It seemed like an average haredi conference, with men in front and women in back, the men in white shirts and black pants and the women in modest dress - but it was actually a singles event of a new kind.
The first matchmaking event for haredi men and women in the workforce was held in Jerusalem on Sunday, an attempt to jump over the hurdles they face within haredi society for working - and where they are, as a result, labelled as second-rate for the marriage market.
The singles met with professionals invited to talk about how to deal with a matchmaking world saturated with stereotypes, Walla! News reports Monday, and to find solutions for them in the future as they remain haredi - but also unappreciated.
Thirty year-old Yossi Haim, a haredi man who left to join the labor market five years ago, says he faces a double hurdle: being "old" by haredi standards, and keeping his job at a radio station.
"Why a girl should reach the age of 24 or 26 to begin to agree to consider men who work [for husbands - ed.]?" he asked. "Is working a red flag? We must dispel this misunderstanding."
Haredi families in Israel typically use professional matchmakers, who call an eligible woman's parents and tell her they have an interested suitor. From that moment on, the potential bride's family checks his reputation with neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and teachers at his yeshiva [Torah academy - ed.]. If the suitor seems acceptable, they then reach out to his parents, who then agree to let the two young adults date.
Couples meet for a limited number of times in very public places, such as hotel lobbies, restaurants or other entertainment venues, and are expected to become engaged - or break it off - after as little as three to five dates (in Hasidic communities) or up to 12 or 14 (often non-Hasidic). The parents play a dominant role in the match.
In a world where reputation is often more than everything - and working or engaging in any type of profession other than Torah learning is frowned upon, if not outright banned - haredi men and women who have chosen to become more self-sufficient face a significant social stigma.
Experts at the conference propose another semi-taboo platform for the haredi world to solve the issue: the internet. The first online dating site for the haredi world went live in 2001; three types of site for direct dating, for matchmakers looking to make matches with a database, and with matchmaking information are acceptable - at least part of the time - in the haredi world. Experts argued that allowing haredi men and women to contact each other directly - even if the rest of the process remains the same - could shorten the waiting time to find a suitable match.
One single haredi woman told the daily that while the idea of haredi online dating seems revolutionary now, so did a haredi man ever entering the workforce or earning a college degree ten years ago.
"If someone ten years ago told me that haredim have gone out to go get a college degree, I would laugh at them inside," she noted. "Now it's a huge phenomenon."
"This [change - ed.] will happen, too, in the matchmaking world," she assured.