When Tzvi Michanik began exchanging e-mail with a 26-year-old woman from Brooklyn back in August 2003, he was instantly enchanted.
"To read her profile, I knew I was dealing with the nobility of Torah-observant women," recalled the now 29-year-old Michanik. "The way she wrote, it sent a chill down my spine."
Months before, Michanik – a self-described Torah-observant Jew living in Lakewood, N.J. – was having trouble establishing a relationship that had meaning. His friends in that tightly-knit community began to take notice.
"They could see my frustration," he said. "I was meeting a lot of people, and it was not really going anywhere."
A shadchan, or "matchmaker," suggested that he try out Frumster.com, a Web site for observant Jewish singles looking to get into serious relationships.
He found that Frumster was designed like other dating sites: Users create a profile, write about themselves and identify what qualities they are looking for in a date. They also have the option to post a picture, and then browse for a potential mate. But with pointed questions, like "Wishing to make aliyah to Israel?" and "Frequency of Torah study?", the site is geared not to those looking solely for a good time, but for those who clearly aim to marry.
"It cancels out a whole membership base that's not sincere," said Derek Saker, director of marketing for Frumster, which just celebrated its 500th member being wed. "Getting new members is important, but the quality of our members is important" as well.
About a month after starting with Frumster, Michanik began corresponding with Channie, and the chills he felt reading her e-mails made him hopeful that he was on to something special.
"The conversations we were having through the Web site said to me, 'Pay close attention. There is something different about this particular person,' " he described.
As they exchanged online messages and eventually phone calls, Tzvi and Channie were able to explain to each other how they planned to practice Judaism on a daily basis and, by the time those phone calls were transformed into actual dates, many of the big issues had been settled.
"We already knew a lot about one another," said Michanik. "What we shared was pretty clear – the absolute yes's and absolute no's had been dealt with. We were able to clear up what, for some, might be serious issues."
"Certain things are non-negotiable," added Channie. "Daven every day, learn Torah as much as possible."
After dating from August until November that year, they got engaged, marrying in March 2004. The couple now lives in Northeast Philadelphia.
Their story actually inspired Channie's mother, Beckie Braun, a 52-year-old widow, to become active with Frumster. Only a week after her daughter's wedding, Braun met a husband of her own.
"We're totally crazy about each other," said Beckie Braun, who married Sam Handwerger a little over a year later. "I never get tired of being with him. We're flat out in love with each other."
Frumster staff members contend that matches like Tzvi's and Channie's, or Beckie's and Sam's, are becoming an increasingly normal tale of finding love via the Web. And although its core market is still observant Jews, the service recently opened its doors to all segments of the Jewish dating community – minus those seeking same-sex pairings – as long as they are committed to dating for the purpose of marriage.
"Since we integrated [the site], matchmaking has started to increase," said Saker, who states that now an average of 18 people a month who meet on Frumster get hitched.
He noted that the Web site might also be empowering women – whom he said have historically been relegated to the receiving end of a dating proposal – to take the lead in initiating social engagements.
"In over 55 percent of marriages, the relationship was initiated by a woman," said Saker, speaking only of results from the site. "In the traditional dating world, women have had to play second fiddle. It wasn't their prerogative to take the lead."
'A Lot More Serious'
One such woman is 27-year-old Ilana Refaeli, who's been looking for a potential husband on Frumster for about a month.
"I had two relationships from JDate," she said, which tends to cater to the more secular community. "I didn't feel compatible. You get a lot of people who aren't Jewish – and people who are barely Jewish."
"For the most part," she added, "Frumster is a lot more serious."
Refaeli, who was raised in a Modern Orthodox home in Venezuela by her Israeli-born parents, is looking for someone who will keep a kosher home, and perhaps speak Hebrew in the house.
"I'm definitely looking for marriage," said Refaeli, who lives near Center City. "I'm not interested in just dating for the fun of it. I'm looking to get married and start a family."