JDate comes out of the closet

In an effort to expand its market, a popular Jewish dating Web site welcomes gay searchers.

jdate 88 298 (photo credit: )
jdate 88 298
(photo credit: )
For all the nice Jewish boys looking for other nice Jewish boys - and nice Jewish lesbians looking for love - JDate.com has come to the rescue. The popular Jewish online dating site expanded its search capabilities this month to allow gay men and lesbians to seek matches. The Web site, which is popular among Jews of all ages, now asks people for their gender and the gender they're searching, allowing men to search for men and women to search for women. When his sister didn't marry a Jewish boy, Gary Pinsky was told by his mother that he had to. Pinsky, 32, joined JDate several weeks ago after returning to New Jersey after living in South Africa for several years. He said he thinks he can find more serious suitors on the Jewish dating site. "I've gotten three responses since I've joined," said Pinsky, a production stage manager. "They've all been very nice and seem to have a good head on their shoulders." That's a big difference from other gay and lesbian dating sites, he said, where potential matches are less serious, and largely not Jewish. "I didn't find a lot of Jews out there," said Pinsky, whose first date is scheduled for this week. Gail Laguna, the vice president for communications at Spark Networks, JDate's parent company, said the Web site's revision came at the request of many Jewish singles. "We've gotten a lot of feedback from people wanting to use same-sex searches," Laguna said. "It comes as a natural evolution for us." With more than 600,000 active members, JDate has become one of the standards for niche online dating sites across the country. The profiles of two Jewish congressmen have even been spotted on the site. JDate officials say the original Web site did not intentionally exclude gay searches, but there was not a demand for it when the site was unveiled in 1997. Since that time, though, they've heard from gay Jews seeking a portal to online Jewish dating. The new site includes other requested features, including a better system for identifying non-Jews. The site has become popular with non-Jews seeking Jews, and non-Jews now can express a willingness to convert as part of their online profiles. But the expansion to gay searches has had the most immediate impact. In less than a month, 700 members have registered for same-sex searches, Laguna said. Seth Kamen of Bethesda, Md., watched his best friend meet her fiancee through JDate, and said he hopes to meet a Jewish guy through the service as well. "Judaism is a large part of my life," said Kamen, 28. "I want somebody who can share that with me." Beyond celebrating holidays, Kamen said he's looking for someone with whom to raise Jewish children. Indeed, with more gay men considering adoption and child rearing, the issue of finding a mate of the same religion has taken on added significance. "Anything that can bring together two Jewish parents, whatever sex they are, is an important thing to do," Kamen said. The Web site's success has been spurred in part by advertisements in mainstream newspapers, and even on a billboard in Manhattan's Times Square. Laguna said there were no plans to market to the gay community, or to include gays and lesbians in JDate's current media campaign. The Jewish world's policies on gay rights and gay marriage vary wildly. Reform rabbis perform gay unions, and the issue has been a hot topic within the Conservative movement, which unlike the Reform movement does not permit the ordination of openly gay rabbis. Orthodox groups oppose homosexual acts; the struggle of gay Orthodox Jews was the subject of a 2001 documentary , Trembling Before G-d. Laguna said she hopes more observant Jews won't be offended by the addition of same-sex searches. "If this offends a member's religious beliefs, it won't affect their visit to the site," she said. Straight people will not receive profiles of gay members, or vice versa. And it can be a big boon for gay Jews seeking partners with similar backgrounds. "I like the odds that there will be a mature, responsible Jewish person out there for me," Kamen said.