GradMatch, a local dating service run by volunteer matchmakers, has led to many first dates and at least two marriages so far.
Meira Weingarten and Eric Selkowitz of Havertown were graduate students together at Widener University and even had some friends in common, but they still wonder whether they would have found each other had it not been for a local Jewish matchmaking service.
They had each tried JDate for a few years. Selkowitz’s brother met his wife through the online dating service, and Weingarten’s sister and cousin both found spouses there. But it wasn’t working for them. So when they heard about GradMatch, both signed up.
Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Graduate Student Network, launched the service about five years ago after finding herself bombarded with requests from students on how to meet compatible Jewish partners.
At the beginning, Steinberg-Egeth teamed up with Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of Mekor Habracha, an Orthodox shul in Center City, to comb through a spreadsheet of interested singles. They met with the clients to learn about them and what they were looking for in a mate before recommending potential dates.
Hirsch also worked for Saw You at Sinai, a national service focused on Orthodox singles. Clients submit profiles just like they would on a standard online dating site, but unlike those services, only the matchmaker browses through individual profiles and then arranges dates. Through Hirsch’s connection, GradMatch was able to adopt the same online internal system by March 2010. That also gave the GradMatch matchmakers access to profiles posted on Saw You at Sinai as well as another national partner site, JRetroMatch, which targets unaffiliated to “traditional” Jews.
For Weingarten, GradMatch was an almost instant success.
“Eric was the first person I talked to,” the 31-year-old licensed psychologist recalled, reminiscing about their first date in October 2010. “Knowing someone else had vetted this person first, and it wasn’t just me reading a profile, was such a help.”
Their second date was at Longwood Gardens, where the couple returned on Feb. 29, 2012 — Leap Day — to get engaged. They were married on May 19 last year and are expecting their first child, a boy, in June.
Matchmaking ended up being a great alternative to meeting haphazardly, said Selkowitz, 29, a senior benefits representative for a water company.
“You have someone with you on this journey who knows your personality. You’re not going through this blind — you’re not alone.”
It also helped that both wanted to marry inside the faith — Weingarten had dated a non-Jew for several years and longed for the shared traditions and values that would form a marital foundation going forward. Both wanted extended family nearby so they could attend or host seders and Shabbat dinners.
There’s no charge to set up a profile on GradMatch, but clients must pay $10 to $20 per month for the matchmaker to arrange more than one match. The online interface is set up for heterosexual matches, a constraint of being part of the more traditional national databases. But GradMatch invites those interested in same-sex matchmaking to email the organizers directly.
Steinberg-Egeth stepped away from GradMatch in 2012, passing the volunteer matchmaking torch to Danielle Selber, a project director for Tribe 12. Hirsch and Saw You at Sinai staff are also still involved.
They sift through all the Philadelphia-area profiles submitted through the site. But it’s a true labor of love for them — all the fees collected from clients go to the national partner organizations who host the website.
Though GradMatch has drawn interest from schools throughout the area, including law students at Rutgers-Camden in South Jersey, Selber said she’s only actively matching for five to 10 clients at any given time.
“Choosing to date Jewish exclusively is a really big deal. It’s not something people take lightly,” Selber said.
One complication making it difficult for Jews in the area to find that “happily-ever-after” connection is that the older they get, the number of potential partners diminishes.
Steinberg-Egeth also believes more women than men are willing to admit they are looking for a partner, and are more committed to marry within the faith — resulting in a smaller pool of males.
Although GradMatch has resulted in only two marriages so far, according to Steinberg-Egeth, it has also led to many first dates. “And first dates can lead to second dates. Plus, even if the first date doesn’t go anywhere, it can still be a real confidence boost and lead to other connections,” she said.
Even though she no longer does matchmaking through GradMatch, Steinberg-Egeth continues to introduce singles on her own, and counts three married couples among her success stories.
“It’s easier to focus on people I have relationships with,” Steinberg-Egeth said. Networking, after all, isn’t only for job searches. More often than not, it’s at the heart of finding true love.