Micki Lavin-Pell has a hard job. In an age of lost innocence, instant gratification and gender politics, she wants to inject some romance into people's lives. Lavin-Pell is Director of Programming for Beineinu, a division of the Israel branch of the International Young Israel Movement that brings single men and women together and is especially geared toward "Anglo-Israeli" Jews.
A recent report estimated that there are about 50,000 religious singles between the ages of 25 and 40 in Israel. This is "a huge amount of people," says Lavin-Pell, whose job is to try to make it smaller.
Lavin-Pell says that the singles scene for religious people became more challenging after rabbis ruled that "mixer" dances – which were common in Young Israel in the 1960s and 70s – led to breaches of modesty and had to be discontinued.
"In the 80s those things came to an end," she says, "and nothing really replaced them. It just stopped. It became harder to meet people once you finished university, and then, in the 90s, there came these artificial ways of meeting people. People stand in a room and smile at each other without having any kind of connection. This brought people down. And it created a bad name, a pathetic feeling about the singles scene. And that taste remains today."
"You feel like a has-been, old. Like, 'Oh G-d, do I have to do that?' There is a feeling that singles are pathetic drips and that if you are in the singles scene, it means you don’t have enough friends, or can’t get a date."
Lavin-Pell thinks this is the wrong attitude. "People think 'if I don’t meet someone I have wasted my time.' But the right attitude should be – 'I want to have a good time'. People should come to a singles event because it's fun. People should think – I'm going to build Am Yisrael [the Nation of Israel]. Not 'If I don’t get a date my mother is going to kill me,' but 'I want to help my friend get a date, I want to help others.' That way, you can't go wrong."
What about speed dating?
"Many people try speed dating – but I want to bring back the notion of slow dating. I think the notion that you know within a few moments if someone is right for you – I feel that is too superficial. I think there needs to be more opportunity for people to meet each other at a slower pace and we need to slow things down." Parties, too, "can be very uncomfortable," she notes. Beineinu's approach is to "create events and opportunities for Israelis and chutznikim from all over Israel to meet and form relationships that can potentially lead to marriage."
This weekend, the group is sponsoring a musical Sabbath in Mitzpe Ramon. Mishael Dickman, American Israeli lead singer for a band called Para Aduma, will lead the musical experience. On Shabbat, the participants will be led by tour guide Ami Bron, also American Israeli, on a hike to Ein Ovdat and Makhtesh Ramon.
About one third of the people who participate in Beineinu's Sabbaths continue dating people they met there after the experience, estimates Lavin-Pell.
A "Paintballing for Singles" event last Chanukah was billed as an opportunity to “meet your significant other while causing them bodily harm." The Young Israel website sums up the event thus: "On arrival teams were decided upon, serious safety and other instruction were given (“no shooting to kill, only to be splattered”), protective gear was adjusted, guns were loaded and four very intensive battles took place. In the end all were victorious because a fun time was had by all."
It is all about having fun, says Lavin-Pell. "People do not know how to have fun. They go into marriage hoping that their partners will teach them how to have fun or will bring fun into the marriage, and they get disappointed when that doesn’t happen. But they do not realize that you need to know how to have fun before you enter a marriage. So there is a positive outcome here because people are uplifted and inspired. Who knows what will happen?"
Originally from New York, Lavin-Pell made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia with her husband, Gaby Pell, and three children, in 2008. She is a certified marriage and family therapist and dating coach. Beineinu can be contacted through the Young Israel website.