The air was filled with anticipation as the women settled into their seats and gave each other the once-over at the large dining room table. As each one introduced herself, the room warmed up - not only with the glow of growing familiarity but also with the understanding that what they were there to discuss was a hot topic. "It's a national problem," said one of the women to a dozen nodding heads. "Young people are not getting married so easily anymore. It's hard to get them to make a commitment." And with that, the first meeting of the Shalshelet Shidduch Networkers came to order at the home of Pessy Krausz, founder and director of the Shalshelet Center for Enhancing Relationships. In an effort to improve the situation for the thousands of singles in Israel who are looking for a suitable mate, Krausz is dedicated to getting to the root of the problem, which she believes is the matchmaker methodology itself. "It's a process," says Krausz, who is a psychotherapist. "We need to work on the matchmakers first. And then they can work more effectively on the people who come to them." A lengthy questionnaire and a long list of names is not the way to go anymore, Krausz contends. The matchmaker must first know herself or himself and then get to really know the client, she says. "The matchmaker has to learn to relate to the client and find the inner person," she says. And that does not come from filling out a questionnaire. According to Krausz, there are three keys to transforming shidduch networking. The first is a sense of coherence: who we are; what we are and what we understand about our situation - i.e., the matchmaker and, in turn, the client himself. The second is how we were in our childhood: Were we coddled by our parents or were we given the wings to fly and be independent? Understanding this aspect of a client's background and way of being is very helpful for the matchmaker to find an appropriate match. The third is self-esteem. When the matchmaker has self-confidence, it is a critical factor in his or her ability to help others and to pass that sense of self-worth on to them. Matchmakers need the tools with which to speak to the people they are meeting so they can get to know each other. This applies not only to the matchmaker and the client but also to a couple on their first date, says Krausz. BUT EVEN getting to that first date is becoming harder and harder these days, the women at the meeting agreed. Some of the salient issues were brought to the fore by the guest speaker, Golda Warhaftig, a relationship expert and teacher at Emunah College. The marriage age is getting higher, she says, and that is a major problem for the individual. Although the young singles may seem to have it all together, they suffer greatly from loneliness. They may appear independent and well set up and go out with their friends - but they go back home alone to an empty house, she says. And that is a killer. One of the reasons she cited is gender roles. Women today are blurring the roles. But that is because women are more accomplished in the world. They are way ahead of the boys, she explained. At 22 or 23, they have gone to school, done a year of national service and are learning all the time. At that age, religious boys are still in yeshiva. "At 22, boys don't know what they want to do, while the girls are working and making money." Another problem she cited was the media. "The youth of today can't avoid the Internet," Warhaftig said. "They develop unrealistic expectations and are living in a fantasy world. They want things to happen right now." On the other hand, "People think they have all the time in the world," she said. "But there is no time. It goes by so quickly." So quickly, she stressed, that even the expression "haval al hazman" (hurry up, we're wasting time) has been shorthanded into "havlaz." And, she continued, the girls have a set of false expectations. "They want everything on one list." And "The older guys are even more problematic than the girls," she pointed out, as "They don't have a biological clock ticking." But when it comes to actually seeking help to find a mate, Warhaftig imparted a rather surprising caveat: "Don't contact your single friends. They don't have your best interest at heart." Single people need to take risks, Warhaftig asserted. They won't grow otherwise. "They don't want to give up their independence, their familiar, secure surroundings - and they don't want to get hurt." But in the end, the effort must be made. The women at the meeting agreed that what must be brought home to singles is that they must invest time, thought and energy in forming a relationship, not to mention looking for one. To help dramatize the situation, Krausz has created the Shalshelet Spielers group, a band of players who present humorous playlets on the subject of shidduchim. On Purim, the group performed to an appreciative audience at the Beit Hanassi Synagogue in Rehavia. Beyond the costumes and the music and the masks, the underlying message of the play was "When you meet someone, look to see what you have in common. Listen to your intuition and don't be pressured by your peers, your parents or society." Since that first meeting at Krausz's house, several more have taken place in other areas. Krausz is hopeful that if this new approach to interviewing takes off, more and more singles will become happy couples. "No one gives guidelines on how to create and sustain a relationship," she says. "Singles are not given the tools of the work." To that end, "Matchmakers have to refine their own skills together. Once you know what the dream is, you have to make it into a reality."

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