Stuart Hershkowitz, former Vice President of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) and current President of OU Israel, speaks to Israel National News about how JCT has brought matchmaking into the digital age with a matchmaking app based on artificial intelligence.
JCT, an Orthodox academic-religious institution founded in 1968 for serious Torah learners heading into the world of business, is now home to 5,000 students studying technology and business on several campuses.
Hershkowitz explains that for many years JCT has always had two part-time matchmakers on staff.
“We know that in the Religious Zionist world the problem of [finding a match] is spoken about all the time and it's it's a huge huge problem; one of the biggest problems if you ask your average family. Someone who has children of marriageable age, they're quite frightened that they won't find somebody appropriate for their child,” he says.
This is especially important for the stage of life in which young men and women are earning their first or second university degrees.
The Shagririm Ba’Lev online matchmaking program is geared toward the Religious Zionist world.
“We started only in JCT but we saw the demand [to expand]. In the last two or three years the program has taken off. We switched things around and came up with a very interesting approach that has been hugely successful,” he says.
He explains the way Shagririm Ba’Lev works:
“If you have a child or friend, more [commonly] a friend, who you really want to [help] get married, you will sign up on the website of Shagririm Ba’Lev as an ambassador. Chances are you know him very well, maybe even better than he knows himself, and if you are accepted as an ambassador, you are immediately asked to put in your your candidate, a little bit about him, and then immediately after that the algorithms that we've developed will tell us who for your friend the most is appropriate.”
Shagririm Ba’Lev is based on cutting edge artificial intelligence.
“That's the new way to find [a match]. You're given a list based on what you put in and at that point you'll review their profiles and you will then proceed to call their ambassador, and their ambassador will talk to you, you’ll talk about your friend, she’ll talk about her friend, and then hopefully we can set up a date,” he says.
Shagririm Ba’Lev not only saves time but also avoids and prevents unpleasant encounters, and also helps people who are embarrassed to utilize a real world matchmaker.
The program has been a huge success story. So far, besides countless dates, they have had 131 weddings.
“There are dates all the time. We have a record of every date as it's going on. We know what's happening,” he says.
They also offer help for those who are struggling to find the appropriate person for them or having difficulty on dates.
“If there's someone who is a serial dater, we have workshops for him, sometimes even one-on-one workshops to let him focus more or her focus more on what he or she should be looking for and how they should go about it, so we also have that as well, the constant workshops,” he explains.
The program was originally focused only on the JCT’s men’s and women’s campuses, but today it has expanded throughout the Religious Zionist sector in Israel for 20 to 30-year-olds.
“A couple of years ago, we made this change and it exploded and we had people from all different kinds of organizations contacting us,” he says. “Today, we're in all different kinds of schools and areas. The leading rabbis of Religious Zionism [were brought to JCT] to explain the program, and everybody is on board. All the rabbis love the idea."
Hershkowitz talks about how amazed he still is at how well the program has worked out and how successful it has become.
“It's really established itself as one of the leading programs,” he says. “It's very focused on the 20 to 30 age group. Also in order to be able to focus and do the best job, we're limiting ourselves to the Religious Zionist crowd. It's gone very well. The interesting thing is that the World Mizrahi and the OU have gotten very very involved. The OU last week had a big event at the Israel Center here in Jerusalem and we'd like to get more and more Anglos involved, knowing about the program. We are about to embark on a sort of a program to get them very much involved.”
This is important given that it is sometimes a challenge for Anglos in Israel to find what they need.
“That's why we're very much looking to the cooperation with the World Mizrachi and with the OU. The event last week at the OU was fantastic really basically for Anglos.”
The age rage of their demographic is important because of what some would even call a crisis currently in the Religious Zionist community, with people getting married later.
“We find that the age that people are getting married is getting older and older. People are not getting married right away and Anglos coming here don't have the real social structure,” he says. “The shul that I go to on a Friday night we have probably 400 Anglo marriageable men and women who come to the shul. It's sort of turned into the place where people meet, and that's not a very scientific way to do it. The scientific way to do it [is] really catching on and is about really getting to know the program that we have, which I think takes away a lot of the uncomfortableness that some people might have either going to a matchmaker or just meeting someone in front of synagogue on a Friday night.”