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People of the Byte: Finding Love in All the Right Cyberspaces

You might say Jan and Joel have fate to thank. Or perhaps, they owe it all to IBM.

It began with an Internet connection.

Too hyper to sleep one Saturday night after going out dancing, Jan turned on her computer and started browsing the personal ads in the Jewish Matchmaker area on America Online.

She was taken with Joel’s photo and bio. Only one problem. He was what’s called — in the lingo of cyber dating and elsewhere — GU: geographically undesirable. He was living in Hawaii, a long commute from Peekskill, N.Y.

She wrote him a short note: “It’s a shame you’re half a world away.”

Joel wrote back: “If you face West and I face East when we pray, we’ll meet.”

They began corresponding regularly through e-mail. Before long, Jan was making plans to visit Hawaii, and Joel was inviting her to stay with him.

“It may not have been love at first sight, but the second sight undoubtedly worked its magic,” Joel says of the two weeks they spent touring the island together and taking in sunsets.

Even before leaving New York, Jan says she knew Joel was her “bashert,” telling a friend, “I’m going to marry that man.”

Her prediction will prove true when the two exchange vows this summer.

Jan, 55, and Joel, 61, are among a growing number of Jewish couples who, with the help of online Jewish singles forums, are making their way from cyberspace to the chupah.

On American Online, the Jewish Community Online maintains a “matchmaker” area (keyword: Jewish Singles), one of the more popular online Jewish singles venues.

In December, as many as 34,000 different users, most of them between the ages of 20 and 45, visited the singles area, spending a total of 10,600 hours there.

Currently, there are more than 1,500 matchmaker profiles listed on the AOL site, along with a sampling of 30 success stories.

Dozens of other web sites for Jewish singles, many serving specific regions of the country, can be found through simple searches using Yahoo! or any other Internet search engine.

While there generally is no cost to simply browse around and check out personal ads listed online, most services charge a fee to post your own.

So, how are Jewish singles turning Internet connections into lifelong partnerships?

In a typical cyber courtship scenario, someone places an ad, often with a photo, into particular age and geographic groupings within a designation such as “women seeking men.”

“Woody Allen type seeks his soul mate,” “Cultured, classy, charismatic cuddler,” and “Your mother will love me” are some of the headings for ads recently posted in the Jewish Community Online’s matchmaker area.

Responses come by way of e-mail, allowing a chance for both people to read about each other and perhaps check out each other’s online profiles before they begin corresponding.

“You feel in control,” says Rela Mintz Geffen, a professor of sociology at Gratz College in Philadelphia who dabbles in the online dating scene. “You can control your own destiny.”

In other instances, people might come into contact through real-time communication channels.

“What will happen is, you’ll be in a chat room, you’ll see. someone who says something that interests you, then you instant-message them and have a private conversation, a one-on-one chat,” says Tsilli Pines, a producer for Jewish Community Online who manages the singles area.

The opportunity to correspond with a prospective date often proves disarming, online matchmaking gurus say, and it carries a distinct advantage over the more traditional practices of responding to personal ads in newspapers or going through computerized dating services.

“It’s less intimidating because it gives you time to think about how you want to approach them,” Pines says. “You can sort of test them out before you divulge” personal “information.”

“It’s restored the art of letter-writing, and in a way, it makes for an almost more old-fashioned courtship,” Geffen says.

Erika and Jason got to know each other slowly over a period of several months, regularly chatting online before exchanging phone numbers.

She was living in Florida, he in New York, and it wasn’t until they spoke that they discovered they grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, attended the same elementary school and were in the same kindergarten and first grade classes.

“Figuring it was fate, Jason flew to Florida three weeks later,” Erika says. “It was love at first site!”

Cross-country romances are not uncommon in this emerging global village of Jewish singles. Indeed, online singles forums have succeeded in removing geographical boundaries, effectively opening up a range of new possibilities for Jews on the prowl.

“For Jews living in remote places who find it hard to even find other Jews, it’s a really important way to connect with other Jewish people,” Pines says.

“Then in somewhere like New York — which is brimming with Jews” and can feel “overwhelming because it’s a big city — it’s a way to connect with a small community of people.”

Susan went online around 3 a.m. one morning in search of just that — a small community. Heartbroken and on the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend of two years, she struck up a conversation with three people in a chat room, all of whom agreed she should throw her boyfriend out.

One of them was Warren, who followed up with her a week or so later to see how she was doing.

They began corresponding, and soon after Susan invited him to take her to a Jewish singles party in Atlantic City — no small proposition, considering he was living on the West Coast.

“This wonderful man took a plane and flew out 3,000 miles for a `blind date,'” Susan says. “We spent four glorious days together and fell in love.”

Before long, Warren was making the drive across America, belongings in tow, to start a new life out East.

“We both feel that this is a mitzvah,” he says, “that has been arranged on another level.”

Sidebar: Where to meet

Dozens of meeting places for Jewish singles are available online. As part of Jewish Web Week, (www.jww.org) there will be ongoing singles events throughout the week through the “Connect with Others” channel. In addition, on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 10 p.m., AOL members can go to Keyword: Jewish Chat for a “Cybershmooze” with other singles.

Other Jewish singles sites include:

The Jewish Community Online’s Matchmaker area on America Online (keyword: Jewish Singles);

Yenta! The Jewish Matchmaker System (www.yenta.email.net);

Single Jew.Com (www.singlejew.com);

JQS: Jewish Quality Singles (www.jqs.com). They will be hosting “Most eligible bachelor and bachelorette of Jewish Web/Net Week;”

Jdate — The Jewish Singles Network (www.jdate.com);

The Jewish Personals (www.jewishpersonals.com)

Others Jewish singles sites, some serving specific regions of the country, can be found through simple searches using Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) or any other Internet search engine.

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