Whether you like the term or not, the Shidduch Crisis is arguably the most painful and sensitive issue that the frum community is grappling with today. Singles, their parents, educators and shadchanim are wracking their brains to help more singles build a bayis ne’eman b’yisroel, but so far their efforts have been individualized, and have yet to be introduced to a wider audience.

On Sunday morning, June 2nd, more than 225 men and women gathered at Young Israel of Midwood for the inaugural gathering of Compass, a brand-new initiative of Agudas Yisroel of America to seek answers and solutions for those “in the parshah.” The program was sponsored by Dovie and Dena Nierenberg, whose daughter got engaged shortly after they committed to sponsoring this event!

The Mission of Compass, and Agudas Yisroel

Mr. Mordy Mehlman, publisher of the Flatbush Jewish Journal, opened the program and served as emcee. He explained that the mission of Compass is simple and straightforward: to work towards solving the shidduch crisis by educating and supporting all the stakeholders in the shidduch process, including daters, parents, shadchanim, and coaches. “Since its inception, Agudas Yisroel has been the place to turn to try to solve or mitigate the problems facing Klal Yisroel,” said Mr. Mehlman. By examining every part of the process and working towards solutions, Agudah is attempting to deal with this crucial and timely issue. He ended his introduction with the tefilah that this new and noble undertaking by Agudah should experience tremendous siyata dishmaya and make a positive impact on the shidduch crisis we are facing today.

Setting the Tone: “What” or “Why”?

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, the visionary founder of Ohr Naava, set the morning’s tone by explaining that the people in the Torah who got things done and changed the world didn’t ask “what,” but rather “why” and “how.” A leader isn’t someone who is necessarily a professional, he said, but someone who will stop what they’re doing and see what can be done. Rabbi Wallerstein also highlighted that Boaz called Rus, who was not even Jewish, “biti, my daughter.” When we consider each individual, knowing that they could be our son or daughter, and don’t rest until we can help each one of them, that is what makes us true leaders.

Klal Problems Need Klal Involvement

Reb Shia Markowitz, Agudah’s CEO, summarized the painful issues regarding the shidduch crisis, and projected that the problem would double in size in the next 7 ½ years if we don’t do something about it. But his main message was that individuals cannot sit around and wait for the Agudah to take charge and bring change. “Agudah isn’t an outside organization, it’s our organization,” he said. “To solve the shidduch crisis, we need much more manpower than Agudah has on its staff. Without your help, change won’t happen, even with the best of intentions.”

Reb Shia urged the audience to lend their time and expertise to all the various shidduch initiatives so they can take off and truly effect a solution. One of the biggest issues facing shidduchim is the age gap between young men and women entering the dating world, with boys starting the dating process a good five years after girls do. “We need a paradigm shift to deal with the age gap issue,” he said. “Perhaps we have to make changes in our education systems to ensure boys are getting married earlier but are already mature enough for marriage.”

Among a list of proposed initiatives and issues, Reb Shia discussed the problem of shadchanim who are not incentivized for their hours of work at all hours of the day and night. “Our shadchanim can work for weeks, and if the shidduch doesn’t work, they aren’t remunerated. Is it a wonder that we can’t get them on the phone?” he asked. “Why is it that camps and schools can ask for registration fees but a shadchan can’t request a fee to work with a single, or even get paid a token sum when a boy and girl go out for the third time?”

Coaches: Educate Young Men and Women and Empower Parents

Rabbi Shaya Ostrov is a licensed social worker and noted author of four books, who shared his insights from many years of coaching young men and women through the shidduch process. “We need a cadre of activists to teach our young people what it means to be in a relationship,” he asserted. “They need to learn about ahavah, about responsibility, about building a family. We should develop a curriculum even for younger children on how to develop relationships.”

Rabbi Doniel Frank, a therapist in private practice in Monsey who is also an author and shidduch coach, discussed the need to empower parents to be more effective when interacting with their children and shadchanim. “Singles have to know themselves and believe in themselves,” he said. We often think of being ready to date as an age or stage, but it’s actually a developmental step, and Rabbi Frank encouraged parents to ask their children questions, such as “Why do you want to get married? Why do you think you are ready?”

These questions may seem simple, but if our children have a problem answering them, that may be a red flag. “When we see that our children can answer our questions and have a sense of what they bring to the table and how they plan to approach dating, we can avoid pitfalls and feel more confident when calling the shadchan,” he said.

PartnersInShidduchim.com – a New Norm

Mrs. Baila Yaniv of Monsey, who along with her husband Dovid are the founders of Partners in Shidduchim (www.partnersinshidduchim.com), an online profile database for frum singles, discussed the need to come out of our comfort zone when it comes to shidduchim for ourselves and our children. She shared her own experience as an older single who married late, and expressed that singles don’t only feel lonely, but disempowered, especially young women. While online databases aren’t the norm yet in our community, those who have benefitted from Partners in Shidduchim were those who put aside their fears of new solutions, and were successful in finding their bashert.

She stressed that Partners in Shidduchim is not just a great resource, but a worldwide movement to bring singles, their families, and shadchanim together to search for solutions. Users can search for shidduchim for themselves, or on behalf of someone they know, and can use the resource section to expand connections and get in touch with shadchanim and shidduch coaches, something especially valuable for those from out of town. Mrs. Yaniv urged the attendees to go beyond just using the site to find shidduchim, but to expand the database by uploading more profiles. The site adheres to the guidelines of daas torah, and users have the option of sharing a picture or not, depending on their preference, ensuring their comfort with every stage of the process.

Though each speaker touched on different points, one unifying thread wove all their talks together: the need for each individual to see what they can do to help solve this crisis. Though Agudas Yisroel is taking action to begin to solve this crisis, progress will only be made when every member of Klal Yisroel does his or her part to help our singles build a bayis ne’eman b’yisroel. For more information on how you can be a part of Compass and other vital shidduchim initiatives by Agudas Yisroel, contact Rochel Miller at RMiller@agudathisrael.org