'Speed Dating' For Jewish Singles

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The start of a long-lasting relationship could take only seven minutes of conversation in a coffee shop.

But during that span, the two people sitting across from each other can't talk about their jobs or where they live, and they can't give out their phone numbers.

Meet Speed Dating, a dating service for Jews who say they can't find a Jewish mate.

With seven minutes on the clock, pairs at each table fire questions at each other about goals, values and feelings on Israel, trying to gauge if the stranger is a soul mate.

"One minute," the rabbi calls out.

Then time is up, and they pick up their lattes, swap seats and start all over again.

Born of the idea that people are too busy to date and that intermarriage is among the greatest threats to Judaism, Speed Dating lets singles size up a pool of potential Jewish matches in less than an hour, then decide whether they want a full-length date.

Marsha Nemon, a massage therapist from Walled Lake, found herself at the back of Caribou Coffee one Sunday evening chatting with Sherman Laxer. Nemon, 43 and never married, said her mother passed along an ad for Speed Dating.

"I try not to try too many things, but this is a fresh idea," said Nemon, who didn't meet a match that Sunday.

The concept was developed by Aish HaTorah, an international Jewish outreach program, and pitched to chapters around the world. The first session was held in Los Angeles in March 1999 and already boasts one marriage.

Since the Birmingham Aish Center introduced the program to the Detroit area in January, there have been waiting lists to join the $10 Sunday night sessions, which are split into three age groups.

At the end of each seven-minute pairing, participants write down on a form whether they want to see a person again. Organizers match up the dates and call the participants with phone numbers. Sunday's session netted three full-length dates.

To help participants avoid discussing their jobs, organizers hand out a list of sample questions, such as, "How often do you speak with your parents?" and "What is your favorite Jewish tradition?"

The idea, said Rabbi Tzvi Hochstadt of the Birmingham Aish Center, is to assess if the person sitting across the table shares your life goals and feelings on religion.

Hochstadt, who leads the sessions, says the program has a 75 percent match rate.

"We are selling a Jewish date for when the bar scene gets old," said Hochstadt, who plans to attend a national conference next month in New York City to standardize the program and market it to other religions.

The emphasis on relationships stems from a concern that Jews ages 24 to 35 intermarry more than generations before them. The most recent national study of the Jewish population, conducted in 1990, found that 52 percent of Jews who married between 1985 and 1990 chose a non-Jewish partner according to the Council of Jewish Federations.

Josh Cane, a 24-year-old Web producer for the Detroit Jewish News, knows he wants to date Jewish women but said the hard part is finding them. There are 100,000 Jews in the Detroit area, according to a survey by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

"It seems very nonthreatening, and it eliminates the awkwardness," Cane, who lives in Farmington Hills, told the Detroit Free Press for a story Saturday. "It's predetermined why you're there."

In the Detroit area, it tends to draw more women than men in older age groups. And there's always one participant who gets cold feet and doesn't show up, leaving an uneven number of people.