My Bubbe Made Me Do It! GW Hillel Students Go Speed Dating
January 29, 2008Comments (4)
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Marcus Rubenstein, Brendan Mulvihill and Andy Moholt give speed dating the thumbs up.
(Washington, D.C.) It's Thursday night and there is a nervous energy in the air at the George Washington University's Hillel. On the top floor of the Gewirz Center, the lights have been dimmed, paper tablecloths have been spread and the room is quickly filling with timid underclassmen. Off in the corner, siddurs have been stacked away and the Torah Ark is draped closed - they are not the focus of the evening.
Sophomore Matt Seitman is hurrying around the room, ensuring the food (chicken kebob, chips and salsa), drinks (sparkling cider), and music (hip-hop tunes thumping softly on borrowed computer speakers) are setup. Matt is well-groomed in his blazer and matching kippa. Beads of sweat are forming at his hairline as he struggles to play host, event organizer and event participant, all while being badgered with questions from me and a student reporter from the GW Hatchet. Matt talks to me as he moves between two long tables, stopping every few feet to light another candle. He is setting the scene for GW Hillel's first speed dating event.
"It's difficult for Jews who only date Jews to date on this campus," explains Matt, who came up with the idea last semester.
His peers agree. Despite the fact that GW's student population is 31 percent Jewish (approximately 2,800 Jewish undergraduates) and that GW ranks among the Top 10 schools in the country with the highest percentage of Jewish students, undergrads will tell you that Jews simply aren't connecting with Jews in large numbers.
Matt has been single since he and his high school girlfriend split during freshman year and hasn't dated anyone on campus since. He's looking for a Jewish partner, but says Shabbat services, where observant Jewish students gather weekly, are "cliquey" and for non-observant Jews who want to date within the faith, Friday night services are a turn-off.
Matt Seitman meets with Date Number 7.
Matt, a psychology major and brother of Sigma Nu fraternity, says GW Hillel advertised the speed dating event through Facebook and word-of-mouth. That's how the news reached sophomore Brittany Bach who hosts a weekly campus radio show called "Sex, Lies and Ubertrendy Stuff." Right away, Brittany lets me know that she isn't looking for a boyfriend. The California native, studying physics and political communication, thinks Hillel events are a good way to make Jewish friends.
Either way, the odds are certainly in her favor with a male-female speed dating ratio of 3:1. And, as Jewish Student Association/Hillel President Ben Balter points out, "These are nice Jewish guys who come to Hillel."
Ben, a junior who recently returned to campus from a Hillel-sponsored trip to Israel, is not just overseeing the event but also hoping to meet a "nice Jewish girl" to bring home to the family.
While he's waiting for his turn at the table, Ben unsucessfully practices his pick-up lines on JSA/Hillel Executive Vice President Becky Sanfield. She tells me that a lot of the students who turned out for speed dating are not regular faces at Hillel which means their campus outreach efforts seem to be working. When the JSA/Hillel student leaders met in May, they set a list of priorities for the coming school year which included making Jewish students feel welcomed at Hillel.
JSA/Hillel Executive Vice President Becky Sanfield assigns numbers to Hillel speed daters.
"There's a perception that Hillel is 'too cliquey' and so expanding our programming to include all students is a priority," explains Ben.
When GW Hillel program director Steve Shifrin kicks off the event, there are a total of seven women and a surplus of men.
Sophomore Fred Girard, the second male to sign-up, doesn't seem too concerned about the stiff competition he is facing. Though he's Jewish, Fred isn't much involved with Hillel and says attending the speed dating event was a last-minute decision. But it seems like a good one since speed dates are just about all Fred seems to have time for in his busy schedule. Between his double major of public health and epidimeology and international affairs with a minor in geography and two internships (one at the National Institutes of Health and another on Capitol Hill), Fred doesn't do much "hanging out" on campus. However, he assures me that his Saturday nights are free.
And Fred might be willing to carve out some time for freshman Lily Cahnman, who is optimistic about the event. She says even if she doesn't make a love connection, "It's a great way to make friends." Lily's Jewish friend joins her at the event for moral support, but isn't participating because she already has a boyfriend (and yes, he's Jewish, too).
Fourteen guys wait in the sidelines, chatting among themselves, as the first round of three-minute speed dates gets underway. I spend the next 21 minutes eavesdropping on conversations which mostly consist of comparing hometown weather (Boston is cold, Miami is hot) and favorite alcoholic beverages (though no one in attendance is of legal drinking age).
GW Hillel Speed daters.
Both guys and girls are recording their preferences on scrap paper after each face-to-face. A "check" means you'd like to be friends and a "check plus" means you're interested in the other person romantically. GW Hillel staff review the anonymous notes later and pair only those people who have a mutual interest in each other. Those pairs are then encouraged, though not required, to attend Hillel's next Friday night service together.
After Matt has met with all of his prospects, we sit down to debrief. He appears much more relaxed than when we first met an hour earlier, he's even smiling. Matt's scrap paper includes four check pluses and one check which means he hit it off with five of the seven women he met over the last half an hour.
"It sort of felt like a job interview," he says of his speed dating experience. "But hopefully with better benefits."
Matt and the other participants will be notified of their mutual matches within the week. Behatzlacha to all!
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