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Around the Jewish World C’est La Vie: French Jews Resigned As They Look for Love

July 19, 2006
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Two women in tight-fitting T-shirts and short skirts looked at the hair salon giving away free teases and blow-dry waves, and turned up their noses. “Frankly, the guys here are all ugly,” one said, lighting up a cigarette in a no-smoking zone. “Maybe I should go live in the States. I speak good English.”

Welcome to a recent Jewish singles event in Paris, which attracted 1,200 religious and secular women and men from 28 to 50 years old. Attendance was down from about 2,500 at the first such event held last year, perhaps because of the nice weather or perhaps because of the celebration following the French soccer team’s victory in a World Cup match the previous day.

Many of those present expressed cynicism and ambivalence about looking for a relationship.

“I’m not here to meet someone,” Albert, 42, said as he toured the various booths. “But I want to found a family with a Jewish woman.”

“You can’t be complicated,” added Albert, a middle-school computer technology teacher. He then launched into a complicated explanation of why he wanted to find a younger woman, saying it was “risky” to have children with a woman over age 40.

Event organizer Meyer Rabba, divorced with three children, said he was happy to see men and women trying to find partners.

“It brings tears to my eyes to see some of these people,”said Rabba, who heads a company called SIRJ. “The men try to hide their pain more than the women, but everybody is looking for someone. And age doesn’t matter. When you go home to an empty house, you are alone.”

The booths included matrimonial agencies, image advisers, wardrobe advisers, travel agencies, a couple of youth groups and even the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“A number of people are sitting down, but frankly there are some I am not asking to fill out a form,” said the woman staffing the Jewish Agency desk, who declined to give her name. “One guy said he was looking to make aliyah in 10 years. It doesn’t surprise me that he has never found a wife.”

In the air-conditioned auditorium, at least 200 people were attending a conference given by Rabbi Elie Lemmel and a psychiatrist, Dr. Sylvie Angel.

“How do you know when a man is being serious online?” asked one religiously observant woman in long sleeves and a long skirt.

“You have to ask serious questions to get serious answers,” Lemmel replied.

A religious man asked if it’s Jewishly ethical to maintain several relationships online before actually meeting the women.

The rabbi responded that Jewish ethics on these matters were developed before computers — and that what is important is maintaining honest intentions.

“I’m not learning a thing from this conference,” said Anna, a 46-year-old saleswoman. “I came here out of curiosity, but I think I would rather go to Club Med. It is more spontaneous.”

Like many others at the event, Anna said she had never tried JDate, which has a database of several hundred people in France.

The stand attracting the most attention was speed dating, called FeujDating in French. “Feuj” is French slang for Jew.

“Women are looking for nice men who offer them some kind of security, though not necessarily financial,” said Audrey Slama, who was staffing the speed dating booth, “but the men are into the physical game. They say they are looking for a pretty woman.”

Slama said more than 150 people had registered at her booth. She estimated that 80 percent of them would show up for a speed-dating session of 10 women and 10 men, with the women paying $25 each and the men $43.

Slama and a friend had begun Jewish speed dating about four months ago, and have organized 10 sessions since.

In only a few cases did Slama not register interested people at her booth, talking them out of it in a delicate manner.

“I never judge people by their looks,” she said, “but rather how they sound. A couple of men sounded incoherent, so I suggested they come back another time. I wouldn’t want to get women in trouble, and I wouldn’t want to give our company a bad reputation.”

She smiled graciously.

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