- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

Dressed in a crisp button-down shirt and flashing a smile, Robert Orenstein was ready to charm his blind dates. All eight of them.
Mr. Orenstein was taking part in SpeedDating, the latest trend among Jewish singles who want to meet other Jewish singles but don't want to commit to hours of uncomfortable blind-date banter.
Participants switch partners every seven minutes at the sound of a bell and fill out cards indicating whom they would like to meet again. Matches are contacted later so they can arrange real dates.
"I like the idea of being able to communicate with people in kind of bite-size moments," said Mr. Orenstein, 44, an insurance agent. "I'm looking for somebody where I feel a spark, a connection on some level."
SpeedDating is the brainchild of Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, educational director of Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles, a Jewish resource group with branches throughout the world.
A little more than a year ago, Mr. Deyo quizzed the 20- and 30-somethings in his weekly Torah class on how young Jewish singles could meet. Many disliked the bar scene, yet found social gatherings at synagogues or Jewish centers too stiff. They came up with Speed Dating.
At a session Wednesday night in Wilmette, a tony suburb north of Chicago, 43 people crowded around tiny folding tables on the dance floor of an American Legion hall. The women took their places on the east side of each table, and coordinator Elsa Malinsky assigned the men to their first "dates."
Seven minutes later, she rang a cowbell and the men shifted down a seat.
The singles were advised not to talk about where they live or what they do for a living. That forces them to focus more on what the other person is really like, she said.
Out of this session, 14 women and 10 men had matches meaning both they and their dates checked "yes" on the date card. They will be contacted by today to arrange lengthier dates.
"The bottom line is everybody gets a chance to meet," said Ms. Malinsky, who runs another Jewish dating service. "I always tell people to come with an open mind."
The idea behind SpeedDating is to preserve Jewish culture in countries where interfaith marriage has become common.
No one is expected to figure out marriage prospects in seven minutes, Mr. Deyo stressed. But the availability of a fun way to meet makes it easier for Jews to date within their faith, he said.
Mr. Orenstein, for example, says dating women of another faith would complicate his relationship with his children from a previous marriage. Near the end of Wednesday's session, he had been on eight dates and found four women he would like to see again.
Anna Appell, 46, an insurance marketer, also gave SpeedDating rave reviews. She said it was well worth the $25 cost to meet so many available Jewish men.
"I'm better at one-on-one," said Miss Appell, who has attended singles dances in the past. "It's a much more comfortable situation."
Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, program director of the National Jewish Outreach Program in New York, called SpeedDating a "great idea." His educational group fights the assimilation and intermarriage of Jews.
"I don't know that it's going to make so many marriages, but it can't hurt," Mr. Rosenbaum said.
The response to SpeedDating has been phenomenal, Mr. Deyo said. Sessions are now available in 15 metropolitan areas: Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Kiev; Las Vegas; London; Los Angeles; New York; Philadelphia; San Francisco; South Florida; St. Louis; Sydney, Australia; Toronto; and Washington.
Organizations in Boston, Seattle and South Africa also have signed up.
There are some glitches, Ms. Malinsky conceded. Some women, disappointed that there weren't enough men to go around, left early. And Ms. Malinsky had to scold men who gravitated out of their age groups toward younger women.
Even so, the response has been mostly positive, Rabbi Deyo said. Los Angeles already has seen six marriages and one baby result from SpeedDating.
"You can go out and take a chance at a bar or you can go here and literally meet 40 people in an hour," said Michael Mandelman, 49, a lawyer. "It's a great way to meet people all the way around."

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