Part 1: THE BEGINNING OF ENDTHEMADNESS
When I first started EndTheMadness, I never envisioned it being any more than a web site. The main section would outline the essence of what was really wrong with the shidduch world, explain why conventional attempts to solve the problems were doomed to failure or very limited success, and present a solution that would address the root cause of the problems – namely, a corruption of Jewish values and thinking. Those who agreed (and I was sure there were many such people scattered about the Jewish world) would sign a "covenant" of basic Jewish principles that had somehow become controversial, and thereby give chizuk to their like-minded brethren who felt trapped in a system that they knew was corrupt.
Those who were uninformed would be educated, those who felt isolated would see they were far from alone, and those who felt compelled to make choices that weren't right for them would see that they had a choice after all. Those who were convinced that everything was just fine and the problem was television, secular studies, or some such thing were more than free to continue on their merry way. The idea was never to change the minds of those who are essentially out of reach, but to give support and helpful information to everyone else.
There was no single life-altering event that galvanized me to create ETM, but rather a culmination of years of witnessing the madness. (Those who suspect that I created ETM as a response to personal difficulties are way, way off – I hadn't even started dating. Those who jump to other conclusions about ETM tend to be similarly way off.)
One event that comes to mind was the graduation ceremony of my sister from a Bais Yaakov high school (separate seating, of course, since apparently no one could be trusted to behave themselves). The principal wished the girls a mazal tov and quipped that "now you're kallah maidels". The girls giggled, the audience laughed, and good times were had by all. Except one young man in the audience, who saw madness. After all, the school had a rule that any student caught speaking to a boy would be summarily expelled. My own sister had some explaining to do after being seen with me in a pizza store, and the emissary of Big Brother didn't know that I was HER big brother. So the girls were supposed to go from interacting in any way with their male counterparts as the most forbidden of all forbiddens to establishing a successful marital relationship with one of these people with little delay. Makes a whole lot of sense, if you're insane.
The other incident that sticks out in my mind is a series of lectures I attended on the topic of shidduchim. I went to hear what people were being told. What they were being told included the following:
One should preferably not date a ba'alas teshuva because one would then not have observant in-laws to visit for Yom Tov.
If the mother of the girl one is dating is a "fat woman who watches television all day", that's what the girl will be like in 20 years. It was stated just like that, as a fact.
People who are unmarried should not set up their single friends on dates. Apparently this mitzva and most important personal favor is reserved for married people, who, one assumes, knows what they're doing so much better. Of course. All those married shadchanim are doing such a fabulous job that the immediate friends of singles have no business making an introduction. Heck, I only wonder why he didn't suggest (or, rather, rule) that only people who have been happily married for 20 years or more should set people up. Why not go all the way with the idea?
What disturbed me most about these lectures was not the outrageous things the standing-room-only crowd of 20-ish yeshiva and college students were being told. What disturbed me most was the way they were furiously scribbling down notes, and no one thought to question, let alone challenge, some of the things they were being told. I wondered how many of these people would break up with someone they were dating because of what they were being told. I wondered how many shidduchim that should happen would not. I wondered what the rabbis making these comments would say in the next world to explain themselves before the ultimate court.
Shortly thereafter it dawned on me that I needed to do more than vent to those I know (who, God bless them, were subjected to many impassioned monologues in those days). I needed to help spread a different message. And the Internet was just the powerful tool that would allow me to communicate this message and unite like-minded Jews in a grassroots campaign.
One day the following summer I wrote the text of the main section of the ETM web site in one feverish, inspired sitting. I then arranged to meet a longtime friend and chavrusa in the waiting area in Penn Station, where I told him my crazy idea to change the world. He liked it as much as I did, and agreed to serve as the volunteer webmaster for EndTheMadness. We registered the domain name 5 years ago today, October 8, 2007.
I shared a printout of the text with Rabbi Moshe Tendler the following school year, and he suggested some edits. (To those who are vitally concerned about these things, I never asked him for permission to go ahead with the project, just for any input he might have had.) I was convinced that once people saw the message the changes would come about in a flash. I was so confident that I bragged to Rabbi Tendler that everything would be fixed in a year. He replied that it would take ten years.
Well, so far it's clear that my prediction was wrong, and I only hope that his turns out to be right. Ten years to produce a monumental social change isn't bad, either.
A short time later the web site went up with the main text, the covenant, and the signers section. That was it. To me, that remains the key component of the ETM campaign, despite being so easily overlooked. The essence of ETM is identifying the root of what's wrong, promoting the proper Jewish values and ideas, and uniting an "army of normal people" to stand behind them. This group cuts straight through the demographic lines, stereotypes, labels, and other over-hyped forms of classification. The only "type" of person who is capable of signing the covenant is a Jew who has thought through what he believes, proudly stands behind it, and feels a passion for being part of something great.
The publicity for ETM was simple. I plastered the Yeshiva University campus with fliers on which were printed ENDTHEMADNESS.ORG in large block letters, and nothing more. I figured a few people would be curious enough to check it out, and some of them would be excited enough to send annoying emails to everyone they know. I was right, and people started signing up almost immediately.
We started getting e-mails. We got supportive e-mails. We got wacky e-mails. We got stupid questions. The flame had been lit, the message was starting to spread, and I didn't have the slightest idea what I had gotten myself into.
Part 2: ENDTHEMADNESS GROWS UP
One of the key moments in the development of EndTheMadness into a real movement was our first event, a symposium at Yeshiva University in February, 2003. At that time ETM still consisted only of me, our webmaster, and a bare-bones web site. All we had to look forward to was the occasional signer of the covenant from some random part of the world and e-mails supporting us or blasting us. It was fun, and we clearly had gotten some people's attention, but it didn't seem like very much was happening.
I realized that we needed to counter the ridiculous messages that dominated the educational landscape with an event that would send the right kind of messages. I had been fortunate to come across rabbis who said things that needed to be heard, but for some reason they weren't attracting enough of an audience. They needed a forum dedicated for just this purpose.
I had never organized an event in my life, had no parallel experience, no partners, no one to guide me, and no real idea what I was doing. Consequently, those out there who say things like "I'd love to help, but I'm not someone who runs events" should understand why I consider it an excuse, and not a great one at that. But more on that and related matters in Part 3.
At that time I was attending classes in YU with Rabbi Moshe Tendler and Rabbi Allen Schwartz, and was impressed with not only their Torah knowledge, but their sensibility, ability to relate to communal issues, and their willingness to say what they believed without apologies. (Of course, it would be disrespectful to even give the impression that Rabbis Tendler and Schwartz need my approval; I am merely taking you through my thought process at the time.)
They both accepted my invitation to participate in a symposium on dating and shidduchim, as did Sandra Gross, an informal matchmaker and mother of a friend and fellow semicha student. The student council secured a location at YU for the event and a supportive administrator arranged to have the speeches professionally recorded. I insisted that the event be open to the entire community, not merely YU and Stern students, and the powers-that-be agreed despite the fact that this was unusual for an on-campus event organized by students.
The event was called for 8:00 PM, and at 8:00 PM I was the only person in the room. Do you think I was a little concerned? Yeah, maybe just a little. Then David Ebin walked in. David is the President of the Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation, and I used to frequently stay at his home to layn there on Shabbos. It was a pleasant surprise to see him, and I hoped he didn't drive all that way for nothing.
Fortunately, by 8:10 a nice crowd had begun filing in, and before long we had a standing-room-only crowd that was estimated at over 300 people. It remains to this day by far the largest event ETM has ever run. There were quite a few people from nearby communities who attended, and I'm happy to say that although there were two large blocks of chairs with a row in the middle, men and women occupied both sides of the room together. No one misbehaved, either.
The presentations were powerful, more than I even dared to hope for. The audience was actively engaged, there were far more questions and comments than time to address them all, and quite a few people lingered long after the event was over. The recording of this event is available on the ETM web site, and I urge everyone who has not listened to it to clear an hour and a half and share in the experience.
The New York Jewish Week ran a page-3 article about the event and the Jerusalem Report ran a feature article shortly thereafter. The Yeshiva University Commentator ran multiple articles on ETM, and "End the madness!" became a common refrain for people experiencing difficulties finding a compatible chavrusa.
One of those late-night Jewish talk shows that no one listens to ran an hour-long show to discuss "the madness of the shidduch world". The host bent over backwards to not mention EndTheMadness or me by name, even though he made reference to a "recent symposium" and even had Rabbi Schwartz on as a guest. (To his credit, and probably to the host's dismay, Rabbi Schwartz gave proper credit to ETM on the air for organizing the symposium.)
On the one hand, it was flattering that others wanted a piece of the momentum that ETM had galvanized. On the other hand, it was the beginning of a disturbing trend of other groups and organizations wanting to go it alone and reinvent the wheel so they can take all the credit for themselves, rather than give credit to ETM for paving the way and working with us or openly borrowing our ideas. But more on that as well in Part 3.
With this one event ETM placed the so-called shidduch crisis squarely on the front burner and brought many of the related issues out into the open. For one thing, five years ago it was controversial to criticize the inappropriate questions that are typically asked by and about singles. Today it is mainstream, even fashionable to criticize the "tablecloth" question and others like it, and I think ETM is largely responsible for that.
Web site traffic increased, as did the e-mails. One e-mail came from Michael Feldstein, a marketing professional from Stamford, CT who expressed interest in volunteering for ETM. This was quite possibly the most significant development in the growth of ETM; Michael quickly became a trusted confidant, a source of innovative ideas, a liaison to many key connections in the community, an informal mentor to a graduate student flying by the seat of his pants, and so much more.
Just in time for the event, our webmaster completed an important new addition to the web site: a bulletin board where people could interact about the issues. We started with 4 threads: The Madness of Dating, for venting, Finding the Right One, for practical ideas and guidance, Events, for spreading the word about events of interest to singles, and Comments About the Web Site, for just that. Since then we added two more threads: Positive Ideas and Experiences, to balance the overwhelming popularity of the Madness of Dating thread and the emphasis on negativity that came along with that (this balance has still, unfortunately, not been realized).
The other thread is Madness Watch, a more tightly moderated thread that functions almost like a blog. The purpose of this thread is to keep an eye on madness in the community, kind of like the way CAMERA keeps an eye on how Israel is portrayed in the media. Once again, unfortunately, there have been far more negative observations than positive. But, hey, it's only been 5 years.
One of the best injections of chizuk came from the very second post in the Madness of Dating thread. The first post came on February 25, 2003, an inspirational personal story of a woman who had a miserable time as a divorced single for years until she met her second husband. Go back to what is now page 105 in the archives to read it for yourself. One day later, someone by the name of Marisa responded as follows:
"Thank you for sharing your beautiful and inspirational story. I have my Get about 1 year now, it took me two 1/2 years to receive it. I am now almost 39, I have three beautiful children. I have not been on one date in 3 1/2 years. I thought my only solution was to open myself up to dating non-frum men, which I planned to start doing, but now that I see that Shomer Mitzvot people are recognizing the madness - I might reconsider."
Isn't that amazing? Even in those early days ETM was reaching and affecting people in a profound way. And it was precisely through the recipe that was the original concept of ETM – uniting those who felt alone and trapped in a world that had gone completely mad, who had a story to tell and felt there was no one out there who would understand where they were coming from, let alone care.
I wonder what happened to Marisa. We never heard from her again.
In the following months we had more symposiums and began organizing social events. We felt it wasn't enough simply to articulate the vision, but to set an example that others would hopefully emulate. There didn't just need to be more venues for singles to meet, but there needed to be more effective and more comfortable venues for singles to meet. These events included a game night on Tu B'Av at Lincoln Square Synagogue, an arts festival the following year, and "The World's Largest Kosher Tailgate Party" on Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium, where we had an open barbecue in the parking lot before the game.
The aforementioned game night drew a small crowd of less than 20 singles under the age of 30. We typically run events for a younger crowd in large part because our goal is to change the culture of the shidduch world, not to function as a dating service. Thing is, younger singles tend to be most likely to avoid events because the prevailing attitude is that one should only attend an event as a last resort. Those who have not reached the age of desperation are far less likely to go. This is one of the many things that need to change, and ETM has been doing its part.
Anyway, we had a small turnout, but two of the people who met informally at this event went to the tailgate party a few weeks later as a couple (I actually seated them next to one another unaware of this), and a few months later became the first of many married couples to meet at an ETM event with no one forcing the issue. So we didn't draw 500 people, but those who came had a nice time, no one went home in tears, two people got married, and no one compromised halacha. Not bad.
The following year Michael Feldstein proposed that we run a Shabbaton for singles in his hometown of Stamford. I was lukewarm at best towards the idea. After all, my vision for events was for the possibility of meeting someone to date being as understated as possible, for the event to have clear inherent worth beyond merely being a faint chance to find a spouse. That's why nearly all of our events to that point were open to the entire community, including those already married or in a relationship. The idea was to create opportunities for people to meet without forcing the issue or making that the sole, rather obvious intent of the event.
Michael insisted that an ETM Shabbaton would have inherent value and would be contain a relaxed environment. I was far from convinced, but Michael had earned the right to try an idea and fail spectacularly if it came to that. Shira Rose, who volunteered for ETM after attending the tailgate party, organized the Shabbaton with Michael, and it wound up being a big success. The community and its host families could not have been more welcoming of a group of singles, and the feedback we received both from the community and the participants was overwhelmingly positive. We had a keeper.
A fringe benefit of the Shabbaton was that it helped bring ETM firmly into the black. Since no one affiliated with ETM takes any money beyond a reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, our expenses are pretty low. In fact, we get by on a shoestring budget. Nevertheless, for the first year or so we were in the red and I didn't want to have to think about how much money I would lay out if it came to it. I was firmly against the idea of soliciting or even accepting donations (to this day we never have, even when offered with no strings attached), and we got by with minimal profits from some events and the occasional t-shirt sale. We're not talking big bucks here.
We only charged $18 for that first Shabbaton, but after sponsoring Shalosh Seudos for the shul and covering other costs associated with the program we cleared a few hundred bucks, which felt like a fortune and pushed us farther into the black than we'd ever been (a few hundred bucks). Hey, who says changing the world requires millions?
The Shabbatons became a regular part of ETM and perhaps our most successful undertaking. The mere fact that it was able to happen over my own reservations demonstrates yet another way that ETM is refreshingly different than so many of those "other" organizations. We get things done. When someone has a good idea, we run with it. We don't have endless meetings and conference calls, we don't have dozens of executives niggling over every detail and who all have to be satisfied before anything can get done, we don't fret over fundraising and public relations, and the structure is flexible enough to allow for taking chances and giving ideas a shot.
That's why ETM has been able to accomplish so much with hardly any money, no physical infrastructure, and a tiny group of unpaid volunteers. Perhaps the larger organizations, which have tremendous resources and talent, can learn a thing or two from us. After all, we're not in competition with anyone, and in fact have collaborated with other organizations on many occasions. The focus needs to be on the goal, not on the self-perpetuation of the organization.
The world has enough large organizations that do everything the safe, conventional way and enough leaders who say all the things they are expected to say. There's room for one organization to decide it's playing with house money and not let fear of failure stand in the way of swinging for the fences. That's how ETM operates, and while we haven't hit a home run every time, we've accomplished far more than we ever could if we tried to "tone it down a bit" and start playing it safe. There's a lesson here for other organizations and those who are in a position of leadership.
Part 3: THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF ENDTHEMADNESS
ETM began as just a web site, and to me the main focus of ETM continues to be the messages, information, and resources that we can provide through the web site. I'm very proud of the rich assortment of resources that are now available on the web site and the comprehensive approach we have taken towards addressing the problems in the shidduch world.
The first new addition to the web site following the creation of the bulletin board was the "ETM Challenge". One of our most important points that we have been trying to get across to the community has been the destructive effects of labels and superficial stereotyping of observant Jews. We succeeded once again in bringing this issue to light and generating lots of discussion, but, as always, there has been tremendous resistance to the idea of change. People defend labeling almost as if it's one of the 613 mitzvos we're trying to do away with.
We believe that labels are merely a convenient crutch for those who are unable to describe in precise terms what they have in mind, and with a wink and a nod both the speaker and the listener pretend they understand each other.
As a result, singles get away with not being able to describe themselves or others, shadchanim get away with not spending the time really getting to know the people they are trying to set up, shidduchim that should be explored are immediately scuttled because the labels don't match, superficialities are given more importance than substance, and the Jewish people are endlessly fragmented based on ambiguous classifications. But hey, you save a few seconds of conversation that are surely devoted to learning more Torah. Go labels.
The ETM Challenge asks people to at least give our side a fair chance. Go one week without using labels. If you find that you really can't live without labels, well, it's pikuach nefesh. But you just might find that after overcoming the initial difficulties of trying to communicate in a different way (or perhaps a plain withdrawal symptom) your communication and understanding of people are far enhanced. I think this is at least worth a shot, hence the ETM Challenge. I have no idea how many people have tried it (probably not all that many), but it's out there.
Another of our significant resources is the Shadchan Code of Responsibility, which was created by a collaboration of several rabbis and professionals and spearheaded by Rabbi Moshe Bellows, who gets the lion's share of the credit for coming up with the idea and producing the document. The Shadchan Code addresses one of the main problems of the shidduch world, which is a disconnect between shadchanim and singles. I don't need to tell you about "issues" that often come up between these two parties that should be on the same page, up front with one another, and working in an ethical fashion toward the common goal of helping singles find someone suitable to marry.
Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the Shadchan Code has yet to be embraced by many shadchanim or singles. Shadchanim tend to get very defensive when someone suggests introducing any kind of checks and balances into their practices, even if it will make their efforts more efficient and successful. Singles today have no guts, plain and simple. They have a hard time even asking someone out on a date, so it's hard to expect them to consider themselves on an equal footing with a shadchan and demand more of a say in how the shadchan works on their behalf.
But, again, this resource is available for shadchanim and singles who are forward-thinking enough to see its benefits. For everyone else, I suppose it's nice to know that it exists even if you're not using it yet. There's no expiration date.
Zevi Adler first contacted me during ETM's first year of existence with a long, enthusiastic e-mail praising our efforts. Zevi used to be very involved in organizing singles events, and has been an excellent resource for guidance over the years. He was indispensable in making the first tailgate party a success, providing very detailed information in how to plan and execute a successful barbecue, and even lending a hand at the event. Those who frequent the bulletin board know that Zevi occasionally shares innovative date ideas as alternatives to the dreaded hotel lobby.
Some time ago Michael suggested that we collect some of Zevi's best ongoing ideas and produce a handbook with this information. After zero meetings in a conference room with deli sandwiches and not even a conference call with dull monologues we published "Zevi's Top 25 New York City Date Destinations". It comes with a verbal haskama from a clerk at Office Max, who apparently read through the book and told me she thought it was very interesting. We sell it for 6 bucks delivered, which is less than the cost of a Diet Coke in a hotel lobby.
Another of Zevi's ideas that we've been promoting through the web site and in published articles is that of the shadchan contributing a small amount of money for the first date. If it goes to a second date, the guy returns the money, and if the couple gets married the shadchan gets paid 100 times the amount of money.
The idea in a nutshell is that shadchanim (especially those who hit the jackpot for "making a shidduch") have nothing to lose and everything to gain by setting up singles haphazardly and without getting to know them well at all. This is one reason why the currently fashionable notion of offering a sort of bounty to anyone who finds a shidduch for a woman over a certain age in some communities, or for raising money to pay more shadchanim, is doomed to merely compounding the current tragic situation. It encouraged more shadchanus, most of which will be poorly executed, at the emotional and monetary expense of the singles involved.
Zevi's suggestion insures that any shadchan who gets is right even 1 time out of 100 will profit considerably, because every time the suggestion even leads to a second date (which is reasonable to expect in any case) the shadchan breaks even. Shadchanim who can't get it right 1 out of 100 times, or even 1 out of 150 times, really shouldn't be setting people up altogether, and will be weeded out through this system. Shadchanim who are even remotely competent will only stand to gain. Singles will benefit by knowing that the shadchan put enough thought and effort into the suggestion to invest something in a most tangible way. Everyone wins, really.
Great idea. Listen to the crickets chirp.
Most Shadchanim once again get all offended by the suggestion of "paying singles to go out on dates", which only highlights their shortsightedness, condescending attitude toward singles, and their unwillingness to consider an idea that is actually quite beneficial for them if it carries even a notion of accountability. Singles wouldn't dream of suggesting the idea to a shadchan, either, for fear of never being able to get a date as long as they live (as if there's no other way or a God in charge of things). So it's up to the truly inspired and wise shadchanim to lead the way, and for community leaders to endorse the idea as well. In the mean time, a handful of shadchanim have openly adopted the idea (see Shadchanim Page on the web site), and they report positive results.
In one sense, ETM is a laboratory for implementing new ideas. The problem is that even when we can produce positive results, there is often little interest in the community in implementing these proven ideas on a wider scale. To me, those who are unwilling to give a chance to something that has proven to be successful, far more so than the status quo, have forfeited the right to complain about the "shidduch crisis" and write anonymous letters to the editor. If you won't take the medicine, I don't want to hear you moan about your headache.
That largely crystallizes how I feel after 5 years of running ETM. On the one hand, we've accomplished more than most people would have ever dreamed possible. On the other hand, I feel that so much progress is well within reach if only more people who are already for the most part on our side would just take a critical step forward. If we keep doing the same things and regurgitating the same tired ideas that haven't been working (more shadchanim, more shidduch groups, more drab and tightly controlled singles events, more segulos) we can expect more of the same results.
If something is wrong with the situation, then it stands to reason that something needs to change. If many things are wrong with the situation, then many things need to change. If just about everything is going to fight tooth and nail to avoid changing even the smallest aspect of how they are currently doing things, or if they will nervously wait for other people to change first, then the current generation of singles is doomed and the next one is in serious danger. That's the cold, hard truth.
Other goodies on the web site include audio recordings of several of our events (though, regrettably, we didn't manage to record all of the great speeches at our symposiums), a collection of articles on the issues, and archives of the ETM Purim editions beginning in 2004.
Regarding the articles, I must express my gratitude to the Jewish Press for publishing pretty much everything I've ever sent them. True, it's a two-way street and they're grateful for my submissions, but I can't think of many publications under Orthodox Jewish auspices that regularly publish articles that challenge the accepted status quo and ask the community to take a serious look in the mirror. Can you? There is a lot of pressure out there to keep one's mouth tightly shut and to stifle anyone who does otherwise. I hope the Jewish Press continues to stand up to this pressure and that other Jewish publications that cater to an Orthodox audience learn to function as more than mouthpieces for propagandists.
Regarding the Purim content, it's good stuff and we have a blast producing it year after year. I just hope we can continue to produce original, high-quality humor. If nothing else, this yearly challenge is additional incentive to finish the job we started as quickly as possible!
Finally, thanks to Zion Orent, our webmaster and the only other person who's been there from day one. Without Zion, there is no web site and no red heifer protecting the bulletin board.
Many people have helped ETM in various ways over the years, but at no point has our core group of volunteers numbered in double digits. Looking back at all that we have done in our spare time, this is astonishing. Imagine if we had even 20 volunteers organizing events, working on the web site, and promoting our activities. Imagine if we had 50. The accomplishments would be multiplied exponentially and the slow, incremental improvements could become a torrent.
One of the most frustrating realities that we've become almost resigned to is that people want all kinds of things to happen and to be done for them, but they're not willing to much to make it happen.
We all want someone to lead the tefillos in shul, but it's a game of cat and mouse three times a day to find a willing volunteer to stand in front for a few minutes and recite some lines of Hebrew. It's no wonder, then, that our calls for more people to do something that takes a bit more time and effort, and might meet with more resistance, have been mostly ignored.
Nevertheless, things have to change. And things will change. They have to. The status quo is simply not sustainable. The only question is whether things will change as a result of desperate measures when the crisis has reached the breaking point, or things will change as a result of forward-thinking and courageous action. If the former, many singles will never marry, more married people will learn the hard way that the chuppah is not the finish line but the starting point, and that we are dealing with real life here. God didn't make this problem for us, and He'd only going to solve it if we do what is within our abilities. So we need to say a little less Tehillim and devote more time to practical, truly different measures.
I can't tell you how often people contact me expressing interest in volunteering for ETM. They contact me after signing the covenant, they contact me after events, they contact me after reading articles by me or about ETM, and they contact me out of the blue. I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of people who have actually followed through on this initial expression of interest after I took it seriously and opened the door for them. We've even run volunteer drives where anyone who wanted could meet the leaders of ETM and learn how they can get involved in ways large and small. These were nicely attended, and produced not a single new volunteer. People offer to help and then enter the witness protection program. Maybe that's where they meet all those people who promise to call back...
Well, the our doors are still wide open, and we're more than happy to welcome new volunteers and provide whatever guidance and knowledge we can to those who want to do something on their own. We would like nothing more than for people to borrow our successful ideas and produce more events like those we have modeled for the community. Let there be so many normal, inherently worthwhile, easily affordable (even free) events that singles can fill up every night of the week that they don't have a date with a place to go and meet people informally. Let there be so many ETM-style events that ETM events become obsolete. Please, people, put us out of business.
Another occasional source of frustration is when someone on our mailing list, which I consider to be our "Army of Normal People" e-mails me to requesting to be taken off the list. Why? Because he's now married, and therefore "no longer needs to be on the list". This is truly sad. First of all, again, ETM is not a dating service, and in fact quite a few of the people on our list are married. Rather, ETM is a community-wide effort to improve the situation, and married people play an important role in that process. Those who only care as long as they or their children are single are people that I have a hard time respecting.
Besides, if a married person on the list does nothing more than forward news of our events and major initiatives to their single friends, that's well worth the price of admission. Married people who don't think they have enough time to do more are put to shame by our married volunteers who have made incredible contributions. Everyone can do something, and if more people did even something we might not need to discuss this anymore 5 years from now.
Looking back, we have a lot to be proud of, but there's so much more that needs to be done. I hope you will continue to support ETM and perhaps even find ways to do more. Trust me, it's very gratifying.
Here's a rundown of every event that we've done since October, 2002.
Fliers with full details are available in the Past Events section of the web site (hopefully to be brought up to date soon). Tremendous thanks to all those who gave of their time to share their insights and expertise, the shuls that hosted us, and the various ETM volunteers and others who helped in ways large and small. Following that are reflections by Michael Feldstein.
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, February 26, 2003, Yeshiva University (Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rabbi Allen Schwartz, Mrs. Sandra Gross)
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, April 7, 2003, Stern College (Dr. Rivkah Blau, Rabbi Moshe Bellows, Channie Braun)
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, November 8, 2003, Young Israel of Far Rockaway (Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Dr. Naomi Mark, Rabbi Moshe Bellows)
Informal Discussion on Ethical Issues in Dating, December 22, 2003, Yeshiva University (Rabbi Yosef Blau, Michael Feldstein, Dr. Scott Goldberg, Rabbi Robert Hirt, Abby Lerner, Judi Steinig, Rabbi Jeremy Wieder)
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, February 28, 2004, Young Israel of Flatbush (Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, Miriam Wietschner, Dr. Scott Goldberg)
Informal Discussion on Ethical Issues in Dating, June 9, 2004, Shearith Israel / Spanish Portuguese Synagogue (Rabbi Hayyim Angel, Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, Rabbi Josh Joseph, Sarah Hurwitz, Rabbi Moshe Bellows, Frank Buchweitz, Michael Feldstein, Dr. Naomi Mark, Chananya Weissman) – in conjunction with the Orthodox Union
Workshop and Discussion, July 5, 2004 (Dr. Michael Salamon)
Tu B'av Game Night, August 1, 2004, Lincoln Square Synagogue
The World's Largest Kosher Tailgate Party, August 29, 2004
Dvar Torah Club, November 7, 2004, Young Israel of Far Rockaway
Speed Chess Tournament, January 30, 2005, Lincoln Square Synagogue
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, February 19, 2005, Discovery Room, Old City of Jerusalem (Rabbi Shimon Green, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Amy Persky, Shifra Greiner)
The World's Largest Kosher Tailgate Party II, August 21, 2005
Chess Tournament and Game Night, August 22, 2005, Seaview Jewish Center
Arts Festival, August 25, 2005, Lincoln Square Synagogue
Game Night, December 4, 2005, Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills
Let's Just Be Friends: Are Platonic Relationships Responsible, Healthy, and Halachic? December 12, 2005, Shearith Israel / Spanish Portuguese Synagogue (Rabbi Moshe Bellows, Rabbi Bob Carroll, Michael Feldstein, Toby Goldfischer, Rabbi Josh Joseph, Ruth Levi, Naomi Mark, Jordana Schoor, Chananya Weissman) – in conjunction with the Orthodox Union
Symposium on Dating and Shidduchim, June 20, 2006, Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills (Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Dr. Aliza Dworkin Frohlich)
The Halachic and Medical Issues Surrounding Premarital Genetic Screening, June 27, 2006, Congregation Ohab Zedek (Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rabbi Kenneth Brander)
Tu B'av Game Night, August 9, 2006, Cong. Kehilath Jeshurun
The World's Largest Kosher Tailgate Party III, August 27, 2006
Double Standards in Dating: Breaking Barriers and Debunking Social Customs, December 11, 2006, Cong. Shearith Israel / Spanish Portuguese Synagogue (Simcha Feuerman, Marc Goldmann, Dr. Naomi Mark, Rabbi Moshe Bellows, Laura Freiman, Rachie Jacobson, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb) – in conjunction with the Orthodox Union
Melave Malka, March 17, 2007, NYU Hillel
Pre-Pesach Chessed Event, March 25, 2007 – in conjunction with Dorot
Navigating Through the Dating Maze, April 18, 2007, Mount Sinai Jewish Center (Rabbi Yosef and Dr. Rivkah Blau)
Tu B'av Game Night, July 30, 2007, Cong. Kehilath Jeshurun
ETM Discussion Series in Jerusalem, August 9 and August 16, 2007, Cong. Beit Yosef – in conjunction with Habe'er
Stamford – December 2004 – Young Israel of Stamford, R' Ira Ebbin
West Hempstead – March 2005 – Young Israel of West Hempstead, R' Yehuda Kelemer
Teaneck – May 2005 – Cong. Rinat Yisrael, R' Yosef Adler
Lawrence – August 2005 – Cong. Beth Sholom, R' Kenneth Hain
Elizabeth / Hillside – September 2005
Passaic – January 2006 – Tiferes Israel, Rabbi Aaron Cohen
Stamford – February 2006 – Cong. Agudath Sholom, R' Mark Dratch
Monsey – March 2006 – Bais Torah, R' Yisroel Gottleib
Teaneck – May 2006 – Cong. Rinat Yisrael, R' Yosef Adler
West Hempstead – June 2006 – Young Israel of West Hempstead, R' Yehuda Kelemer
Lawrence – August 2006 – Cong. Beth Sholom, R' Kenneth Hain
Hillcrest (Chagaton) – October 2006 – Young Israel of Hillcrest, R' Richard Weiss
Staten Island (in conjunction with the Orthodox Union) – December 2006 – Young Israel of Staten Island, R' Yaakov Lehrfield
Teaneck – January 2007 – Cong. Rinat Yisrael, R' Yosef Adler
Stamford – February 2007 – Cong. Agudath Sholom, R' Daniel Cohen
Monsey – March 2007 – Bais Torah, R' Yisroel Gottleib
Wesley Hills – May 2007 – Kehillat Ohavei Zion
West Orange – July 2007 – Ahawas Achim B'nei Jacob and David, Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler
Lawrence – August 2007 – Cong. Beth Sholom, R' Kenneth Hain
Hillcrest – October 2007 – Young Israel of Hillcrest, R' Richard Weiss
REFLECTIONS (ON THE OCCASION OF ETM's FIFTH ANNIVERSARY)
by Michael Feldstein
Almost five years ago, I read an article in The Jewish Week about a symposium that was organized at Yeshiva University focusing on the shidduch madness that was prevalent in the Orthodox world. It was put together by a person named Chananya Weissman, who had started an organization called EndTheMadness to address the issue. I checked out the organization's website, and it crystallized much of my thinking on the problems of dating and marriage in the observant community. I was also incredibly impressed that a then 24-year-old rabbinical student could articulate such a mature and sensible approach to solving the problems in the shidduch world. So I e-mailed Chananya, offering to help him in his marketing and PR efforts, as well as in his programming plans.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Twenty ETM Shabbatons, countless other programs and initiatives, and a zillion emails back and forth to Chananya later, I can say with confidence that ETM has made some significant changes in the way people think about the issues of dating and marriage in the Orthodox community. Change cannot happen overnight – but I believe that ETM has helped establish an environment that will allow even greater and more significant changes to occur in the next five years. The organization and its mission has definitely struck a nerve within our community, and we have only begun to see the fruits of our labor.
During the last five years, I've also had the pleasure of working closely with many incredible devoted volunteers, who share my belief that there is a better way than the current options with which Orthodox singles are faced. And I've spoken to many courageous rabbis in the Orthodox world who have volunteered their time to speak at EndTheMadness events and forcefully stated that the system is broke and that we desperately have to fix it. To them, I say thank you – for their time and for their belief that what we are trying to accomplish is important.
Slowly but surely, people are beginning to come around and question previously held assumptions that many still cling to, for fear of what it may do to their own shidduch prospects. And I think this is in large part because of EndTheMadness and its maverick leader, Chananya Weissman, who believes that when something is wrong, we have an obligation to make it better...even when those opinions may go against popular thinking.
Chananya and EndTheMadness have much to be proud of, not the least of which is making such a significant impact in the Orthodox Jewish community without a paid staff member and without the bureaucratic red tape that usually is associated with Jewish organizations.
Congratulations on five very productive years. I look forward to working with the organization for another five years – and beyond.