What began 13 years ago as a local effort to help Yeshiva University students meet their soulmates has grown into a major relationship-building program that serves the global Jewish community. In the process, the popular YUConnects dating resource has announced its 500th engagement. It has helped almost 10,000 Jewish Orthodox singles find their perfect matches.
It’s a feat the founders of the non-profit organization could only dream of when they first launched the concept in 2008. “It’s incredible to see the program grow exponentially every day, with close to 280 couples now dating on any given week, which ultimately leads to many engagements and marriages,” said Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, the program’s director, who worked closely with the university’s leadership and Center for the Jewish Future from Day One to get YUConnects off the ground.
While helping singles find each other is what drives YUConnects, Dr. Sobolofsky said the program is as much about the journey as it is the outcome – an approach she said has accounted for its popularity.
“We have an online dating platform, but we’re not just a matchmaking service,” she said, referring to the YUConnects extensive state-of-the-art search engine powered by SawYouatSinai, one of the Jewish community’s largest online dating sites. “Our true success is in creating opportunities for people to network and meet, and providing resources to foster meaningful relationships and help members through their personal dating journey.”
This includes offering a wide range of support services to the program’s more than 3,600 current members – based largely in the United States, Canada, Israel, France, England, and Australia. Offerings include social and networking events to educational forums, lectures, and informational resources including coaching, genetic testing, date etiquette, relationship advice, assessing dating readiness, date night ideas, and everything in between.
“YUConnects serves as a platform for Jewish people from a common range of values to meet and develop healthy relationships that serve as the foundation for future families of our community,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. “We have created a communal network that brings a thoughtful approach to contemporary dating.”
For Dani and Michael Gottesman of Bergenfield, who were introduced through the dating site by staff member Mindy Eisenman and just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, YUConnects’ added value is in combining the personal touch of a matchmaker with access to a large database of singles.
“Mindy served as an intermediary for our first few dates and was always in touch with us, giving guidance and pointers,” Ms. Gottesman said. She initially felt hesitant about joining an online dating platform but quickly recognized the high quality of the other members, she added. “Four kids later, Michael and I are deeply indebted to YUConnects for giving us the greatest gift.”
Powering YUConnects’ success is a large network of experienced relationship-building experts, including 80 volunteer online matchmakers – called connectors – a handful of staff members and dozens of YU-affiliated social workers, psychologists, rabbis, rebbetzins, and student interns are behind YUConnects’ success. YUConnects, which has an office at YU’s uptown campus, provides ongoing professional training to its highly-dedicated team.
“The office is open for anyone, whether someone is looking for coaching, date ideas, or an answer to a question,” said Marjorie Glatt, YUConnects special projects coordinator. “Our team is constantly innovating to come up with creative ways to bring likeminded people together and create long-lasting, healthy relationships.”
The creativity of the YUConnects team was particularly apparent during the pandemic, when lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions played havoc with the dating scene.
“We pivoted our services online and organized dozens of Zoom webinars and virtual events, from dating rooms to panels, which often drew hundreds of participants at a time,” Dr. Sobolofsky said, adding that in spite of covid-19, in the last year YUConnects saw an increase in membership and 25 percent more couples than usual getting engaged – 75, as opposed to the average 50 in a year.
Amid the pandemic, YUConnects launched a widely popular “CandiDate” podcast series, where experts share educational and entertaining insights on Jewish dating topics, including how to handle rejection and breakups, work with matchmakers, crush stereotypes, avoid dating anxiety, and connect with your date through conversation. An inspirational video, called “Wedded Wisdom,” was also unveiled; it dispenses practical advice and encouraging messages for singles looking for their life partners.
Henry Orlinsky chairs YUConnects. He has been involved with the program since its inception, and credits its success to “the talented team working tirelessly to continually adapt to the evolving needs of members and create a platform with a social dynamic that has changed the dating scene,” he said. “This outstanding network of professionals and volunteers constantly innovates new ways to bring people together, regularly surpassing expectations.”
In coming weeks, the team will be announcing a range of new initiatives, including a pre-Chanukah mega-party, an alumni-networking partnership with Israeli yeshivas and seminaries, and a “Newlywed Networking” project where young married couples brainstorm match ideas for their friends.
How will YUConnects celebrate its 500th engagement? “Watch for video snippets from some of our cherished couples,” Ms. Glatt said, adding that they’ve also launched “The 500 Club,” where anyone can sponsor programs in multiples of $500. “With YUConnects relying on donations to operate, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate our milestone than by partnering with community members to bring more couples together and build future Jewish homes,” she said.
For more information and a schedule of upcoming events, go to yuconnects.com, call (646) 592-4259, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Until October 31, 2021, YUConnects is offering new members one month of free membership using promo code YUC500 in honor of its milestone celebration.