Can Fast Track Dating fill a void in Jewish society here?

The Jewish Chronicle
December 7, 2010

Following a several-year dearth of local programming, Jewish singles finally can look forward to mixing and mingling with each other this month at Fast Track Dating, an event funded by a community grant.

Jewish singles in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, who preregister for the event by Dec. 8, will gather Sunday evening, Dec. 12, at the new Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel at 7 p.m. for cocktails and appetizers.

At 7:30, the “dating” will begin.

Here’s how it works: Participants will be divided into groups based on age. Sitting across from each other at tables, people will spend five to seven minutes getting to know someone of the opposite sex. When the time is up, people move to new seats, and repeat the process with others.

Index cards with starter questions will be provided to help get the conversations going. Each participant is assigned a number. If someone thinks he may like to see his new acquaintance again, he circles her number on a prepared card. If both participants circle each other’s numbers, they will receive contact information within a few days.

Sponsored by Shalom Pittsburgh, and funded by a $3,000 outreach grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Fast Track Dating will be the first event of its kind in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, according to Julie Rosenbaum, Shalom Pittsburgh associate. The Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, which has held several Fast Track Dating events, assisted in planning the event.

The idea for Fast Track Dating came about when a local committee was formed to talk about how best to use outreach grant funds, which had specifically been marked to fund a Jewish singles’ event, according to Rosenbaum.

“Because of the rise in interfaith marriage, we really wanted a way to bring people together,” said Rosenbaum. “There have not been Jewish singles’ events in a long time.”

Bill Cartiff, who will emcee the event, and who ran a regular series of Jewish singles’ events in the 1990s for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, hopes Fast Track Dating is just the beginning of a commitment to provide avenues of connection for local Jewish singles.

“There are just not enough outlets for people who are Jewish and single to meet,” said Cartiff, who currently runs an international Jewish singles travel program through the JCC in partnership with Amazing Journeys, a Pittsburgh-based travel agency. “I believe it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to promote Jewish continuity. We talk a lot about the interfaith marriage rate being way above 50 percent, but we are not focusing our attention on those who are making the decisions to marry.”

Pittsburgh is not alone in failing to provide significant programming for Jewish singles, according to Cartiff.

“There is very little happening in very few cities,” said Cartiff, who is single. “I can count on one hand how many cities have dedicated staff members for Jewish singles. The biggest issue is that we’re an unrecognized population. Other than the Internet, we don’t have other social outlets.”

One of the challenges Jewish singles’ programmers are facing is finding ways to appeal to a new generation of singles — those who grew up with Facebook and J-Date, Cartiff said.

“The needs of Jewish singles need to be identified,” he said. “We need to get creative and innovative and do a little bit of research. There needs to be a financial and personnel commitment, and the proper innovation.”

Fast Track Dating may prove to be a good first step. More than 50 people have already registered for the event, and Rosenbaum expects attendance to total about 100.

“If this is successful, we will absolutely do it again,” she said.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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