Searching for Beshert in the Great White North

Some Jewish leaders say there’s a “shidduch crisis” in Canada, but in the face of rising intermarriage rates, others are finding creative ways to bring young Jewish Canucks together.

Fay Shapiro prepared herself for a “four-year dating hiatus” when she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia to pursue art studies at Emily Carr University – a campus without even one affiliated Jew.

Halfway through her four-year program, she decided to go on an academic exchange program – for the new academic experience of course but, more importantly, to meet a Jewish boy.

She spent a semester in New York and, during that time, went on twenty or thirty first-dates.  But she had no luck and returned to Vancouver.  

Many Jewish leaders say there’s a “shidduch crisis” in Canada due to an increasing intermarriage rate and the fact of Jewish men settling down much later in life.

Because of this “crisis,” some, like writer Yitta Halberstam,have even gone as far as to suggest that Jewish mothers should urge their daughters to get plastic surgery and fix any physical flaws that may affect their ability to get a good shidduch, or match.

Plastic surgery or not, the crisis still remains.

In Canada, the intermarriage rate is around 25-30 percent, which has increased significantly in the last two national censuses.

While Canada is home to about 350,000 Jews, the number of Jews in the 15-24 age demographic has barely increased compared to the census ten years earlier, while the 25-44 age demographic has dropped 13 percent.

The Jewish guys are hiding

Jewish community leaders may place the blame on the intermarriage rate, but young Jewish professionals say it’s not only the shortage of eligible men that’s the problem.

“Girls are constantly putting themselves out there,” said Chaya Taub, a 24 year-old pharmacist from Toronto. “Guys are just more babied these days, they live at home, they don’t have as much confidence and they won’t approach girls, even if they like them.”

Others across Canada agree.

“The Jewish guys do exist – they’re just hiding somewhere,” said Allison Friedman, a 27 year-old therapeutic recreational specialist in Montreal. “When you grow up in the same Jewish community your entire life, it’s easy to think you know everyone but you just have to be open to attending new events because you can meet new people.”

That’s why today’s generation has searched for less traditional ways to meet their spouses, such as online dating and speed dating.

“I was kind of forced to go to a speed dating event at my synagogue,” said Friedman. “I didn’t think it was for me but I went anyways and that’s where I met my husband.”

Nowadays, Jews are more likely than ever to meet online.

Five out of nine Jews married since 2008 used an online dating site, according to a 2011 study by ResearchNow, and Jews who got married in 2011 were more than twice as likely to have used online dating than those who got married in 2003.

“In the past, the ways to meet other singles were limited.  Oftentimes, daters had to rely on family and friends for setups,” said Arielle Schechtman, Director, Public and Community Relations for Jdate.com. “Today, online dating provides another option, which is proven to work. [It] allows you to learn a lot about potential dates before meeting face-to-face, narrowing down your matches by seeing potential ‘deal breakers’ up front.” 

Schectman has been approached by Jewish leaders who want to use online dating sites like Jdate.com to help curb the intermarriage rate. “Ultimately, our mission is to strengthen the Jewish community and ensure that Jewish traditions are sustained for generations to come,” she said.

“It’s about compromise and that’s what makes it interesting.”

In smaller cities like Vancouver, where there are only about 20,000 Jews, meeting someone Jewish without online dating or community events is rare.

“Of those Jews, many are unaffiliated so it’s hard for young Jews to meet here,” said Shmulik Yeshayahu, a rabbi at Vancouver’s Community Kollel. “I hear about young people leaving the city all the time because they want to meet someone.”

Yeshayahu runs a series of events for young professionals, including monthly pub nights, weekly Shabbat dinners and holiday parties. About 56 couples have met and gotten married through attending one of his Friday night dinners.

“When people come out to my events, there’s no pressure, I don’t ask them to do anything ‘Jewish,’” he said. “But I’ve found that these types of events are the most effective way of getting people to meet.”

Yeshayahu said he’s still surprised by all the new faces he sees at each Friday night dinner, even in a city with a smaller Jewish community. “I try to let the young generation know that there are people here to meet – but they also have to be educated on what to look for in relationships,” he said.

That’s what Fay Shapiro learned when she attended one of his events.

“People have a dream of an ideal and an exact match, someone with the same hashgacha, the same values.  But it often doesn’t happen that way,” she said. “It’s about compromise and that’s what makes it interesting.” 

That’s what worked for her. After returning to Vancouver to complete her art degree, she met her fiancée at a young professionals’ shabbaton hosted by Yeshayahu.