By Zachary Greenberg
With the world going virtual, several Yeshiva University students are undertaking a tough challenge during the pandemic: dating during coronavirus. Social distancing has limited singles from meeting easily, putting a strain on their dating lives. Several Jewish individuals have attempted dating alternatives such as Zoom speed events and Facebook group chats. In contrast, Ariella Etshalom (SCW ‘20) and Ahuva Wakschlag (SSSB ‘20) have founded a free, new matchmaking service, AZA Matchmakers. Their service differs from typical shidduch (matchmaking) businesses. While they often rely heavily on stats and written information, such as resumes or profiles, AZA Matchmakers conducts video chats with each and every person who joins, as a way to get to know him/her on a more personal level.
AZA’s origins date back to 2016, the year Ariella and Ahuva met in Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY), a seminary in Jerusalem. As chavrutot (study partners), they frequently discussed the shidduch (marriage) crisis — the difficulty of finding a spouse in the Modern Orthodox Jewish community — and the hardships of Modern Orthodox Jewish dating. Several years later, both as students in YU, they began to set people up on dates. They have already seen success — the first of their matches got engaged in May 2020.
They started off small, writing names of potential matches down on a whiteboard. Since both are highly outgoing women who are involved in various communities of people their age, they found that pooling their lists of friends proved to be a very effective way to set people up. Although some of their matches did not go past the first few dates, Ariella and Ahuva stayed motivated. “I like to think that it really is more about getting people out there, feeling comfortable dating, so they can truly clarify what they are looking for and figure out how to find the right person for them,” Etshalom explains. “Not every date will be your future spouse, but learning from each date more about yourself and what you’re looking for can make all the difference when it comes to such a deeply personal and life-altering experience.”
After the coronavirus outbreak, the duo decided to expand their business virtually. Chief Technical Officer and IBC Representative Baruch Lerman (YC ‘23) developed the website and Facebook page to broaden AZA’s reach and accessibility. Chief Marketing Officer and YSU President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) created a demo video which shows a sneak peak into the AZA video chats where they get to know the people who register. The video stars valedictorian CJ Glicksman (YC ‘20) in a lighthearted conversation which provides Ariella and Ahuva useful information about CJ and the type of person he is looking for. The questions are related to general background and hashkafic (lifestyle) preferences, comfortability with coed events, personality traits that he possesses and ones he is looking for in a spouse, along with some out-of-the-box brain teasers.
While AZA is accepting people regardless of school or location, they mostly market towards YU students and alumni. The only caveat is that anyone who enters must be at least 18-year-olds. The application form requires some basic information such as phone number and email, with an optional section of providing more information about dating and preferences.
Currently, AZA has over 60 signups, countless dating suggestions, and several couples currently going out. On their Facebook page, AZA offers tips for dating over Zoom and even some suggestions for fun Zoom dates such as scattergories, movie night with screen sharing over Zoom (Zoomie), virtual Settlers, and more. Additionally, they answer anonymous dating questions submitted through their website along with general advice, tips, and dating jokes! AZA is also working on hosting single game nights such as Virtual Settlers of Catan and Bingo night, utilizing Zoom breakout rooms to provide individuals a more comfortable, private space.
“AZA has so far been the best matchmaking service I have dealt with,” an anonymous YU student who has been set up through AZA remarked. “They take time to get to know each individual and really put thought into potential matches for me.”
The upside of dating through a shadchan (matchmaker) or dating business is that there is a large pool of potential set-ups, raising the chances of finding a good shidduch (match). Many YU students feel that dating through a matchmaker is too formal and is like “throwing darts, in hopes of one sticking” and would prefer to be set up by a friend who knows them well and understands what they are truly looking for. AZA combines the two forums: they are similar to a typical matchmaking service in that they have many enrollments, but their uniqueness lies in the quality of their service. Since they take the time to video chat with each person who signs up, the process feels more like friends wanting to find the right person for you. They only set people up if they think it makes sense, and they do not just “throw darts”.
*For more information, email AZAmatchmakers@gmail.com.