A 30ish resident of an Orthodox neighborhood of Brooklyn, Hadassah, who is single, usually accompanies her shidduch dates to traditional venues like a hotel lobby, where the couple can nurse a soft drink for a few hours, or a cafe, where they can get to know each other over a cup of coffee.
Hadassah ended up in a non-traditional setting for a first date a few weeks ago.
A furniture store.
With the standard places for getting together closed, or impractical because of social distancing concerns during the nearly year-long COVID-19 pandemic, Hadassah’s date, like most young men in the frum community looking for somewhere to speak for a while with a shidduch – possibly, a future mate – besides an impersonal Skype or Zoom meeting, heard about an innovative place to take Hadassah: Accentuations by Design, an Orthodox-owned furniture store on the outskirts of Boro Park.
Since the logistics problem of the pandemic became obvious, the business has opened its doors at night, after usual sales hours, to young couples interested in finding a spouse, not a cabinet or desk.
Hadassah’s date heard about the offer through the grapevine, and picked that site for his first shidduch meeting with her.
“He told me we’re going to that-and-that place,” says Hadassah, who works in a doctor’s office and has found herself in the traditional places for dates in the past decade. She recognized the name of the store, and didn’t consider it a particularly unusual place for a shidduch date, especially in the COVID era. “It’s the guy’s responsibility to find somewhere to meet.”
Accentuations by Design has joined a small-but-growing number of chesed offers by members of the Orthodox community to give young single men and women a place to make their initial acquaintance, during a time when few other opportunities like single events are taking place.
Families with big homes and backyards have opened their space, usually by appointment, to interested couples. The realtor who owns 11 Broadway in lower Manhattan, home of the Orthodox Union and some other Orthodox organizations, has set up an empty space in the building as a lounge for get-togethers. Ditto for some Orthodox-owned businesses with extra office space.
“I’m not surprised. This is the life of COVID,” says Goldy Krantz, dating columnist for this paper – neither singles nor supporters in the Jewish community are letting the limitations of the pandemic get in the way of men and women meeting each other with an eye on marriage. “What other nation would do this?
“People are doing their best,” she says.
While these innovative meeting venues were valuable from last spring, when COVID-19 began to spread, through the summer and fall, they have become more valuable when winter set in, says Krantz, a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. “It’s cold” outside – no one wants an outdoors date.
There is a limit to the usefulness of online dates, she says. It’s hard to get a true feeling about another person without a face-to-face meeting.
Krantz says that she has one concern about these types of indoor meetings – safety. Even if the man and woman sit at least six feet apart, as recommended by health experts, and wear facemasks, there still may be germs in the air and on the surfaces they touch. Especially in a stranger’s house. “I would ask for references” about the host.
Miriam Lowenthal, a speech therapist from Staten Island whose family has opened up the den of their home to singles for dates, says she cleans the surfaces between the several dates who schedule time in the Lowenthal home each week. She also provides snacks for the couples.
Last year, she heard about other families who offered this chesed, and decided to do it herself. “People were having such a hard time” getting together.
Her Dating Den can be reached on WhatsApp.
A den, she says, is a “comfortable,” natural setting. People have come from as far away as Lakewood for a shidduch date there. “A few come more than once.”
Similarly, KF Braun Management, the realtors of 11 Broadway, has provided food and a clean environment in the 4,000-square-foot vacant space, which they have turned into a lounge, where they encourage couples to make appointments for a date. They also provide diversions like a foosball game.
Hadassah says these places to meet make a hard situation easier. She and other singles don’t have to delay meeting people, or limit themselves to Zoom.
The furniture store where she twice has met a date “is perfect” for such a rendezvous, she says. Couples have privacy, in a public venue, to speak with each other – unlike in a hotel lobby where they are typically within eyesight of other couples. “It makes sense.”
Many living room and dining room collections of furniture are available at Accentuations by Design. Like being in someone’s home. Almost.
For her first date there, Hadassah and the young man chose a glass table, with price tags attached, with “comfortable” chairs. Overhead, a chandelier. On the table, a bowl of fake cherries. Her date had brought some snacks for the evening.
The room is “well lit,” she says.
She, like other singles who have taken advantage of these offers of venues for a shidduch date, encourages her friends to do likewise.
None of the families or businesses charge for their space or time.
“We’re trying to do chesed,” says a spokesman for KF Braun.
Have any marriages resulted from their lounge? “It’s too early to know,” he says.
Events like a vort engagement party or a wedding have not taken place in Lowenthal’s den, she says. But she is open to the idea. If someone needs a space for such a simchah, “I’m happy to host it.”