JCC Global Projects, Shadchan Included


Several unmarried Jews from Israel, the United States and several other countries who have taken part in speed dating social sessions in the last few years traveled to Westchester this week for another speed-dating event. But they weren’t there to meet mates.

The Jewish men and women were among several dozen international leaders of Jewish community centers who participated in the JCC Global World Conference in Tarrytown from Sunday to Thursday. The highlight of the gathering, which included a series of workshops and best-practices visits to local JCCs, was a networking session patterned after the better-known speed dating practice.

Smadar Bar-Akiva, executive director of the Jerusalem-based JCC Global — the umbrella organization of more than 1,000 JCCs around the world — designed the program-centered speed-dating session to give leaders of centers in various corners of the globe the opportunity to pitch their prized activities to their colleagues in a quick, organized manner.

In traditional speed dating, the creation of Aish HaTorah’s Rabbi Yaacov Deyo two decades ago, participants sit across from each other at a table, rotating through a series of formalized, short “dates” that last three-eight minutes; enough time to determine if there is interest, but short enough to avoid a first date’s inevitable awkwardness. Afterwards, each tells the event organizers whom they wish to maintain contact with.

In the JCC Global version, the conference participants — members of the organization’s Amitim 2.0 leadership training fellowship program — were to sit at two dozen tables in the Doubletree Tarrytown, hear a 20-minute description of one JCC’s program, then move to another table two or three more times. Then, as in traditional speed dating, the participants were to indicate their interest.

“By the end of the day we hope to have some 15-plus global projects with clusters of three [participating JCCs],” Bar-Akiva said. “By the end of the conference, each cluster will submit a work plan and decide who will be their first-year group representative. Then, JCC Global will work hand in hand with each cluster to implement the project.”

The theme of the conference, and of the presentations, was “Jewish Peoplehood.”

“In today’s world, where fear and mistrust often segregate and isolate, the Jewish Community Centers are the big tent under which a wide range of people congregate,” said Mark Ramer, president of JCC Global.

Eight JCCs from Greater New York, including the 14th Street Y and JCC Manhattan, attended this week’s conference, which was supported by a grant from UJA-Federation.

Similar corporate “speed networking” sessions, in which information can be quickly exchanged in a structured setting, have emerged as a growing trend for exchanging information, building camaraderie and attracting volunteers and contributors for charities and philanthropies. This week’s JCC Global speed dating, said Bar-Akiva, incorporated elements of the Open Space model, in which people with an interest in a particular topic propose topics in pre-determined time slots and attract individuals with a shared interest.

In her role as coordinator of the JCC’s speed dating, Bar-Akiva was acting as a shadchan, or matchmaker, she said. When a marriage ensues from a match proposed by a shadchan, a fee is usually paid.

What will Bar-Akiva receive if this week’s programs leads to successful partnerships?

“I get nachas,” satisfaction, she said.

The conference participants who had earlier taken part in traditional speed dating reported that they had not met a mate in the social sessions, Bar-Akiva said. “They hope that the professional one will bear fruit.”

And what if a regular date grows out of the JCC Global speed dating?

“That,” she said, “would be wonderful.”