“Life Starts with You”: Students Navigate Virtual Dating, Breakups, and Self-Love During Social Isolation

By: Molly Meisels  |  April 6, 2020

By Molly Meisels

*Some names have been changed to protect the identities of Yeshiva University community members.

When scrolling through Facebook during quarantine, my feed consists of two kinds of posts — apocalyptic news articles and hundreds of dating profiles. Once relegated to their own apps, young adults are exposing their profiles on social media, looking publicly for connection in this time of global detachment and unease. 

Hidden away in their homes, Yeshiva University students have joined Jewish young adults across the country on Facebook groups like MeetJew University, Zoom University Hillel, and Zoom University Hillel (but queer) to find love or a love-like distraction to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic. Other students having recently entered relationships, navigate dating through laptop cameras and phone calls. In a time when many people seem to be partnering up to avoid the loneliness of isolation, some students have ended their relationships or chosen to remain single, opting for self-love. 

Two cupids on the Jewish online love scene include Shifra Lindenberg, SSSB ‘21, who has initiated a Zoom speed dating service and Aaron Raimi, founder of MeetJew University, a Facebook group for 18 to 26-year-old Jewish singles. MeetJew University was started on March 17 but already has 29,498 members, including hundreds of YU students and alumni. MeetJew University allows members to post dating profiles or profiles for their friends, which range from serious to satirical. It also includes a MeetJew IQ survey, matching members with their most compatible counterpart. The survey is LGBTQ+-inclusive, carving a unique space in what could be a heteronormative and cisnormative environment. It also focuses on Jewish observancy levels, allowing participants to find their religious niche without sacrificing their identities. 

As a Jewish activist who plans to complete his last year at San Diego State in Fall 2020, Aaron Raimi is grateful that his group has granted some relief to participants and has unified an otherwise divided community. “I’ve been involved in political spaces over the last few years and I’ve seen the divisiveness. The fact that [the group has] had unity on the left and right, Orthodox and Reform, is making me and the founders really happy,” he shared with the YU Observer. “We’re not isolating the group to one sort of Jew or one political camp. I think that’s something that’s been missing from the Jewish community across the diaspora for the past decade or so.” This unique aspect of Aaron’s group is obvious through his “Nice Jewish Boy of the Week” highlights, where Aaron focuses on members’ courage and compassion, factors absent from the brutal pre-COVID dating world, 

Shifra Lindenberg hopes that her speed dating initiative, advertised via the Zoom University Hillel Facebook page, can unite people as well, connecting those in and out of relationships. The essence of the group? Feeling less alone. “We’re socially isolated and confined to our homes. With my speed dating sessions, I am providing an opportunity to continue to meet people and socialize to combat the unwanted isolation that we’re all fighting,” she said. Each session has attracted approximately 55 Jewish singles, but Shifra hopes she can expand over the next few months.  

YU undergraduate students are meeting significant others through these online groups, tempted by the brave new dating world created by COVID-19. One such student is Andrew Cohen*, a YC student who started dating someone virtually. Where did they meet? The Zoom University Hillel Facebook group. Andrew is hopeful, as he thinks COVID-19 has challenged our dating perceptions. “Although I wasn’t in an existing relationship before I quarantined, I met someone online and am in the beginning stages, despite video chat being the best method of communication at the moment,” he told the YU Observer. “In these lonely times perhaps long distance relationships are easier as our expectations are lower, but having only digital mediums to communicate with her is really tough.” 

Andrew is not the only YU student who has met a partner online during these uncertain times. Zachary Greenberg, President of the Yeshiva Student Union and host of Good Shtick! with Zach, a light-hearted talk show designed to distract the student body from COVID-19 concerns, met someone through his show. Originally, I had no intention of dating over Zoom and figured maybe I would just date local if at all,” he said. However, life doused Zachary with the unexpected and he couldn’t be happier. Many believe that virtual dating isn’t worth it, but Zachary hopes to prove them wrong. “We have been zooming out (or “going in” as her mom likes to call it), watching zoomies (zoom movies) together, and playing games such as Scattergories and Dots and Boxes […] It is unknown for how long the coronavirus will be going on, so for anyone who wants to start dating, it is definitely possible and really fun to do so through Zoom,” he urged his fellow students. 

Sarah Klein*, an SCW student who entered a relationship with her girlfriend right before Beren Campus closed, also finds herself navigating a new relationship virtually. “I was definitely not expecting to be tossed into a long distance relationship, especially so soon after we started dating,” shared Sarah. “Although long distance dating can be challenging and brings along its own feelings of loneliness, pain, and frustration, we are very communicative and make sure to carve out time to spend with each other and go on virtual dates.” Besides the nerves accompanying a long-distance relationship, Sarah is anxious about her family members, who do not know she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and dating a woman. “Living at home with a newly closeted relationship is difficult; it is hard to find a place where I can talk to my girlfriend without being overheard by family members and it is stifiling to be unable to share this joy with my family […] but, I feel very blessed and thank God very much for I know we will get through this and that our relationship will be stronger because of this,” Sarah said. 

While there are Zoom couples dedicating time and effort to the process, some students have discovered the flaws of their relationships due to the crisis. Yochanan Trell* was in a long-term relationship with his partner, but COVID-19 forced him to acknowledge the distance between them. Yochanan shared, “I suppose it precipitated the breakup itself, as we had been away from each other for a while beforehand, and the sudden forcing of apart-ness caused us both to analyze our relationship and its trajectory.” Now he finds himself in a peculiar dating scene, where relationships are forming online and must remain online for the time being. 

Other YU community members are breaking up with those they were already socially isolating with — a necessary move for their emotional well-beings. “When I left him it was really hard for him to accept that he’d have to be by himself during quarantine,” shared Rachel Grunstein*, a former SCW student who quarantined with a partner she wished to end a relationship with. “I wasn’t even thinking about how I would be by myself, I just wanted to be out of the relationship. We spent a couple of weeks surviving day by day. It felt like a primal relationship. We weren’t getting to know each other anymore. For him things were set. I’m fine, but he doesn’t stop telling me how lonely he is and how we should get through this together.” Rachel knows this break-up is best for the both of them. Pretending to be satisfied to avoid loneliness during a global pandemic is not how she envisions love, and she hopes others can recognize that too. 

While dating is on the minds of many students, as a means of combating loneliness or fulfilling dreams of hopeless romanticism by finding love in an apocalyptic world, some students are using COVID-19 quarantines to find themselves. “Because of COVID-19, I’ve discovered someone I literally can’t live without — myself. There are many bits and pieces in me that have never seen the light of day,” said Efrat Malachi, SCW ‘20. “Today they do.” Efrat changed the setting on her Facebook page to read “in a relationship.” With whom? Herself. “Today, I challenge you to love yourself unconditionally and really mean it this time. There’s a tremendous lesson to be learned from these days of quarantine, life starts with you.”