DAVID LAZARUS – Canadian Jewish News
MONTREAL — Rabbi Yisroel Bernath is quick to point out that irrespective of his own level of religious observance, the vast majority of the 783-and-counting young Jewish singles who have registered so far on a new website he launched are secular.
“I have only one interest – for Jews to marry Jews” regardless of levels of observance, said Rabbi Bernath, the director of Chabad of NDG and Loyola Campus in Monkland Village. Rabbi Bernath is also a chaplain at Loyola Campus of Concordia University.
A 29-year-old native of Chicago, he moved to Montreal in 2005 with his wife, Sara. In his hometown, he said, most young Jewish singles “don’t seem to care about meeting Jews,” which he has been delighted to discover is not the case in Montreal. Montreal has about 20,000 Jewish singles between the ages of 20 and 39.
The site – jmontreal.com – which focuses entirely on local Jewish singles, is working, Rabbi Bernath said. Since jmontreal’s launch only a couple of months ago, 35 couples have dated four times or more – a sign that something “serious” was developing, in the rabbi’s view.
“Information about the site has spread strictly by word-of-mouth,” he said.
Jmontreal has no official ties to Chabad of NDG, though for the time being they share the same telephone number, 514-686-6770, but “that will change,” Rabbi Bernath promised.
What’s unique about jmontreal, he emphasized, is that while it is intended for Jewish singles, it’s not an “online dating” site like JDate or others, where singles choose potential partners.
Jmontreal is a discreet, personalized introduction service for the marriage-minded that uses a network of volunteer matchmakers across the island – some of whom are social workers and psychologists – with a modern twist – Internet technology.
Those who become members complete an online questionnaire, but then must be interviewed in person by a matchmaker, to glean a truer picture of what is being sought in a partner. The communication could also include e-mails and phone calls.
The matchmaker is bound by a “matchmaker’s code of ethics” to be “discreet, understanding and confidential,” and only the matchmaker has access to the site’s database of profiles, so “there’s no public browsing,” Rabbi Bernath said. It is the matchmaker who searches the database for a potential match and notifies each party of the other. Contact details are sent only after both parties agree to meet.
From that point on, they are on their own. “No one is coerced to accept any suggestion made by the matchmaker,” the site makes clear.
Rabbi Bernath said he was able to successfully launch the site because of the natural rapport he has established with young, single, secular Jews, especially at a NDG of Chabad “relationship” class on Wednesday evenings. Rabbi Bernath has headed the centre for almost three years.
“It is sort of a relationship class for singles,” he said. “This is a centre that is very much for and by young adults. They are not scared of me, and I started to match them up,” he recalled, with several marriages resulting. “I already have a track record.” Jmontreal is non-profit and issues tax-deductible receipts, but nominal fees are being charged to offset the estimated $30,000 it will cost annually to operate the website. Financial sponsorship is also being accepted in the form of site advertising.
On June 16, Chabad of NDG is holding its third annual Jewish Comedy Festival at Loyola Campus’ Oscar Peterson Hall in support of jmontreal. In March, jmontreal co-hosted a successful Purim party at the same campus.
“I think we’re doing very well,” Rabbi Bernath said.