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3 Make Matches in Land of Singles Bars

May 12, 1985|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Tradition says that marriages are made in heaven, but three modern matchmakers don't mind helping things along a bit.

"We're three people helping God, because he's very busy and he needs all the help he can get," said Shirley Lamm, a rabbi's wife.

Together with Anita Wincelberg, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor, and Estelle Samson, a businesswoman, she pursues an ancient pastime in a land of singles bars and swinging health clubs.

Theirs is a specific clientele--the strictly observant Orthodox Jews whose traditional life style makes them a minority within the Jewish community.

Wincelberg said non-Orthodox Jews have an easier time finding mates than do the Orthodox, who constitute about 7% of the city's Jewish community of 500,000.

"The Orthodox are more limited," she said.

Known as "Zivug," a Hebrew word meaning "life partner," the free matchmaking service is based in a basement office at Beth Jacob congregation in Beverly Hills.

It deals only with single people who keep kosher and honor the Sabbath in time-honored tradition, such as observing complicated dietary laws and refraining from any work--including driving or riding--from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening.

Beyond that, applicants need a letter of reference from their rabbi; some clients are rabbis themselves. If they are divorced, they need to show proof of a get, or religious divorce.

These strict guidelines sometimes anger would-be participants who do not qualify, but the Zivug women believe they must weed out those who do not share the basic premises of an Orthodox life style.

Others are referred to dating services run by other Jewish organizations with a wider membership.

"We don't want to turn anybody off," Lamm said.

The process begins with a preliminary application asking for information about age, height, occupation, any previous marriages and religious affiliation.

Then comes a three-page questionnaire and a personal interview in which clients talk about themselves and what they would like in a husband or wife.

"Maybe a man will say he wants a blonde or a Bo Derek--it's a wish list," Wincelberg said. But the conversation quickly turns serious, as the interviewer tries to identify the client's social and religious values.

"The basic question is, is this person ready to get married?" Samson said. "This is not for just dating, but for people who are seriously considering getting married."

If all goes well, a woman will hear from a man, or sometimes vice versa. The three women of Zivug try to monitor developments closely, asking both parties to call them after the first date to find out how it went.

"We like the feedback, so we can do better next time," Lamm said. "We'll do our very best to find a tremendous match."

Two happy customers are Laura Ben Zvi and Leon Curchack, a San Fernando Valley couple who met more than year ago through Zivug and got married in December.

Both had gone out with three or four other people from the service, but had found them incompatible for various reasons.

"I have to commend Mrs. Lamm and the other ladies, because it did turn out that Laura and I have quite similar backgrounds and interests and (similar) feelings about religion and Israel," said Curchack, 32, a packaging engineer.

He said the matchmakers proved invaluable in providing the original introduction, but "once that connection was made, the relationship had to blossom on its own. We didn't decide to get married the next night. We went through many trials and tribulations, as many serious relations go through."

In fact, the two dated for a while, lost sight of each other, met again a few months later and eventually decided to marry.

"It eliminates so much (hassle) right away, because you have so much in common," said Ben Zvi, 35, an executive secretary. "My husband and I both grew up in New York, we both lived in Israel for many years and we both have children."

Before she met Curchack, Ben Zvi had dated one man who proved to be a little too religious for her taste, she said. The matchmakers also paired her with a man who decided that she was not religious enough for him. But she said she spent an enjoyable time with both.

"They don't send you a lot of people, but everybody they gave my number to, I had a wonderful time with," Ben Zvi said.

Zivug has between 300 and 350 people on its active list, Lamm said, with more men in the under-40 group and more women in the over-40 category. Most of the matchmakers' clients live in Los Angeles, but some are in Orange County, San Francisco and New York.

One problem the matchmakers say they have encountered is that many traditionally reared men are put off by today's modern women.

"Our women are much more successful," Lamm said. "They hold executive positions. They are very involved in the professions. It's harder to find men who aren't intimidated by the excellent women they are--doctors, professors, lawyers, just about every profession."

The three charge no fee. "You can't pay us what it's worth," Wincelberg said.

Lamm declined to say how many marriages have resulted, but said, "There's quite a number dating all the time . . . until the very last breath there's hope. One of our first people didn't get married until 2 1/2 years later."

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