2010 EndTheMadness 8th Anniversary State of the Madness Address
Chananya Weissman
September 3, 2010

Dear ETM Supporter,

Next month marks eight years since the launch of EndTheMadness. After five years we took a look back at the origins of ETM and our accomplishments (the complete retrospective can be found at https://chananyaweissman.com/article.php?id=435). Now let's take a look at where things stand today (warning: this is a long message).

I wish I could report that all of our society's problems have been solved, the situation for singles is far better than it was before, and ETM has become obsolete through its own success. Unfortunately that is all far from true. The situation for singles today is as bleak as ever, as I will explain shortly.

Many married folks take a myopic perspective and say things like "It seems that people are getting married all the time, so it can't be that bad" or simply blame singles out of hand for any difficulties they may be experiencing. I ask the married people who are reading this message to take a quiet pause and consider the following: If, God forbid, you suddenly found yourself single again and wished to remarry, what would you do? How would you go about it? And how do you think you would be received on today's shidduch market?

I hope you will come to some very sobering realizations when you consider this. I hope you will be moved to express gratitude to Hashem that you are not in this situation and to realize that your good fortune is due primarily to the grace of God. However intelligent, hard-working, and righteous you may be, many people just like you do not share this good fortune, and who is to say that you are really better than them? I also hope you will never take your loving spouse for granted, and will make sure that person always knows how fortunate you feel to have him or her in your life.

I hope you will then look outward and have a new appreciation for what singles are up against. The vast majority of singles are no less marriageable than those who are already married, and have put in more than enough hishtadlus to be successful. For whatever the reason may be -- and it is not our purpose here to speculate – they have simply not yet been blessed with that success. Everyone can improve and grow, single and married people alike, but the mere fact that someone is single does not prove that there is something catastrophically wrong with them that impedes them from getting married. They just need to meet the right person – just like you did. And how and when they meet and connect with that person is completely beyond their control, despite all their best efforts – just like your own experience will probably demonstrate. Think about it.

With this solidly in mind, let us now examine what is available today to singles and married people who may one day find themselves again “on the market”.

1) Blind dates arranged by people who do not know you personally on more than a superficial level

2) Online personal ads

3) Singles events

4) Blind dates arranged by friends and others who know you on a deeper level (not available to many people)

5) Natural meetings through school, work, group activities, and friends of friends that turn into dating opportunities (not available to many people)

Only options 1-3 are readily available to all singles. Let's put these options under the magnifying glass and see how things really are for singles.

1) Blind dates arranged by someone not close to you – Most shadchanim are woefully unsuccessful and ill-equipped to deal with this most personal and delicate aspect of people's lives in an intelligent and sensitive fashion. It is rare for a shadchan to get it right even one percent of the time. I often speculate that a monkey setting up blind dates entirely at random would fare well compared to most shadchanim, and would be a lot less expensive besides. No knock against the good-hearted people out there who put a great deal of time, thought, and genuine concern into their efforts, but this is the reality, and it behooves us to recognize it.

We have more shadchanim than ever before; shadchanim are in fact the predominant way for frum singles to get dates nowadays, unlike previous generations. Yet singles are having less success than ever before. This is not a coincidence. More shadchanim is simply not the answer. It is time for our community to abandon the great false hope that is the matchmaking industry. Shadchanim should be relegated to the role that befits them: one option of many for those who desire their services, and an option that the vast majority of singles have no need or desire for.

Your parents and grandparents probably would have laughed at the idea of asking some rebbetzin or shingle-hanging "professional" to find them a date. They would not believe you if you told them that singles walk around with degrading, cliche-filled personal résumés with the faint hope that someone who does not know them will help them find a job as someone's spouse.

Is it any wonder many singles need to go out with many dozens, even hundreds of people? It is not really their fault. If these dates are being arranged by people who know them as stick figures lacking personality or soul, and if these shadchanim do not view each of these people as real human beings with unique souls looking for a soulmate, and if these shadchanim themselves get it right only rarely and through "hunches", how can we expect singles to find success any more quickly, if ever? These dates tend to be woefully off base; of course they will not work out, and of course over time singles will become more skeptical of the next blind date. Can you really blame them? Would you be any different?

2) Online personal ads – I remember as a child I would sometimes get a laugh out of going through personal ads in the newspaper. Today my reaction would be more to feel sorry for these people who are searching so desperately for something so vital, however misguided they might be. But one sentiment that remains is that placing a personal ad in print or online is an act of desperation, a public cry to the world that you are lonely, and hope in a handful of words, buried among countless other ads, to reach out and connect with someone special.

It is a deep tragedy that personal ads have become, after shadchanim, the main way frum singles look to find dates. Tens of thousands of them, all ages and backgrounds, are so boxed in and shut out by our society that they are reduced to this desperate act. They don't even find anything unusual or abnormal about it. Desperation and humiliation have become mainstream. How can we look God in the eye?

Online personal ads are no more successful than the print personal ads of yore. We're talking less than one percent here as well, with plenty of humiliation and suffering as the price everyone else has to pay. Good business for some, but small hope for singles.

3) Singles events – My recent article about this pretty much says it all; see https://chananyaweissman.com/article.php?id=126.

Again, to the married folk out there, if you wanted to expand your network of friends or professional contacts, would you consider events that resemble the average singles event? Would you have round robins of small talk with random people? Would you play cheesy and childish ice-breakers? If you laugh at the idea and insist your networking events are far more sophisticated and dignified, why do you think singles deserve anything less?

Yet that is all that is offered to singles, time and time again. Events where they can go on "speed dates" (why these are even called “dates” is beyond me) . Events where they can meet shadchanim instead of each other. Events where they can be told what is wrong with them that they are still single. Events where they can listen to some uninteresting speaker while sneaking furtive glances across the mechitza. Events where they can play childish games that some older married person thinks they will find fun while somehow making a romantic connection. Or, increasingly often, events that are no events all – just a bunch of people standing around a room with a table of refreshments. We give up! Just walk in here single and walk out married! Please!

These three options pretty much sum up the range of options open to frum singles today. How have we allowed this to happen?

Options 4 and 5 are available to a limited number of singles. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have people who know them deeply who are able to introduce them to quality potential partners, certainly not on an ongoing basis. And option 5 – natural meetings – are virtually extinct nowadays. Everyone is either "too frum", or wishes to be thought of as such for shidduch purposes, or goes to separate everythings, or remains single beyond their school years and suddenly finds themselves without an ongoing environment in which they can meet potential dates without the pressure of it being a meet and meat market.

This is one of the greatest failings of our society. A frum single who has graduated from school and has embarked on his adult life without the companionship of a spouse sees his opportunities to meet people plummet. There is really very little he can do. He can be the most proactive go-getter out there, but he is essentially at the mercy of shadchanim and whatever the personal ads bring his way.

To make matters worse, he is essentially an outcast in Jewish society for being single. Nowadays singles have their own shuls and even their own neighborhoods. This is not by choice. It is so they can survive as singles who wish to remain halachically observant and have so much as people to talk to. The average shul is a cold and dark place for singles. We go to shul to talk to God, but it becomes increasingly hard to do so in a place where there is no one else to talk to and where one feels disregarded and unwelcome, if not actually scorned.

Again, how can we look God in the eye?

I have said from day one that the so-called "shidduch crisis" far transcends the numeric problem of singles having a difficult time finding their spouse. That is a mere symptom of far deeper fault lines in our community that have erupted enough to cause this "crisis". Eight years later I can only reinforce and emphasize the point. If these deeper problems are not addressed things will only get worse. Merely trying to get more people to go out on more dates focuses only on the symptom, and will not alleviate the true problems.

So what is the solution?

The solution is an overhaul of our value system, as outlined in the ETM Covenant and throughout the web site. Read it all again. Internalize it. Spread it.

You are receiving this email because you have already signed the covenant and/or participated in ETM events. In other words, you already "get it" more than most people. You are part of the army of normal people that is best in a position to make a difference.

But you need to do more. You need to take meaningful actions based on these principles. Things will not change any other way. I cannot and will not tell individuals what they should do. Each person needs to look into his heart to find the answer. But here are some general recommendations that the community as a whole needs to implement at the earliest possible time – now – and it starts with you.

1) Direct people to the ETM web site so they can at least be exposed to the message, even if they don't "buy it" right away.

2) Date people or help arrange dates for people based on these principles, not based on the superficial nonsense that passes for "information" nowadays. There is nothing wrong with telling a shadchan, "professional" or otherwise, that their questions are inappropriate or the "information" they have is not relevant or meaningful to you. It might mean they get angry at you and don't set you up ever again. That's fine. Shidduchim come from God; you do believe that, right? So if one potential shaliach becomes offended by your honesty, your personal expression, your desire to connect with someone on a truly meaningful level, and your insistence on being approached as a real and unique human being, no problem. God can appoint another, better shaliach if He desires to employ one altogether. That's not your concern. You just need to be real and true to yourself and to others.

If you are going to set people up – and that can be a wonderful act of kindness to do for someone – do it right. Do it right, or don't do it at all. Do it with respect and sensitivity for the people involved, get your facts straight, get information that is truly relevant and meaningful BEFORE offering to set people up (don't just give people a name and tell them they should "research" the person – that's a cop-out), and be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time on this mitzva without complaining about it. That's what this mitzva entails. If you aren't willing to do what this mitzva entails with a full heart, then don't bother. It's okay. Really. But don't do it wrong, complain about how much time you're putting into it, and then blame singles for everything that doesn't work out. There are surely other mitzvos one can do instead if this one engenders such negative results.

But don't get me wrong. If you can do this right, and are willing to do this right, please take this mitzva upon yourself. It's time to put incompetent shadchanim out of business.

3) If you have any say in how a simcha or other event is organized, insist that the seating be mixed, particularly for the singles. Contrary to loud propaganda, there is generally no halachic issue with having men and women in a room together without a mechitza. Furthermore, making it possible for singles to interact on their own is not being lenient in the mitzva of tznius; it is being strict in the mitzva to help people marry. Since everyone is looking for ways to be machmir nowadays, let us be machmir in never closing off any potential meeting opportunity for singles that is not clearly and absolutely forbidden by halacha as it was understood throughout the generations. Let us not be intimidated by those whose values and lifestyle we do not share, even if they "look" religious (whatever that means) and are aggressive with their beliefs. We do not have to answer to them, only to God.

4) Your shul probably has a bunch of committees, many of which pertain to relatively trivial things. Does your shul have a welcoming committee? If someone new joins your shul, particularly someone single, how long will it take for a few people to even learn his name? Weeks? Months? Years? I can tell you that in both New York and Israel it is a social epidemic that new people, particularly singles, can go months or even years without anyone even talking to them. It is not the job of any individual in particular to be the social butterfly who welcomes all new people, but it is the responsibility of shuls as a whole to make sure that this is taken care of. It is certainly far more important than the usual things most shul committees sit and quibble about.

Every new person who enters a shul as more than a guest popping in for mincha should feel that he has entered a place that is warm and supportive like home. And he should have no trouble finding his place in that shul, becoming a part of the shul, and connecting with people. That person will then be able to welcome other newcomers, and we will have a self-perpetuating atmosphere that is comfortable for God and for people. It is not fair to expect newcomers to somehow infiltrate a closed society; few have such a personality to pull that off in any case.

Every shul should have a welcoming committee and in general should treat making the shul a welcoming and comfortable place as a top priority. In addition, it is not enough to simply welcome newcomers and fawn over them the first week they are there. It takes many people several weeks at least to truly feel at home and find their place. There needs to be consistent follow up for at least a few weeks and periodically thereafter so newcomers can become fully integrated into the shul. To welcome a newcomer, then assume he's settled in and basically ignore him thereafter defeats the purpose.

I realize it will not be easy for everyone to find someone new and befriend them. But one thing we can be fairly sure of is that at some time, in some place, you are very likely to need the same thing. What goes around comes around.

This is also a good time to remind people that the Yomim Tovim are often intensely painful times for singles. What can you do to help someone lonely this holiday season?

5) Put your name on it. Next time you write something or say something on the subject, identify yourself. Stand behind your ideas. If no one wants to marry you or your children because of what you think, do you really want that person anyway? That sure doesn't sound like a recipe for marital bliss and personal fulfillment.

6) Get actively involved with EndTheMadness. We have thousands of passive supporters. It's wonderful, really. But we have virtually no active volunteers, and little can get done merely with passive support. Why is it that the only events available to singles are poorly planned, expensive, degrading meat markets months apart? Why is it that there aren't places where singles can go on an ongoing basis to meet one another in a normal, natural setting without the pressure and awkwardness of singles events?

ETM has run over 70 events with virtually no manpower and without ever soliciting a penny. Can you imagine what we could do if we had 10 active volunteers? Or 50 active volunteers? Is that unreasonable? The results would be exponential. But everyone is too busy, or too afraid of what others might think, or too this, or not enough that. So we do what we can do with almost no support, still accomplish a tremendous amount, and watch as thousands of singles continue to needlessly suffer as time marches on.

Are you waiting for the organizations to take charge and implement major changes? I hope you have some good reading material to help pass the time. Our organizations are filled with talent and resources, but they are best at creating meetings where they discuss what they should talk about at the next meeting. They are also quite good at creating fancy advertising for events and arranging for splendid catering of these events, but they are NOT so good at shaking things up. Organizations are more concerned with keeping a steady ship than rocking the boat – even if the ship is steadily sinking.

This is why I have consistently resisted suggestions to make ETM more like "real" organizations, with a board of directors, large advertising campaigns, lots of money flowing in and out, and the other usual fare. We're not looking to make an impressive letterhead, and are not swayed by the argument that it takes all of the above to make changes. We find that endlessly pursuing the "status" of large organizations really leads to stagnation and a watering down of core principles to play it safe.

Our current major organizations didn't get to where they were by playing it safe. They were created by visionaries to address real problems and needs in the community, and they grew because of that. But now they are all essentially the same. They will run an occasional singles event if the public winds seem to be blowing in that direction. Then they will milk the press coverage and toot their own horn for months and years to come. But they are not really committed to the cause. They are just looking to be "yotze" and get noticed for it.

ETM is committed to the cause. And we need more people to become committed to the cause. The organizations will not do it. You have to do it. Or it won't get done.

7) Go to www.hotkiddush.com, sign up, create a meaningful profile, sign up those you know, and actively use the site. I've written about this sister site to ETM before, so I will not go into the whole spiel again now, but if a critical mass of people uses this site it will revolutionize the way frum Jews meet online. But, like anything else, it requires enough people to believe in the idea to get it off the ground. If everyone waits for everyone else, or if everyone makes excuses (I already signed up for enough web sites, I don’t have time, etc.), then it will be just another great idea that sits. If you believe in it, make it happen.

These are just some ways ordinary people can make a significant difference right now. The more people get involved, the safer it will become for others to follow suit and this thing can really mushroom. Otherwise it will continue to be me and a handful of others running an isolated event every few months, making a difference in people's lives here and there, and keeping the candle burning. I can live with that – I can't control the interest or lack of interest of anyone else. ButI know that a great deal more is possible, and getting there is well within reach. It would be a real shame if ETM remains merely a beacon of sanity in a crazy world instead of spreading light to the masses.

I would like very much 8 years from now to be retired from this endeavor because it will no longer be needed. But even if there is still some need for ETM, I deeply hope that the message then won't be another message of frustration with how rough things are and the plaintive hope that someone, anyone will care enough to make a difference. Let's hope that instead the message will be one of celebration as we are so overwhelmed with our successes and initiatives that we can hardly keep track of them all.

It's possible. If you want it badly enough to do something about it.


Chananya Weissman