JTA - Global News Service of the Jewish People
Give her one year. Matchmaker Mrs. Devora Alouf guarantees that within 12 months, she can successfully pair up Jewish singles and marry them off. Now the founder of three Web sites for Jewish singles is applying her experience to Jewish singles with special needs.
The Web site, www.jswsn.com, started only four months ago. But "I had been matching people up for a long time before that," Mrs. Alouf says. After emigrating from Poland in the 1960s, Devora Alouf taught Torah to high school and adult students in Canada and the United States, becoming a full-time matchmaker in 1989. Within six months, she had married off three of her original clients.
"As soon as people were getting matched up, I saw results and that inspired me," she says. Mrs. Devora Alouf says that about 200 people have used her new site for singles with special needs (www.jswsn.org). The network has representatives in New York, Miami, Montreal and Israel, but Devora Alouf also makes an effort to travel a lot. "Everywhere I go I interview people and sit with them," she says.
"People come from all over," Mrs. Devora Alouf explains. "WeÂ´re international because the Internet is international." Mrs. Alouf explains that the site caters to "people who are challenged in some way, and because of this they have a greater need for love and acceptance. We go out of our way to give them a vehicle for acceptance."
Mrs. AloufÂ´s service reaches out to people with mental or physical hurdles to face. Applicants interested in meeting someone through the Web site enter a profile, which is then rigorously processed by Mrs. Alouf and her paid staff of roughly 10 workers. The non-profit organization possesses a tax ID and is free of charge for all clients.
Devora Alouf personally contacts the applicants, asking about their Jewish backgrounds or other topics that come to mind. They follow that up with e- mails, phone calls and meetings in person. "We want to see about everyone, to make sure that they are not abusing the site, to make sure that everything is OK," she says. Mrs. Alouf is looking to expand the site. "We still want to make it more user friendly for people that are blind or deaf," she says. "We also want to be able to translate it into Hebrew so it is accessible for terror victims and injured soldiers."
Clients are asked what they are looking for and "what they will accept," Mrs. Alouf says. The relationships with everyone involved allows for a very personal touch. "WeÂ´re not trying to play psychiatrist," Mrs. Alouf says, but the staff does try to be sensitive to everyoneÂ´s wants and needs by "offering counseling and direction" for clients.
Merna Vin, whose son Lee-Or, 28, uses the Web site, says she knows the site is "very safe because Mrs. Devora Alouf oversees everything." Lee-Or has a severe learning disability characterized by "neurological issues in academics," Vin says.
"People donÂ´t necessarily understand that these are intelligent people," Vin says. "They think that people with special needs are peculiar. ItÂ´s hard to meet people, especially if you have a disability." Two years ago, Vin started The Floatila in Manhattan, a "group of high-functioning young people in their early 20s or 30s with some sort of learning disability."
Vin became connected with Mrs. Alouf when Mrs. Alouf stumbled upon The Floatila last year. The pair discussed their desires to begin a Web site serving the population of Jewish Singles with Special Needs. Right now, the non-profit Web site is mostly publicized by "word of mouth," Mrs. Devora Alouf says. "Our challenge is to make sure that wherever people need the service, they should know about it."
Mrs. AloufÂ´s service seems to be a much-needed but little-known resource for disabled Jewish singles. "There are a lot of very special people with disabilities," people "who would love to have someone to spend some time with," says Hope Bard, head of Kesher, a Cincinnati Jewish organization that works to integrate disabled singles into CincinnatiÂ´s Jewish community. Kesher is a part of the Mayerson Foundation, a Cincinnati-based organization with national projects that focus on arts, education, Judaism and people with disabilities. Additionally, the Mayerson Foundation supports the Involvement Network, an organization for Jews and non-Jews with special needs.
"People sometimes ask why we also need a program like this just for Jewish people as well," Bard says. "The Jewish community just needs to be spoon-fed a little more. There are so many things to do, and the community is sort of slow to pick them up. It needs a shot in the arm." Ben Tunkelang, whose son Michael is mentally and slightly physically impaired, said he is "very happy with the service, because it is not aggressive." Michael recently was matched up with Eve, a 30-year-old from Queens, New York, whom he had known before but never had spoken to. The two write "once or twice a day," Tunkelong says, which "teaches both of them to write letters."
"I say that success is 100 percent. Just to give them a tool to communicate, to show them that we care - that they are not cast away from society," says Mrs. Alouf, who refuses to say exactly what her success rate is. "I know what the numbers are, but I donÂ´t tell them because it is against the religion," says Mrs. Alouf, citing a biblical tale about counting people that led to a plague.
"Wherever I go, I meet people" who have used the service, Mrs. Alouf says. On a recent trip to Montreal, she ran into two married couples whom she had matched up, one pair with six children and the other with three. "We have this blessing that people can get together," Mrs. Alouf says. "I see it today as a mission. I am a child of the Holocaust; I want people to get married and have children. ItÂ´s a great joy."
To go to the Jewish Singles with Special Needs website, click on the following link: www.jswsn.org.