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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Josh Kukin (from Teaneck, NJ) and Arielle Friedman (from New Rochelle, NY) at their recent wedding

Couple #200: Avi Wollman of Teaneck and Elana Citer of Passaic (Credit: Courtesy of YUConnects)

Rachel and Moshe

Are you ready to find your bashert and get married? Or are you a parent trying to help your grown child find the right person to marry? It’s one step smarter and easier than you might think.

Marking its 200th match in only a few years, YUConnects (www.yuconnects.com) is your one-stop dating resource, now celebrating its 206th match since the writing of this article began!

One of the reasons for its smashing success is the care and consideration matchmakers (called “connectors”) like Susie Fenyes devote to each member. Fenyes, who lives in Teaneck with her husband, is one of YUConnects’ most popular connectors, with 50 members who have chosen to be on her list. She is on a roll since she signed on one year ago. She’s already made three matches, has an exceptional relationship with her members, is admired by the YUConnects staff and takes her commitment to the site to heart.

“She immediately became very active, is very diligent and calls all of her members right away,” said Mindy Eisenman, the in-office staff connector at YUConnects. “She’s warm, she’s friendly, she’s unassuming, she devotes hours of time each week and responds quickly.”

While the commitment to becoming a connector requires a minimum of only six hours a week, entails reaching out to new members who’ve requested you as a connector and involves building up to an eventual queue of 25–30 members, Fenyes’s success is specifically because she didn’t stop at the basic expectations.

“Susie goes above and beyond,” said Rebbetzin Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, one of the original founders of YUConnects. “She follows requirements and does even more. She attends the trainings, takes her role seriously because she wants to help others and she seeks guidance from the YUConnects staff when needed.”

Fenyes began informally matchmaking when she was a student at Touro College. While she may have given some thought to finding her own match, she spent more time focusing on helping others. Her own match didn’t evade her, though. She married when she was 23 years old and had a son and a daughter who are now young adults, which increased her enthusiasm for matchmaking.

“My kids are at an age where they have a lot of friends who want to be set up,” said Fenyes. “I knew a bunch of singles, but was missing the database. Everyone kept saying ‘Why don’t you join YUConnects?’ I love setting people up,” continued Fenyes, “and you have people at your fingertips [this way].”

In reference to the responsibility of a connector on the site, Fenyes shared, “I feel an obligation to the members. If I don’t search for them, it’s not fair to them.” Fenyes added, “Members can see on their end if a connector is not searching for them. At least they feel good that someone’s looking out for them.”

Fenyes’s trademark is her communication style. She tries to build an open relationship with each of her members where they can reach out to her at any time with anything they need. She has a knack for never leaving anyone waiting to hear back from her.

“Couples going out are always eager to hear each other’s responses and are waiting for the answer from the shadchan. I am a big believer in promptly responding and I make this a priority. Nobody wants to be left hanging for an answer,” she said.

Other reasons for the remarkable success of YUConnects are how the overall structure of the program caters to its members’ needs. Yet, before delving into those details, it’s essential to note that anyone in the modern Orthodox world can join. Although “YU” is in the name, you don’t have to be a student or alumnus of Yeshiva University to sign up. It’s the many resources of the university that contribute to making this independently funded site stronger and more inventive than your typical dating website.

Sobolofsky discussed approaching Yeshiva University with the initial idea of launching the program a few years ago. “YU was welcoming, but said it needs to be an educational program as well. Use the educational resources of the university to improve relationship building, have forums on abusive relationships and teach members about healthy relationship building.”

In addition, YU provides optional, but extensive, access to its rabbis, faculty, the University Counseling center and, most importantly, the YUConnects staff who are housed in an office right on the campus. In regard to the ongoing affiliation, Sobolofsky pointed out one of the other ways it enhances the site. “We do research all the time. We research our activity using the grad students at YU to improve our practices in maintaining relationships between connectors and members and by doing surveys.” To further complement YUConnects, Sobolofsky said, “We have an active singles advisory board who come together to share their ideas and insights on how to continue improving the program and enrich the connector-member relationship.”

Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, the David Mitzner Dean from YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, said, “YUConnects endeavors to empower young people in building the foundational relationships that will ultimately build the families of our future community.” Rabbi Glasser further added, “The coaching and guidance of the vast network of YUConnects is unparalleled in addressing these challenges for our community.”

The technology that YUConnects uses is borrowed from another popular Jewish dating website, Saw You at Sinai, which allows the database of YUConnects (3500 members) to cross-reference with the database of Saw You at Sinai (20,000 members). This further increases the number of possibilities for a match.

One of the ways YUConnects is unique in the online world of dating for marriage is the one-on-one attention each member gets from a connector or the access to office staff who can coach members as much or as little as wanted. Eisenman not only makes herself available over the phone and in person, but personally makes an investment in every couple, as highlighted in a statement from one of her most recent matches, who dated long-distance for three years.

“Through it all, YUConnects and, specifically, Mindy Eisenman, systematically checked in with us and offered their advice and support,” said Rachel Bandler, from Scarsdale, NY, who is now engaged to Moshe Cohen from Montreal. “We are so thankful to YUConnects for allowing us to find one another and for all that they have done for us.”

YUConnects has also reinvented the wheel by bringing the “online” concept into real time with an original catalog of in-person events held throughout the year.

“Our events try to let the people gain from the program itself,” said Margie Glatt, events coordinator and community liaison for YUConnects. Events held in person have included forums at Trump Plaza on the topic of being a successful businessperson and remaining religious, salad wars competitions, accompanying NORPAC on its annual mission to Washington, DC and the YU-inspired classes on what to look for in a spouse to improve one’s chances of having a happy marriage. “We don’t only have lectures or mixers,” said Glatt, referencing a wide array of activities that pertain to everyday life.

Nonetheless, keeping the full range of their members’ personality types in mind, YUConnects offers ample traditional social events as well. “We like to partner with many organizations to pull resources and maximize opportunities,” said Glatt. “We partner with the OU, Saw You at Sinai, the National Council of Young Israel, we host Shabbatons and we work with different shuls and organizations that want to run meeting opportunities or social events.” As an example, “This weekend, YUConnects is partnering with Dine N Meet and Young Israel of Woodmere to host a special Shabbos event in the Five Towns. Last year’s Shabbaton resulted in two marriages and they are hoping for an encore performance!”

“Some people prefer to attend events, some people prefer to use the site, some do both,” added Sobolofsky. “Saw You at Sinai is now launching jbolt, an app mobile device to sort through profiles on your own. We mention it to offer another option to members who want to choose their own match ideas, for those looking for their own autonomy. There are all kinds of options people gain when they sign up.”

That leads to the question of how to be successful on dating-for-marriage websites, such as YUConnects, or any dating or even career website for that matter.

“It is suggested to have a photo of yourself and a description paragraph,” advised Fenyes. This assists connectors in feeling closer to their members and getting a better sense of who they are. Many of the connectors, like Fenyes, often coach their members on writing an interesting and informative profile description.

Not only do members have the opportunity to find meaningful matches that can lead to marriage, but the connectors also find a great deal of satisfaction as well. Fenyes summarized her experience so far on YUConnects, “The happiness of bringing couples together is what the site is all about. YUConnects truly allows me to fulfill my passion of bringing joy to others.” Fenyes added, “I feel an obligation to my members to give it my all to assist in finding their basherts.”

By Allyson Gur-Aryeh