One year ago, I was asked to speak on a panel at a Union for Traditional Judaism conference on the “shidduch crisis.” I agreed because I felt I had what to share on the topic. I had personal experience of the pressures, judgments, and negativity that surrounded my dating journeys. I have very close friends who are single. I have always thought of myself as someone sensitive to the needs and wants of those who remain single. I felt that this was an opportunity to speak up and express my distaste for the language of the “shidduch crisis” and for the unhealthy reality and expectations that the community at large has placed on those who are not married.
After agreeing to speak, I was asked for the title of my speech a few weeks before the conference. There must have been a miscommunication, for a few weeks out I discovered that I was being asked not to participate in a panel, but to present for 45 minutes on the “shidduch crisis.” Ever the professional, I shared my title, “How to Lose a Single in Two Words: Shidduch Crisis.” I figured that to ensure that I had enough content to fill a 45-minute time slot, I would need to do my homework. To gather more information, I posted on my Facebook page: “Crowdsourcing: When you hear the language ‘Shidduch Crisis,’ what comes to mind? Please share the good, the bad, and the ugly.” As the personal accounts came pouring in, over more than half a year, I realized how ugly the situation had become. I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of personal stories shared on my wall, in my e-mail inbox, and in a Google form I had set up to handle the incredible number of stories that were heading my way.
People shared hope, pain, frustration, comfort, desperation, and so much more. They shared of themselves in a deeply personal matter, for which I was so grateful. Themes emerged from their stories—themes of sexism, ageism, body shaming, ethnocentrism, racism, and many other forms of discrimination. What I came to learn and understand was that any “ism” in our community is grossly exacerbated and worsened in the singles community. Some respondents shared proactive ideas, such as Melanie Notkin’s Savvy Auntie approach, which advocates celebrating being an aunt (or an adoptive aunt) and identifying ways for aunts to celebrate in rites of passage.
As executive director of JOFA, I knew that JOFA is well situated to learn more, listen more, so that we can do more and do better. That is what we have attempted to do this past year, as reflected in the “Singles Salon Series.” The feedback we received about how singles are treated needed to be further explored, named, and called out. This journal explores many facets of this issue, including personal narratives and organizational responses.
With the guidance of some who were open to sharing the challenges of being an Orthodox single Jew, we penned a list of suggested best practices for synagogues, institutions, and homes (see sidebar). Some may appear to be so obvious as to be ridiculous; others may be ideas you had not considered. Every single suggestion came from multiple people who were subjected to experiences in which they were treated as less than full-fledged members of a group. We are asking community members to treat all people as people. We are asking everyone to recognize that we should not have a class system based on marital status.
The theme of this issue of the JOFA Journal holds a deep place in my heart because people in our community are being “othered” for no reason. I cannot count how many times this past year I was told by singles that they simply wanted to be treated like persons—that they did not want to feel invisible, that they just wanted to matter.
For lasting change to take hold, we all need to work together. It is time to fix this long-overdue attitude problem and become a truly inclusive community.
Sharon Weiss-Greenberg is the Director of Donor Relations, RAISE Advisors and is also the Director of Development and Communications at ELI Talks. For four years she served as the Executive Director of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance). She was recently named by the Jewish Forward as a “Forward 50” Jew of Influence and by the Jewish Week as a person to watch as a “36 Under 36” honoree. Sharon was the Rosh Moshava (Head of Camp) at Camp Stone and served as the first Orthodox woman chaplain at Harvard University. Sharon has a doctorate in education and Jewish studies from New York University. She is an alumna of the Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholarship graduate program and has studied Talmud at The Drisha Institute for Jewish Education.
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