to look at e-mails that other people send or to look at who has sent you a "wink."

JewishLovePotion.com also offers matchmaking and love coaching consultation – at no additional cost – from licensed clinical psychologists and personal coaches, said site creator Michael Horowitz. As well, JewishLovePotion.com is connected to local parties, so those who are online in Vancouver will know when the next singles party is in their area.

"After doing parties in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto and creating a following in those cities, it reaffirmed for me the need for a variety of methods for Jewish people to meet," said Horowitz. "No matter what city young Jewish people are from, there is still a need to connect with one another.

"The parties we throw are done with a personal touch and we wanted to apply that same approach in online services," he added. "People know what to expect at our parties and who to expect at our parties, so the online is a good way to encourage people to connect with one another before and after the parties."

Horowitz has the idea of having an "online dating party" by contacting people through e-mail lists and telling them that the Web site will be free for a certain period of time on a certain day.

Frumster.com is free to use for now but has plans to charge for to-be-announced premium services. JDate has charged for its services for several years but is getting even stricter now. You used to be able to check your messages and see who "teased" you for free but now you cannot access these items unless you are a registered (paying) member.

"JDate is able to be strict due to their big customer base," said The Founder. "In my opinion, a big customer base is like a double-edged sword. Reducing once-free options, like reading received messages, does increase revenue. But that may not be compatible with the original customer base that started off for free."

The Founder currently runs everything on his site, from Web development and programming to content and promotion. In contrast to his own site, he believes that the bigger dating sites are losing their personal touch. That personal touch (or lack thereof) may be evident in trying to contact an administrator. JDate was contacted for this article to address the criticism of allowing open membership to non-Jews, among other questions. They sent a generic e-mail response and a JDate spokesperson could not be reached via their toll-free helpline. Urban Traditional and Frumster responded to questions within about a day.

Despite more than 11,000 members and worldwide clientele, Frumster administrators are still able to weed through the undesirables and give a few the boot after discovering certain members didn't fall under the strict religious guidelines. One owner of Frumster, Derek Saker, said that keeping tabs on the two-year-old site's clientele "helps keep things in check and keeps out pranksters" who post phony profiles. They also rely on other members to alert them.

"I like knowing that things are done with care and that things are checked out by the people who run the site," said 31-year-old Yehudi Ben Simon, a Torontonian working in corporate communications, who uses Frumster. "I don't like getting lost in the shuffle. I enjoy knowing that I can contact an administrator if something goes wrong and get a response really soon. That, to me, is a very important factor."

Many singles complain that, when going to Jewish events, they keep meeting the same people and their dating circle is limited, especially in smaller communities. But with the Internet, you can find your mate in an adjacent city or discover someone in the same city you've never met before.

Indeed, through the World Wide Web, you can find a bocher in Burnaby or a maidele from Montreal, without going to a single singles shindig.



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