The Valley

I have an acquaintance named Greg Goldstein. Gregis the kind of person I look at and think, “Where were the guys likehim when I was 25?” He is good looking, smart, active, takes greatvacations and runs a successful business in the West Valley. Foryears he rented a house in Calabasas, but recently moved to Malibu,primarily because he was tired of not meeting single women in theValley.

Illustration by Michael Aushenker

Ah, to be single and living in the San FernandoValley — it’s a challenge. In researching this article, twooverwhelming truths emerge: one, the women all seem to be in hiding;and two, not much has changed in the seven years since I gave up onthe singles scene. Telling someone from the Westside that you livehere is still akin to telling them you have a non-contagious skindisease.

This is a rather puzzling attitude given thestatistics. According to a 1997 survey by the Jewish Federation ofGreater Los Angeles, an estimated 74,400 Jewish singles live in theSan Fernando, Conejo and surrounding valleys, or about 45 percent ofthe total number of Jewish singles in the Los Angeles area. In otherwords, Westside and other Los Angeles singles who exclude thesevalley areas from their personal “dating pool” are cutting out almosthalf of their potential mates.

Despite their growing numbers, Valley-dwellingJewish singles often feel left out by both their co-religionists andby the singles’ market that professes to serve them. The bulk ofFederation events still take place “over the hill.” Local synagoguesconcentrate most of their energy on families and long-time members,stating young singles tend not to “support the temple,” i.e. paydues. For those Jewish singles interested in meeting someoneobservant, the Aish HaTorah 20-Something or Love-Life (30+)discussion groups are a great resource — but only if you’re willingto travel to Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive.

Even well-known singles event planners, like Stu& Lew Productions, snub the Valley as a location for theirparties.

“I get calls from people asking why we don’t doanything in the Valley, but there’s really no place that excites methere,” said Lewis Weinger of Stu & Lew, who claims 25 percent ofthe people on his mailing list are from the Valley. “Maybe if therewas a beautiful place on Ventura Boulevard I would be open to it, butthere are few adequate locations that meet my criteria of being anupscale nightclub.”

Weinger said he is not surprised by the prejudicesof Westside folk against Valley residents.

“Generally speaking, the Valley is not a desirableplace to live,” Weinger says. “It’s hotter, more congested, smoggyand far from the beach. Most of the trendy, nice restaurants andtheaters are in the city. The primary thing that comes to mind when Ihear about the Valley is rent — it’s a place to go to savemoney.”

Weinger is correct in one aspect — that 30- and40-something singles settle in the Valley because they feel they getmore for their money when it comes to buying property. But they gettired of being associated with the stereotype of the Valley as dull,and themselves as anti-chic for living here.

Brian Harris, 39, a certified public accountantand devoted Chicago Bulls fan, moved to Calabasas from Chicago in1990.

“I lived in the suburbs in Chicago and not knowingLos Angeles and hearing a lot of stories, I wanted a place to livewhere I would feel comfortable,” Harris said. “Little did I know noone would want to come out and visit.”

Harris says he enjoys living here but wishes therewere more places to attract singles, like Santa Monica’s Third StreetPromenade or Old Town in Pasadena.

“We’re not known for having those kind of drawshere,” Harris says. “A lot of my friends enjoy having somewhere to gowalk around. Also, as someone who lives in the Valley and works inthe Valley, I would rather spend my tax dollars building up the localeconomy.”

Unlike Harris, who knew nothing of theValley-Westside split when he moved to Los Angeles, graphic artistRon Cummings knew exactly what he was getting into by settling inTarzana. He has been a Valley resident since 1983, attendedCalifornia State Northridge and is now chair of CSUN Hillel’s alumniassociation.

Cummings, 31, calls the Valley singles community a”great untapped resource.”

“I know a lot of Valley singles who left becausethey did not get to know the Jewish community here,” Cummings says.”I think that’s one of the reasons for the high intermarriage rate –the importance of not being single starts to outweigh the need tomeet someone Jewish.”

His own search for a partner has led him from thedistinctly non-Jewish (but very popular) environs of the SagebrushCantina to involvement in the Jewish Federation’s ACCESS youngleadership group. He says he used to attend “singles only” events butfound it too uncomfortable.

“A lot of people don’t like the atmosphere ofsomething like JASP [the Jewish Association of Single Professionals],where it’s a meat market and everyone is wearing a mask of falsebravado,” he says. “I’d really rather have something through theFederation or a synagogue, where everyone is on the samewavelength.”

Unfortunately, area synagogues have made only afew halfhearted attempts to court singles, mostly with Shabbatdinners. Currently the only synagogue contacted that schedulesregular singles events is Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, which made apoint of hiring a third rabbi, Dan Satlow, in addition to RabbiHarold Schulweis and Rabbi Ed Feinstein, to reach out to suchoverlooked groups in the community.

Satlow, 29, has had little trouble tapping intothe local pool of Jewish singles, perhaps because he shares the sameboat.

“It’s like The Hair Club For Men — I’m not onlythe club president, I’m also a client,” Satlow says jokingly.

VBS offers several programs for singles of varyingages. Particularly popular is the “I and Thou” cafe, acoffeehouse-style salon with desserts and cappuccino, where the VBSrabbis or visiting speakers facilitate discussions on topics like”Judaism and Everyday Moral Dilemmas.”

Satlow, who leaves his post at VBS this month,agrees that it is rare for synagogues to cater to singles.

“It’s a vicious cycle: single people don’t jointhe synagogue, so the people paying for the rabbis’ salaries arefamilies or seniors, and why should the rabbis ignore those peoplefor a group that’s not putting up the dollars? It really takes asynagogue that has a vision for this, a congregation that says theyare willing to make an effort on behalf of people who may notfinancially support the temple.”

The “I and Thou Cafe” is usually held the thirdMonday of the month. For more information on this and otheractivities at Valley Beth Shalom, call (818) 788-6000.