Hollywood-Israel link flourishing


A group of hotshot Hollywood television executives sit around a table sipping Evian water, working their cellphones and bemoaning the lack of fresh ideas for a series to pull their network out of the cellar.

Suddenly, one participant dispels the gloom by saying, “I’ve got the solution. My cousin in Tel Aviv is sending me a batch of DVDs of the latest Israeli hit shows, and we’ll just adapt them.”

This fantasy scenario was offered by reporter David Brinn in the Jerusalem Post last week, and the weird part is that the idea is not all that far out.

The Israeli TV smash, “B’tipul,” about a middle-age psychiatrist, who counsels five different patients in regular weekly rotation, has been Americanized by HBO into the successful “In Treatment.”

Four more Israel-originated projects are now in various stages of development, which can mean anything from “almost in production” to “don’t call us,” Brinn wrote.

CBS is considering “The Ex List,” a drama about a 30-plus single woman who goes to a psychic who tells her that she’s already met her beshert (soulmate). In each episode, she tracks down an ex-boyfriend to find out whether he was the right one.

At USA-Fox, it’s “Loaded,” based on the Israeli show “Mesudim,” in which four high-tech buddies sell their startup company to an American conglomerate for a fortune and live it up with their sudden wealth.

“Touch Away,” based on Israel’s “Merhak Negi’a,” is about a Russian immigrant family living next to an ultra-Orthodox family, and the romance that develops between the children.

TNT is into “The Ten Commandments,” a 10-part docudrama, in which the tablets of the law are applied to contemporary situations. For example, “honor your father and mother” focuses on a soldier who murdered his father for beating his mother. In “Thou Shall Not Kill,” a terminally ill patient asks to be removed from life support.

Not to discriminate, Israel is also lending a hand to the American movie industry, with past and future features.

“Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” a 2003 Israeli comedy about a seemingly nebbishy 16-year-old boy who becomes the caretaker for his eccentric family, is being transformed into “Diego Ascending” by actress Salma Hayek’s production company.

“Wristcutters” was adapted in 2006 from Etgar Keret’s short story, “Kneller’s Happy Campers.”

A Hollywood production company intends to remake the Israeli comedy, “Colombian Love,” with an American setting.

“A Tale of Love and Darkness,” an adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir, will be directed this year by actress Natalie Portman.

The welcome mat laid out for Israeli filmmakers is a fairly recent phenomenon.

“Five years ago, I’d send out 20 faxes and maybe get two meetings” at European film festivals,” producer Eitan Even said. “Last year in Berlin, I had 40 meetings. Now I call, and people return my calls.”

Israel is not the only country benefiting from Hollywood’s new openness to foreign productions and concepts (see television’s “The Office” and “Ugly Betty”), but three main developments have boosted Israel’s prestige on the international film scene.

In the early 1990s, the introduction of commercial TV and cable channels to compete with the government’s monopoly provided a hands-on training ground in Israel for a new generation of producers, directors and actors. The new talent is reflected in a noticeable upgrading of production values in recent Israeli films.

Israeli filmmakers, who used to shoot mainly in Tel Aviv, are broadening their themes by focusing increasingly on their country’s multicultural society.

Television producers have another advantage.

“We are serving the most impatient and tensest audience in the world, and we do it on a low budget,” Brinn quoted programming executive Eva Madjiboj.

In other words, if you can hold Israeli audiences, you can hold audiences anywhere.

In the past, even the occasional outstanding Israeli film rarely got public screenings in the United States — except at Jewish film festivals — because no American distributor would touch them.

However, the picture has changed in the last 12 months, with Israeli films not only garnering a basketful of international awards but also commercial exposure. Among them are “The Band’s Visit,” “Jellyfish,” “My Father, My Lord,” “Sweet Mud,” “Noodles” and the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort.”

The success of these and other productions has Hollywood talent manager Joan Hyler speaking of an Israeli “new wave,” similar to the Italian new wave after World War II, the French in the 1950s and the British in the 1960s.

Israeli expatriates have been successful in transferring their production skills to Hollywood, from the pioneering Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus to the current Arnon Milchan, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort and Ehud Bleiberg.

It has been much more difficult for transplanted Israeli thespians, mainly due to their accents. Mili Avital managed to make the leap earlier, and currently Ayelet Zurer (“Munich,” “Vantage Point” and the upcoming “Adam Resurrected”) seems on track to make it in Hollywood.

Most Hollywood-Israel contacts are on individual person-to-person or e-mail-to-e-mail, basis, but a more organized approach is the successful Master Class, the flagship program of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership supported by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The decade-old Master Class brings together Israeli filmmakers with established Hollywood counterparts for an intense two-week course on the nuts and bolts of their craft.

For example, Hyler, who heads the project with talent manager Danny Sussman, said that two of the favorite topics were: “How do you get anyone in Hollywood to return your calls?” and “How do you deal with rejection?”

Writer David Sacks instructs, “Never say outright that you don’t like someone else’s idea,” which proved to be a nearly incomprehensible concept to blunt-speaking Israelis.

The next Master Class will be June 3-17 in Tel Aviv.

Of a more political nature, an ongoing quest by the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles is to bring Hollywood celebrities to Israel, especially during difficult times.

In 2002, for instance, during the height of the intifada, the consulate tried hard to get some of the top Hollywood names to come to Israel as morale boosters and for favorable publicity for the homeland, largely without success. The Israeli representatives here were too diplomatic to voice their frustrations publicly, but an editorial in the Jerusalem Post at the time vented some of the country’s feelings.

Goodbye, my almost


In a moment of pure feminine guilty pleasure I bought the entire first season of “Felicity” at a used DVD store.

“Felicity” was the anthem of my early college years, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the show. I started watching episode after episode, savoring it like a rare find of a favorite ice cream flavor. I didn’t want to watch them all too quickly! I was so amazed to find the sheer innocence that was then considered risquÃ(c) and the amazing advice and life lessons that were intertwined in Keri Russell’s curly hair.

At the end of one episode, we hear the voice-over of Felicity’s best friend, and she mentions something along the lines of how everyone you care about was at one time a complete stranger, even your soulmate was a stranger at some point. The line hit me so hard, not because of its simple truth, but the reverse notion as well. That someone who was at one point in your life so important to you can make the transition back to being a stranger.

In an earlier column I talked about the differences between an “almost” and a “beshert,” and how I will always have a special place in my heart for that “almost” who helped me to find myself and the person that I’m supposed to be with. What I realize now is that as time goes by, my “almost,” just like nearly every memory of old friendships, is starting to fade in importance. When I look back at the things we did, the conversations we had, the arguments and even the laughter, it’s all started to fade into the category of, well, not so important.

Since meeting my beshert I have continuously thought, “Oh, so this is what life is supposed to be like….” No little arguments, no tears, no fighting about everything, no self-doubt about the person that I am and the things that I want in life. At this point, nearly a year after ending things with my “almost,” I’ve stopped thinking about him all the time; I don’t really wonder what he is up to, and when I am in his “neck of the woods,” I don’t look around wondering if I’ll spot him. I’ve stopped thinking about what his friends are up to and if they are getting together for events. All of those cares and concerns have slowly seeped out of my train of conscious thought, and I am now free to experience life anew.

I am constantly telling my beshert, “thank you for happening to me.” Just like Felicity’s best friend said, my beshert, just like every other person, was once a stranger to me and now my “almost” is slowly fading into being a stranger once again.

I just came back from a weekend getaway with my beshert to a spot that my almost and I went to as well. I was amazed that, although we did some of the same things, the entire experience was different. The city seemed like a different place simply because of who I was with there. The memories my almost and I made faded into the background with each moment I was there with my beshert.

Although some people might find the loss of memories sad, or the idea of forgetting a person who was once so close to you a downer, I think it is quite the opposite.

I think it is a true testament to the way life is. People come in and out of your life for a reason, and to know that someone who you thought was “the one,” or who broke your heart, will once again fade into oblivion is a gift that life gives you. I am sure that if I asked any tearful person who has just broken up with his or her significant other if they are comforted by the thought that eventually the one who is causing them so much heartache will fall into the category of “not so important,” I would get a resounding yes.

I salute the people who can remain friends with their “almosts,” though, for me, I found that in the end cutting ties completely was the best thing to do. It seems most people I’ve talked to agree with me. Cutting ties allows you to become a free person once again, a freedom that allows you to reclaim yourself, your memories and the potential for what can be in the future.

My “almost” is now merely a name, a distant memory and a definition of the past. I consider my time with him my “old life,” and I am thankful every day that I am now in a new one. My beshert and I climbed through the maze of the internet, of Craigslist to boot, and have connected in the now. My soul mate is no longer a stranger, and I am in a state of perpetual bliss.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be contacted at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com

Almost . . .


As Thanksgiving approaches, I can’t help but stop and think about what I’m thankful for.

So much has happened since last year, relationship-wise, and it
struck me that as thankful as I am for what has happened, I’m equally thankful for everything that didn’t.

That’s right, I’m thankful for that bad date that left me shaking my head, for those terribly dull IM chats and for that awful phone call that left me wanting to fall asleep.

I’m thankful to all of the “almosts” and “not quites” that I’ve experienced this year; after all, if I hadn’t experienced those, I never would have found my way down this twister path to my beshert.

There is a great line in the movie “Because I Said So,” when not too geeky to be hot Tom Everett Scott is asked why he is still single. He replies with the standard “Just haven’t met the right girl” line, but then adds “There are a lot of great ‘almosts’ out there …”

Everyone out in the dating world has met or has been an “almost.” The differences between “almosts” and “beshert” are subtle, sometimes taking months or even years to be discovered. It’s like someone else making your mom’s Thankgiving turkey recipe. It tastes good, but is just not quite the same as how your mom makes it. There are subtle differences, some nearly untraceable, but to the sensitive person they are there, sitting and waiting to be discovered.

Being an “almost” is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, most “almosts” are really great people. People with whom, for a portion of time, you saw yourself for the long run; you envisioned your happily ever after — dating, vacations, weddings, kids…. You imagined your life around this person. And things were great, for a while. But then those little missing ingredients started becoming more and more apparent — little details that started to tear things apart.

I dated my “almost” for more than a year and a half. We dated, we laughed, and we fell in love; he braved the family seders, and I vacationed with his friends. He welcomed in the High Holy Days with us, and I experienced my first Christmas eve with his friends and pseudo-family. But then, little by little, things started to change. The details of life started to overwhelm the happy relationship that we had had for so long.

The most difficult part of dating an “almost” is the time when you start to recognize that’s what it is. It’s really a three-part process — the realization, the battle, then, lastly, the acceptance. The acceptance is by far the hardest part; it takes courage and a crazy amount of strength to tell yourself — as well as your “almost” — that things just aren’t working. As they say in the song, “breaking up is hard to do …” And when you are breaking up with an “almost,” it can be devastating. It’s so scary to let go of something that has become bigger than just the relationship — friends, shared activities, weekend jaunts, all your memories with your “almost” become tainted. It’s so hard to be so close to something you’ve always wanted, only to realize that it isn’t meant to be.

However, the uplifting thing about an “almost” is the realization that there are good people out there, that if someone exists who is so close to your ideal, then your ideal might be just around the corner. Dating an “almost” gets you primed; you’ve experienced how good life can be, and now you are aware of those key ingredients that need to be properly measured. That extra bit of laughter, that dash of silliness, and that little pinch of understanding, all of those things you learned from your “almost.” As time passes, the memories that you built with your “almost” lose their tainted nature, and you can once again smile at them. Life changes, and before you know it, you walk around the corner and into the arms of your “beshert,” and all you can wish for is that all of your “almosts” will find theirs as well. So while I’m sitting around with my family this Thanksgiving, I’ll be sure to add a silent thank you to all of my “almosts,” as they helped me find what I’ve been searching for.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Van Nuys. She can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

Is This Marriage Made in Heaven?


The night I met my husband was a warm evening in April and the smell of orange blossoms permeated the air. The date was “arranged” by mutual friends but I had lots of doubts about meeting their old college friend, a nice Jewish doctor from Los Angeles.

“If he’s such a great guy, why is he 31 years old and not married?” I asked myself as I pulled into the parking lot, totally missing the irony of my own unmarried situation.

I knew, even before the chips and salsa arrived, that my children would have his eyes. Deep, calm, caring eyes that had me convinced in less than a minute that I had come home to the place I had been traveling 27 years to find.

I didn’t know what it was called at the time but according to Jewish tradition, I had found my beshert, my true soul mate.

What is a soul mate? Is it a New Age concept that defines true love? Is it a catchy phrase used by romance novelists and publishers to sell books? Or does it mean something deeper and more essential, a spiritual bond between two people that is essential to fulfilling our heart’s destiny?

The Bible gives us a glimpse of the origins of a soul mate in Genesis 2:18 when God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.”

Loneliness is God’s first concern about us as human beings. There is a sense that we will not be happy alone; that we need to be connected to another human being to experience companionship, support and the struggles inherent in a relationship if we are to achieve personal fulfillment and reach our highest potential. Adam, the first man, may have been complete in his physical being but without someone to love, without a partner with whom to relate, he was spiritually and emotionally incomplete.

In the story of Isaac and Rebecca, we watch as Divine guidance directs the meeting of two people destined for one another when Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, prays to God for a sign. Eleazar barely finishes his entreaty when Rebecca appears and provides the exact sign that Eleazar had prayed for: She offers him and his camels water to drink. This is seen as more than a lucky coincidence; it is viewed as an act of Divine providence guiding Isaac to his true love.

The idea that heaven plays a part in the destiny of our hearts also appears in the Talmud, which describes a soul mate as someone who is chosen for us even before we are born. “Forty days before a child is born, a voice from heaven announces: ‘The daughter of this person is destined for so-and-so'”(Sotah 2a).

How does one find their soul mate? Jewish history provides us with several answers. Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, is our first example of a Jewish matchmaker, a man on a mission to find the right wife for Isaac. During the 12th century in Europe and Asia, it became customary to hire an intermediary, or shadchen, to find a suitable marriage partner. While this custom is no longer widely practiced, it is still followed in traditional Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Another answer has emerged from the world of technology. Jewish matchmaking in cyberspace is now a vibrant industry consisting of numerous Web sites offering successful matchmaking services for Jewish singles.

Not finding one’s soul mate does not mean that one will live a loveless life. There are many forms of love and many types of loving relationships that nourish the heart and elevate the soul. Although different from a soul mate, a soulful relationship is one born out of true knowledge, caring, respect and love for another person that imbues life with emotional and spiritual meaning and purpose. Soulful relationships can occur throughout our lives with friends, co-workers, respected teachers and family members, as well as in our efforts to know and love God. In all cases, it is through our search for love and the belief and faith that we will find it that we open ourselves up to finding soulful relationships, as well as our true beshert.

My husband and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary this year. While some may view ours as a “marriage made in heaven,” we both know how hard we have struggled, worked, negotiated and compromised to make it a strong and loving relationship here on earth. When I look into his face and see the light reflected in the eyes that so closely resemble those of my children, I am reminded of a wonderful Jewish saying from the Chasidic rabbi, the Ba’al Shem Tov:

“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

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‘Love With Noodles’ Rife With Canoodles


“Love With Noodles” by Harry I. Freund (Carroll & Graff, $25).

Consider the curious case of Dan Gelder: 60 years old, Jewish, paunchy, bad back. Yet it seems every bejeweled Park Avenue matron is after the investment counselor for love, for money or maybe for just a quick roll in the hay.

That’s the cute and quirky premise of “Love With Noodles,” the debut novel by 65-year-old Park Avenue investment counselor Harry I. Freund. The novel’s subtitle is, “An Amorous Widower’s Tale,” and just how true to life it is, we may never know. But whether or not art imitated life is irrelevant, especially when the ride is as much fun as “Love With Noodles.”

What Freund sorely lacks in literary style, he more than makes up with heart and humor.

Narrated in the first person, present tense (always risky), “Love With Noodles” follows Gelder’s canoodling with a string of women who enter his life just as he emerges from mourning his late beshert, Ellen. Gelder lives alone. His grown son, Eric, faces financial ruin. What’s worse, Eric is planning to marry a non-Jew.

Though all Jewish, Gelder’s women vary widely — from Charlotte, the wife of a friend off on a gay fling, to Maya, a Palestinian rights activist with a knack for lovemaking so vigorous it puts her partners in traction.

He nearly finds beshert No. 2 in Violet, a stinking-rich widow who loves adventure, diamonds and sticking it to those she detests. Gelder nearly steals her heart, and the two are off to Israel to visit Violet’s Orthodox daughter.

But soon, Gelder meets Tatiana, a 43-year-old Ukrainian widow with a 9-year-old piano prodigy son. She is gorgeous, lonely and seemingly angelic. Gelder falls for her hard. But does she love him for who he is or for his bank account?

The last third of the novel chronicles Gelder’s efforts to weed out all the meaningless sexual encounters and settle on choosing between the women that matter: Violet and Tatania. How about both?

Freund has trouble setting the tone of his story. Is it farce? Comedy of manners? Social satire? He isn’t sure, and that trips up his writing.

Moreover, though the book is filled with sex scenes, Gelder/Freund approaches them so gingerly, so squeamishly, they end up less than erotic. One almost feels embarrassed for the author, who doesn’t seem to want to shine a light into the bedroom.

As with many first-person narratives, the main character/narrator is often the most poorly drawn. That is the central problem with “Love With Noodles,” as Gelder ends up frustratingly two-dimensional. A novelist is required to reveal characters, not cover for them.

However, the women are delightful, especially Violet. She has all the color and brashness of a Tennessee Williams heroine. If they ever make a movie adaptation of this book, the Shirley McClaines and Meryl Streeps of the world will be fighting for the part.

There’s plenty of Jewish content here, from the pair of Orthodox Jewish weddings, to Gelder’s anguish over his son’s intermarriage, to the sojourn across Israel.

Like all good fiction, “Love With Noodles” expands its borders beyond the parochial. Anyone past the halfway point of life, hurtling forward with unease, will see something of himself in Gelder, paunch or no paunch.

Freund has a long way to go if he wants to join the ranks of great American novelists. But if there was a Pulitzer Prize for understanding the subtleties of life, Freund would have his on the mantel by now.

To Elected Love


Once in a while, when you lose in politics, you can still
win. Even though Michael Wissot lost his bid for a seat in the state assembly
last fall, he found his beshert along the campaign trail.

Wissot, 28, recently announced his engagement to Stephen S.
Wise Temple Cantor Alison Weiner, 31, whom he met at a temple event in June
featuring keynote speaker Adam Goldman (President Bush’s then-liaison to the
American Jewish community). Wissot was there as a guest of the Republican
Jewish Coalition, to be introduced as a candidate for the 41st Assembly
District; Weiner sang “Hatikva” prior to Goldman’s speech. Both made note of
the other, but got lost in the crowd. So Weiner was surprised when her father
grabbed her to “introduce her to this nice young man” and it turned out to be Wissot.
The pair were, as each of them recalls, dumbstruck for about 20 minutes.

“I never really appreciated how powerful love at first sight
could be until I experienced it,” Wissot said.

Over the next few months, Weiner frequently accompanied Wissot
on the campaign trail. “She was great at precinct walking because a lot of
people recognized her,” he said. When election night came, and the Westlake Village
businessman realized he was not going to prevail against incumbent Fran Pavley
(she won with 64 percent of the votes), Wissot said he was “disappointed, but
not devastated. Winning the election would have been a consolation; I already
had the prize.”

Now it was his turn to keep up with Weiner’s schedule, which
ended up playing a part in their engagement. Weiner was in Nottingham, England
in December to participate in a cantor’s consortium and Wissot had been looking
for a romantic opportunity to propose. He concocted a scheme to lure her to London
just before the end of her trip. Using the power of e-mail, he pretended to be
a mutual friend and convinced Weiner to meet him at Trafalgar Square on Dec.
24. There, in one of London’s most famous spots, Wissot surprised Weiner and
ended up on bended knee amid carolers and snow flurries. Although some people
would call the timing of their engagement ironic, Weiner, who appreciates all
kinds of music, disagrees.

“To be surrounded by carolers and to be near St. Martin’s
Church with the most incredible four-part harmony escaping from it was one of the
most beautiful moments I could ask for,” she said.

As for that other non-Jewish holiday coming up, the one with
all the hearts and flowers, Weiner said, “I [have] no doubt Michael and I will
both find ways to be creative and express what we feel for each other.”

Somebody Stop Me


I’ve been spending so much time and energy dating that it
sometimes feels like an addiction. Or at least another career. If only it paid. And didn’t involve so much time at Starbucks.
And didn’t require at the end of each meeting having to come up with a polite
way to say, “It’s perfectly okay with me if we never see each other again for
the rest of our lives; in fact, I’d prefer it.”

Which usually emerges from my careful-to-be-tactful mouth in
this fashion: “Very nice meeting you.”

In the first three years following my divorce, I went on 150
coffee dates. And by “coffee dates” I’m using the standard Merriam-Webster
dictionary definition: “first-time meetings, usually ending in disappointment.”
And I’m an optimist, mind you.

Now, I realize that 150 coffee dates sounds like a lot, but
spread out over three years, it’s just one a week. Of course, depending on the
person, 15 minutes with the wrong woman for the first time can seem like a
whole week. But I learned something very important from those 150 coffee dates:
If I’d saved all the money I spent on them, I could have afforded a Hyundai.
(Granted, four of the dates resulted in relationships, but the other 146 of
them only resulted in a thorough knowledge of the differences between lattes,
frappucinos and caramel macchiatos.)

Sometimes I think this dating odyssey is God’s way of
getting back at me for never having taken chemistry in school. He’s making it
virtually impossible for me to find chemistry with my beshert. Is mutual
worship and adoration too much to ask for? Of course not. You can ask for it
all you want. Getting it is another story.

It’s the same old story: Either they’re not attracted to me
or I’m not attracted to them. Sometimes they show up without a sense of humor,
without a sense of playfulness, without even the realization that someone else
is sitting across the table from them. One woman talked to me about herself for
a full hour without asking me one question about myself. Astounding. But if I
want self-absorbed, I’ll date actresses exclusively.

I admit that I do like the variety. I’ve gone out with a
judge, a cantor, a masseuse, a teacher, a network executive, a nurse, a college
student, a speech therapist, a doctor, an actress, a psychologist, a lawyer,
even a forest ranger. I’ve had a first date in an art museum that featured
life-sized, naked, anatomically correct male and female mannequins.

At a recent brunch, a woman immediately removed a digital
scale from her pocketbook and proceeded to weigh each item of food that was
served. Another date took me to the Holocaust-themed film “The Pianist”; but my
efforts to salvage the mood (“We Jews really have to stick together — wanna
come home with me?”) came to no avail. At one Starbucks, I waited an extra half
hour for my date to arrive, missing the fact that she was already seated a few
tables away — she looked so different from the photo that went with her profile
that I could not believe she was the same person. Still to this day I am
convinced she was my date’s mother.

And even though I’ve done my share of rejecting, I’ve also
experienced my share of being rejected. At first, I took it personally. Now I
consider it part of the process. Often, women can’t bring themselves to say,
“Sorry, not interested” to my face, so they’ll lie.

Once, I asked a date, “Can we go out again?”

She cheerfully responded, “Call me!” I never heard back from
her. Now when I hear a cheerful “Call me!” I realize it’s the kiss of death,
not unlike that given by Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”

My favorite kiss-off, though, happened recently. When I
brought up the subject of a third date, I actually heard these words come from
her lips: “I’m going to be really busy in January.” Wouldn’t a quick slap
across my face have made the point more directly?

So why do I put myself through all this pain, aggravation,
expense and time over and over and over and over again? Am I masochistic? Or am
I a serial dater so addicted to the process that I consciously or
subconsciously never intend to settle down with one of them?

I don’t think so.

I go through it all because I’ve experienced the thrill of a
relationship when it works. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to have had more
than one relationship in which both people worship and adore one another. I
think these kinds of relationships are rare — at least for me. But when they do
happen, it’s special, exciting, stimulating, life-enhancing. It’s magic. And I
know she’s out there somewhere, perhaps even looking for me.

All I ask is that at the end of our first date, she doesn’t
look me in the eyes, smile warmly, and cheerfully say, “Call me!” Â


Mark Miller is a former stand-up comic and current marketing manager at KCET. He’s also a comedy writer, who has written and produced TV sitcoms, sold feature film comedies to Warner Bros. and been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and other publications.

Are You Frum.Com?


"Shtetlgirl" was having a hard time meeting religious men. She was used to dating men she met in youth programs and schools, but at 22, away from her hometown and living in Los Angeles, she found herself without a structured forum to meet anyone. "Most of the guys I was meeting were not religious, if I met any at all," she told The Journal. Then a friend e-mailed her a link to an interesting profile she had seen at www.frumster.com. "Shtetlgirl" — her user name — logged on, checked out the guy, and her inbox has been clogged ever since with nice religious boys looking for dates.

"Shtetlgirl" is one of more than 3,000 members on Frumster.com, a growing religious dating Web site. While there are a plethora of Jewish dating Internet services, many are associated with matchmakers and specific organizations, and few are devoted solely to religious people (Bitachon.com, a smaller site, also deals solely with religious singles).

Frumster is the brainchild of Grayson Levy, a 30-year-old Canadian who now lives in Israel. He began the site last November after his forays in Internet dating went awry because the more traditional Jewish dating Web sites did not cater to the specific nuances of the religious crowd, he said. He would sift through the small percentage of religious members on JDate, and the dates themselves would not work out because he was not religiously compatible with the girls he met.

"I met girls who would say things to me like, ‘I can’t go out with you anymore because you don’t learn enough Torah,’" said Levy from his home in Jerusalem. "Religious people are obsessed with levels — levels of kashrut, of Torah learning — so I wanted a site where users could find out how often other users pray and how much Torah they learn and what level of kashrut they keep, and get that out of the way, and then get down to the small talk on an individual level."

Frumster.com is a cheery-looking, easy-to-use site with clear graphics and a simple profiling system. Members are asked to categorize themselves as Modern Orthodox-liberal, Modern Orthodox-machmir (very strict), Yeshivish/Black Hat, Hassidish or Carlebachian. They are also asked how often they pray and study Torah. Women must indicate whether they wear pants or skirts only and whether they plan to cover their hair when they get married.

Unlike JDate, which asks members to describe, among other things, their perfect date and what they have learned from previous relationships, Frumster only asks two personal questions: "Describe Yourself" — in at least 10 words — and "Describe what you are looking for in a mate." The latter is optional.

"I ask two simple questions, and I think that someone who is very serious is going to write what they need to express themselves, because they want to, whether I prompt them or not," Levy said. "At the same time, I feel that people get scared off by long forms and give up in the middle, and I have this constant fear that I will lose people who would otherwise sign up." This is the same reason that Levy does not charge to use his site.

Unlike the profiles on other sites, the descriptions on Frumster.com seem abrupt. All "Robert123" writes to describe himself is "I’m a down-to-earth mensch looking for my yadel." (His search would probably be easier if more people knew what a yadel was.)

Frumster members seem circumspect about revealing too much, and extracting the 10-word minimum description of them is, as Levy says, "like pulling teeth." Few of them post photographs of themselves. Many members choose not to answer the second question about what they are looking for in a mate, but when they do, they tend to simply enumerate positive character traits rather than write full sentences of description.

Levy says that Frumster attracts religious Jews of all types, from modern Orthodox to Satmar Chasidim. The majority of members live on the East Coast — though there are 160 from Los Angeles — and 25-35 is the largest age group of people signing up.

"I can’t guarantee that every person is Shomer Shabbat Kehilchato [keeping Shabbat as the Halachah demands]," Levy admitted. "I don’t know what every person does and what their commitment to a religious lifestyle is, but a high percentage — about 90 percent keep Shabbat and keep kosher inside the house and out."

Frumster attracts an average of 60 new members a day, and while its database has nowhere near the 350,000 profiles on JDate, Levy is confident that his site will continue to grow. There has already been one Frumster engagement (Levy was invited to the wedding), and Levy has also received e-mails from singles thanking him for facilitating the introduction to their soulmates.

"I am looking forward to the time when every week someone calls and says, ‘I met someone through Frumster and got engaged.’"