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A “Just Married!” Extra – Matchmaking in the Time Before the Smartphone

Posted on August 31st, 2017 by

Curators have to make choices: not everything can make it into an exhibit, and there’s seldom enough space to share every interesting fact about the things that are on display. That’s where social media comes in! Here’s a closer look at another “Just Married” story from JMM collections manager and Just Married! curator Joanna Church. To read more “Just Married!” extras, click here. To read more posts from Joanna, click here.

Because the theme of “Just Married!” focuses closely on the wedding day itself, stories of courtship and matchmaking – in other words, how the happy couple becomes a couple  – were set aside. That doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting material in the collections, however! In honor of National Matchmaker Day (August 31st), let’s take a look at an example from the early 1990s.

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With the ubiquity of modern digital technology, it can be sometimes hard to remember that not so long ago, only early adopters were using  the internet; the rest of us had to share and gather information with paper, landlines, and (the bane of my interns’ existence) microfilm. Though I work with historic materials every day, even I find myself watching old TV mysteries and wondering why the characters don’t just look something up on their phone, for heaven’s sake? The internet, and my easy access to it, is just so deeply ingrained in my everyday life.

But of course, this was not always the case, and between the old-fashioned shadchen and JDate (established in 1997), there was a time when finding your ideal Jewish spouse was difficult in the modern world. Having struggled with the problem himself, Baltimore’s Dr. Bert Miller saw the possibilities, and used his statistical skills and marketing savvy to create two “Jewish ‘dater’ bases,” matching singles across the country using photocopies, microfiche, and the postal service – no internet required.

A flyer for Frum-Phile, circa 1990. Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.1

A flyer for Frum-Phile, circa 1990. Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.1

In 1990, Miller, an Orthodox Jew himself, started The National Orthodox Shidduch Project’s Frum-Phile, “The Rabbinically Approved Do-It-Yourself Continent-Wide Matchmaking Service for the ENTIRE Sabbath Observant Single Community.”  For a small fee, Frum-Phile allowed you to share your personal “resume” with singles across the country. Though it deliberately did not include photographs, the “U-Match” form allowed you to describe both yourself and your ideal spouse in some detail, with many different options and choices for Sabbath-observant folks  from a variety of backgrounds. As the flyer notes, “From Black Hat to Knit Kipa, From Long Sleeve to Short Sleeve, We’ve Got You Covered!”

An informational letter accompanying a later version of the U-Match form, circa 1992. It reads in part, “Dear Sabbath Observant Single, I developed FRUM-PHILE for you. My record of volunteerism within Baltimore's Orthodox community includes the conception, construction, and management of Baltimore's Eruv and many other projects. I trained as a statistician and mathematician and I have a background in social science data collection and analysis. After a 21-year marriage, I found myself single again and I found the traditional methods of introductions through friends and matchmakers to be very inefficient and imprecise. After my remarriage, I resolved to build a better spouse trap…. The U-MATCH form has gone through many revisions in response to the critical input sought and received from many Orthodox singles, rabbis, marrieds, and matchmakers from across the Orthodox Sabbath observant spectrum. Note that no item on the form is judgmental. Level of religious observance is an essential consideration in every Orthodox match. Therefore, the items relating to religious observance... are presented only to indicate religious compatibility - not to denigrate those less observant. Our goal is to serve the entire Sabbath Observant singles community.... We will photocopy your form and send these copies to every major Orthodox community on the continent."  Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.3

An informational letter accompanying a later version of the U-Match form, circa 1992. Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.3

The letter reads in part:

“Dear Sabbath Observant Single, I developed FRUM-PHILE for you. My record of volunteerism within Baltimore’s Orthodox community includes the conception, construction, and management of Baltimore’s Eruv and many other projects. I trained as a statistician and mathematician and I have a background in social science data collection and analysis. After a 21-year marriage, I found myself single again and I found the traditional methods of introductions through friends and matchmakers to be very inefficient and imprecise. After my remarriage, I resolved to build a better spouse trap…. The U-MATCH form has gone through many revisions in response to the critical input sought and received from many Orthodox singles, rabbis, marrieds, and matchmakers from across the Orthodox Sabbath observant spectrum. Note that no item on the form is judgmental. Level of religious observance is an essential consideration in every Orthodox match. Therefore, the items relating to religious observance… are presented only to indicate religious compatibility – not to denigrate those less observant. Our goal is to serve the entire Sabbath Observant singles community…. We will photocopy your form and send these copies to every major Orthodox community on the continent.”

With the success of Frum-Phile, Miller broadened his approach to encompass even more of the Jewish community with the introduction of cHupa Helper in late 1991.  In a marketing flyer, he described the venture as “potentially the most significant matchmaking program in Jewish history…. I started this project with a blank sheet of paper and a dream – the dream of your Jewish wedding! Many people were bemoaning inter-marriage, but no one with a broad view seemed to be doing anything about it. I recalled the saying ‘Better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness.’ I resolved to be a candlelighter not a ‘darkness-curser.’ cHupah Helper is the result.” Unlike Frum-Phile, this second venture was aimed at “the ENTIRE Jewish singles community,” including secular and unaffiliated singles, as well as Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  Over 100 national Jewish organizations were ready to help share your “resume” across the country, for a nominal yearly fee; on the accompanying list, 37 states were included (with the Baltimore and Owings Mills JCCs doing their part for Maryland).

“The International Jewish ‘Dater’ Base / cHupa Helper.. Our logo puts ‘U’ under a chupah.” From the cHupa Helper introductory flyer, 1991. Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.2

“The International Jewish ‘Dater’ Base / cHupa Helper.. Our logo puts ‘U’ under a chupah.” From the cHupa Helper introductory flyer, 1991. Gift of Dr. Bert Miller. JMM 1992.50.2

Dr. Miller explained his reasoning and methodology to the Baltimore Evening Sun in December, 1991. (The article was included in the introductory cHupa Helper mailing to potential clients.)  Under the headline “Matchmaker builds a ‘spouse trap,’” the reporter begins with a story about Miller meeting his current wife through a New Jersey matchmaker, though “this relationship nearly missed blast-off because of unreliable data.”  Hence, mathematician Miller developed the detailed and specific “U-Match” form, leaving nothing to chance.  According to the reporter, “Frum-Phile  injects a bit of modern technology” into the traditional matchmaking process.

…The problem, of course, is that modern technology keeps modernizing. Today, Frum-Phile is based online, along with many, many other local, national, and international Orthodox matchmaking and shidduch websites. (For a sample of mid-Atlantic options, including Frum-Phile, check out www.shidduchim.info.)  However, cHupa Helper appears to have closed up shop, likely made redundant by the many other internet dating sites available to what Miller called the “ENTIRE Jewish singles community.”

Have any of our readers used one or both of Miller’s services? Let us know! We’d love to hear your story.

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