To many, college is a time to take classes, join interesting clubs, land dream internships, and meet soulmates/hook-up buddies/Saturday night dates — not necessarily in that order. But for one who grew up in the Jewish tradition that firmly stresses the mitzvah of going forth and multiplying, the latter might be the most under-appreciated and under-stressed of the bunch.
He saw her at Hillel’s Israel Shabbat, she learned his name at JAM’s Challah Baking, he talked to her for the first time at Chabad’s Parsha and Pizza. It is a back and forth game played across nights of socializing — but only if one makes time to frequent events. This article will take a closer look at UCLA’s Jewish dating scene, and how Jewish Bruins fit into Jewish dating life in general.
“I definitely think that the appeal behind a majority of Jewish-based social events is the idea of finding a network. Most students look for unexpected mates, meaning that the Jewish community is a very small crowd and you don’t want to date your friends, but at the same time you definitely want to find that friend of a friend who you didn’t know was coming, who is highly attractive and uncommitted,” Rabbi Jacob Rupp of JAM at UCLA muses, chewing his words carefully, along with bits of persimmon.
Elisa Gurevich, co-director of Chabad at UCLA, shares her observation that she does not see a lot of students looking for long-term mates. Gurevich says that most students pursue hook-up situations, which she and her husband, Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, try to discourage if and when they see the relationships become unhealthy.
In Rabbi Rupp’s words, “I’ve heard guys want the paradoxical girl with Orthodox values and non-Orthodox actions.”
Besides believing that the man looking for such a woman is bound to fail, Rabbi Rupp places much of the blame on society not putting enough emphasis on meaningful relationships.
“At JAM, we try to appeal to socially well-adjusted and intelligent people. We come together not under the pretext of a dating pool, but more ‘let’s come together based on a mutual interest in terms of social- or learning-based programming, and in the course of learning, you get to know one another better,’” Rabbi Rupp explains, momentarily pausing to wave at a passing student.
Gurevich notes that every once in a while she sees students form sincere relationships, or even become engaged, but that happens mainly in the Orthodox community that frequents Hillel’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus.
Hillel’s JLIC, headed by Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan, is home to most Orthodox students at UCLA. The couple is responsible for providing the space to bring people together, which often results in serious relationships and sometimes marriage. During the Kaplans’ ten years at Hillel, they have seen 16 couples meet at JLIC and eventually wed.
“One of our active goals is to consciously create a community where people can hang, meet, and have social and Shabbat experiences. And definitely a consideration in that is that maybe they’ll meet someone they can date or marry,” Sharona Kaplan explains, carefully moving a stray hair out of her eyes. “Usually people just gravitate toward each other, but sometimes you’ll have one of them come and ask if we think they’ll work, or if they’re suitable. But it’s all student-initiated, and then once people start going out, we’re often called in if there are things they want to discuss, like how do I know, is it the right time, etc.”
Kaplan believes that the campus environment creates a natural setting for people to date informally.
“When you’re living life alongside somebody, you don’t have to deal with all the anxiety and nervousness and formality. It’s much more comfortable and natural. And you see them right there with their friends, as an authentic version of themselves. You can see them in groups and you can see them alone and you can see them not on their best behavior — it’s not artificial, like when someone might be all dressed up and shaved and putting their best foot forward for a limited amount of time.”
Kaplan even offers her own bridal classes, or kallah classes, for women. She draws on the lessons learned during her 13 years of marriage and skills developed while studying to become a social worker, working at a mikvah (ritual bath), and being part of a Los Angeles and national network of kallah teachers. Kaplan is a certified kallah teacher, both on paper and in her attitude toward her students.
She meets with brides-to-be either one-on-one or in small groups, in order to answer questions that they have, and to prepare them for life as married women.
“It’s not always the best advice to have your sounding board be your roommate, or your sister, or your mom, because some of them are coming as invested parties and they’re not objective,” Kaplan observes, recrossing her legs under her black and white striped maxi dress. “And some of them are just inexperienced, or have their own prejudices or own insecurities or own jealousies. But a third party who has no agenda, who has experience with other couples, is an invaluable resource.”
Kaplan compares her kallah classes to the orientation weekend at the beginning of freshman year. She says that both college and married life are natural transitions for most people, but that if no one helps a person with the adjustment and explains certain things, the transition will be much harder.
Across the spectrum of Jewish dating options at UCLA, from simple hook-up to complex marriage, students can find both what they are looking for and help getting there.
“We work together so that you can be a sterling example of who you are, which is naturally marketable to your appropriate spouse,” Rabbi Rupp concludes, smiling wide and adding his signature “you love that” phrase.
At UCLA, there is a community for everyone. Besides JAM, Hillel, Chabad, Bruins for Israel, Ha’Am, JStreet, Challah for Hunger, Bearing Witness…there is also Mishpacha, a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews at UCLA and those who support them. According to Mishpacha’s website, “The name of our group, Mishpacha, is the Hebrew word for ‘family,’ reflecting the essence of our community. We are truly that, coming together to agree and disagree, bound by the human ties that connect us and by our unique sexual and gender identities and links to our Jewish heritage.”
Jewish groups are invaluable for networking. As current Jewish Student Union Co-President Amanda Sass notes, “If not for Hillel or other Jewish organizations, I don’t know how I would meet Jewish guys, unless I went to AEPi or something…but I don’t know if that’s the setting in which I would want to meet people. The only way to meet people if you don’t go to Jewish events is by chance — if you sit next to someone in class, or you take a Jewish Studies class or something.”
Now dating, Eryk Waligora and Sass met last year on the JSU board, when Waligora was seeking Jewish clubs in which to get involved.
“The whole reason that I got involved with the Jewish community here is because I didn’t really have one of my own, growing up. Judaism in and of itself wasn’t the important part of my life until I came to college, but now I like to think that it is. I would also like to think that being with someone who is Jewish is very important to me,” Waligora said with a smile audible even over the phone, as he and Sass drive to her parents’ house for Shabbat dinner.
Another Jewish Bruin couple consists of the recently graduated Ronit Hakakha and Jonathan Waxer. Hakakha, former Hillel president says, “after meeting a few people during the Shagririm [Israeli-American Ambassadors on Campus] program, Jon started becoming more and more invested in the Hillel community, coming to events and eventually joining the leadership board. And I lived at Hillel from day one, so that worked out pretty well.”
Indeed, at most Jewish social events on campus, sexual tension bubbles just under the surface — not in a repressed, self-denying Philip Roth fashion, but in healthy and curious excitement to connect spiritually, mentally, and often physically. For these reasons, it is no wonder why upon leaving school (or sometimes even while in school), Jews turn to social networking sites in order to connect further and sift through potential suitors. JDate, launched in 1997 to become the most popular Jewish dating site, describes its mission as follows: “to strengthen the Jewish community and ensure that Jewish traditions are sustained for generations to come. To accomplish this mission, we provide a global network where Jewish singles can meet to find friendship, romance and life-long partners within the Jewish faith.”
Luckily, while at UCLA, Jewish events and groups create your network — seamlessly, even while you take a quick coffee break from studying or casually chat over Gemara.
Three of the last four Ha’Am editors-in-chief are either married to or dating someone they met on staff.
If you’re interested in any of our beautiful staff, feel free to browse the bios at haam.org, and e-mail our resident shadchanit (matchmaker) at [email protected] (she also has an advice column, and is accepting questions).