‘It would be enough if I got comments from people who knew me well,” sighs Rachel Tova Rott, a religious resident of Nahlaot, “but when strangers feel free to say things – personal things – to me, a line is crossed.”

Rott’s concern is one that is sharply felt by many Orthodox single Jews who feel that there’s no place for single people in the Orthodox Jewish community. People are expected to get married at a relatively young age, and those who are as yet unmarried believe that they are regarded as cases that need to be “solved.”

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“The problem is absolutely not that single people want to remain unmarried, so why should people bother us about it? It only makes things worse,” points out Rott.

“People pick out minor complaints and focus on the details, not the whole person. This is a terrible mistake to make. Single people are treated as deficient, lacking their other half, whereas that really shouldn’t be the emphasis or focus of who they are,” continues Rott.

Exasperated by the seemingly endless negativity, Rott decided to take action. She designed a simple flyer to be posted around Jerusalem. The flyers call for people not to make dating harder and remember that singles are more than just their marital status. Rott says that more than 250 flyers have been posted around Jerusalem in areas such as the German Colony, Nahlaot and Har Nof, where there are large English-speaking communities.

“After a difficult experience with a shadchan [matchmaker], I spoke with my friends and found out that I was not alone,” Rott recounts. “I see these flyers as giving a voice to all the singles,” she says before explaining that they are intended to “educate people who want to help but don’t necessarily know how.”

Rott’s sentiment has found support from members of the Anglo community in Jerusalem. “I’ve had the same feeling,” says Chaya Cohen, a 22-year-old London-born resident of Katamon. “It’s great that someone has the guts to go out there and make a statement.”

“Brilliant, simple and long overdue,” says Zahava Dalin-Kaptzan, 21, of Katamon. Recently married, Dalin-Kaptzan points out that, all too often, those who are trying to be helpful feel “compelled to point out the negative aspects of their friends’ single life.”

Religious singlehood is not a new issue, but for Rott and others the problem is exacerbated by the growing ba’al teshuva (newly religious) sector. “You can’t expect a ba’al teshuva in their 30s to date in the same way as a 19-year-old person who’s been religious all their life. The process doesn’t always fit,” explains Rott.

She says the problem is compounded by the fact that there is a lot of pressure for people to fit into a certain mold instead of simply being accepted for who they are and matched on that basis.

Dalin-Kaptzan identifies the flyers as “really hitting the mark,” explaining that although well intended, religious singles find the constant comments a nuisance. “As adults, people will either handle it on their own or ask for help in finding a date,” she stresses, warning that continual “noodging will accomplish nothing. It will only hurt and annoy them.”

Cohen explains that the problem is one of boundaries. “I have my private life and my public life. If people in my family ask me questions, that’s one thing; but people who don’t know me should not be interfering.”

While the message has been well received in some quarters, others remain skeptical. “I don’t see how this will change anything,” says Ari Huddlestone, 28, of Nahlaot. “It’s not like anyone’s going to turn around and say, ‘Oh, I must be nicer to people.’ In my opinion, if somebody wants to change things, they should take the initiative and organize new initiatives for singles who have had enough of the shidduch scene, not just complain.”

Despite the criticism, Rott sees the problem as one that stems primarily from negativity. “Negativity breeds negativity,” she says. “When all people are doing is criticizing one another, it’s no wonder people are feeling down. And when someone is feeling down about themselves, it makes them more vulnerable to poor choices about a marriage partner. Desperation and negativity do not make a good foundation from which to start dating.”

Rott believes the basic problem is that well-intended outsiders are inadvertently hurting others. “If you don’t know how to help others, don’t try. It’s not a mitzva to hurt people!” she says. “If one person holds back a negative comment as a result of these flyers and thinks before they speak negatively to a single person, this campaign will have been worth it.”
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