Before JDate existed, summer camp was the natural place to find a Jewish match. Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg reminisces about "Shabbos walks" and ponders the progeny that resulted from camp shidduchs.
By: Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg
Whether or not you agree with California Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman’s politics, you can’t fault his dating tactics — Sherman met his wife through JDate, an online Jewish dating service. At this point, the Shermans are just one famous example of the thousands of Jewish couples who meet online at sites like JDate, or the comically named "Sawyouatsinai.com," every year. If we could track the number of progeny from these successful online matches, it would be safe to say that a generation of young Jews owe their very lives directly to the existence of this and other modern-day Yentas. It's clear that Tevya the dairyman would have had much less on his mind had JDate made its way to Anatevka.
Before the dawn of the Internet age, the most common way that young Jews got together was by attending Jewish summer camp. Be they religious or secular, socialist or Zionist, Jewish summer camps have been a hotbed of, well, hot beds, a breeding ground of future breeding, for as long as Jews have been venturing into the wilderness — that is, if you consider the Poconos, Catskills or Berkshires wilderness (though it's fair to assume there was some hanky-panky going on among the Israelites post-Exodus as well).
Those of past generations who attended Camp Ramah or other camps of its ilk, likely remember the phenomenon of the “Shabbos walk.” In laymen’s terms, this was an event where a young Jewish camper asked the object of his or her affection to take an afternoon Sabbath stroll. The walk almost assuredly took them to some of the quieter of their camp's nooks and crannies. For many camp-going Jews, the Shabbos walk held the promise of many firsts — first hand-holdings, first kisses, first loves.
To my knowledge, Jewish summer camps have never calculated official statistics of how many couples they have fostered, nor do they have an exact count of how many second and third generation children exist as a result of their parents’ initial “Shabbos walks," but I imagine that the figure certainly rivals and likely bests any claims made currently by JDate. Some Jewish summer camps have actually established "shidduch walls" where couples who met at camp can immortalize their union by affixing a plaque to said wall. This is not that different from the easily accessible "success section" on JDate's website. If you're so inclined, you can read hundreds of testimonials from couples who met their bashert on the site.
As for me, I am a second generation camper. My parents met in the wilderness of Ramah Poconos when my father, fortuitously, was dating my mom's then co-counselor. That makes my children third-generation Jewish camp kids. Though I did not meet my wife through camp, I have many friends who did, and both of my brothers married women they met at camp.
As a people, we've come a long way from the Sinai desert and have successfully left the hardships of the Shtetl behind. But even in the wilderness of these modern times, a Jew still needs a good matchmaker.
Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Yardley.