Deserving of happiness

Professional matchmakers at the Inbar organization help disabled singles find true love

Deserving of Happiness512 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Deserving of Happiness512
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Walking into the room, you’d think you’d just entered a popular Jerusalem singles event. Everyone is mingling, snacks are going around, and name tags are being passed out. The room is beautifully put together and tables are being set up for the evening’s activities.
More and more people are flooding in through the entrance as other attendees greet them warmly. The participants are in high spirits and are clearly excited to be meeting other religious Jews from all over the country.
However, those on the standard Israeli dating scene are unlikely to have heard of this singles event: It is specially designed for religious Jewish singles living with disabilities.
The creative force behind the event is Inbar, an organization committed to helping the disabled find true love. It was established several years ago by two men who saw the need for this type of service.
“Inbar was founded after two friends had a talk late one night,” explains Laurie Groner, the group’s director. “One of the men [Shalomi Eldar] is married with children; the other [Shaul Inbari], who has severe CP, was single. The single friend was complaining how lonely he was, and his friend said that there had to be other people like him out there.”
According to the organization’s director, “at 10 p.m., they each sent out an email to their friends that they wanted to start a singles’ group for religious young adults with physical disabilities. At 8 the next morning, the phone started ringing – and it didn’t stop for a week. They organized their first meeting in someone’s apartment, and over 20 people came. The rest is history.”
Groner, an immigrant from Worcester, Massachusetts, and a resident of Zichron Ya’acov, is the one running the show at the singles event at the capital’s Herzl Museum. She is enthusiastic and excited that so many singles have come to Jerusalem from all over the country.
“A blind man hitchhiked from the North to be here,” she says. “People are really determined!” The participating singles are of all ages, come from all backgrounds, and are living with all types of disabilities, both mental and physical. Regardless of their life challenges, they are determined to find romance and experience an aspect of adult life that they rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to enjoy.
“There is no other organization that deals with this issue,” says Groner. “There are at least 10 different organizations that provide matchmaking services and hold singles’ events in the religious community. This is the only organization that focuses solely on adults with disabilities.”
She recognizes how valued and essential family is in Judaism, especially within the religious world.
“Israel is a very family-oriented society,” she says.
“People who don’t get married will always be social outsiders. People have a much better chance of true social inclusion if they are part of a couple. As we say, ‘Everybody deserves the chance to live happily every after.’” INBAR, HOWEVER, does more than simply put together singles events once a month. Every day, there are professional matchmakers working to set up these singles on blind dates, choosing the appropriate couples based on questionnaires and interviews. The organization has been wildly successful, and has aided hundreds of disabled singles in pursuing relationships.
“One couple who met through the organization is now married,” says the director proudly. “Our greatest success is that lots of people are dating. We have over 400 people in our database.”
Inbar has made sure that its events are completely inclusive and accessible to all participants.
“We held a Shabbat retreat in November with over 40 participants. We had all of the texts used in the workshops printed in Braille,” says Groner.
“We had the sessions simultaneously translated in sign language, and every room was wheelchair accessible. When people didn’t have to worry about their basic needs, they were totally available to concentrate on finding a partner.”
At this particular event, the organization has decided to try something new: having the singles cook dinner together to help them interact and imagine what being on a dinner date would look like. One table makes a cheesecake dessert, one makes salads, another garlic bread, and another pasta dishes. There are volunteers at each table to guide them in the cooking and ensure that the conversation is flowing.
“They’re working together to cook the meal, while also having the opportunity to sit down with a potential partner, as if it were a real date,” explains Groner. “We’ve never tried this before, but it seems to be going very well.”
With both first-timers and regulars involved and enthused to be participating in the interactive activity, it seems clear that Inbar is meeting and exceeding its original goals, helping hundreds of people throughout the country.
“Modern matchmaking has come a long way since Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof,” says its director.
“We’re giving these people a real opportunity that could change their lives.” ■