I Tried Jewish Speed Dating in London

I could not find a single Jewish guy (or gal) in my area, so I decided to try something new.

Let’s start with a little bit about me: I am a single queer Jewish woman in my mid-20s.

I was a serial monogamist from the ages of 12-20. My longest break between relationships over those eight years was six weeks. So a month before my 21st birthday, I decided the thing to do was break up with my partner of three years and “find myself.” I didn’t plan to jump back into a relationship this time, but I thought it would be fun to do some dating, and if a relationship came from that, I wouldn’t say no (I might be working on myself but that doesn’t mean I’m celibate). This was February 2020. One month later, I was 21 and the pandemic put the kibosh on dating. When it was finally time for me to get back into it, I found that I could not find a Nice Jewish Boy. Or even a moderately decent one. Or any one.

I tried apps, bars, meet-cutes, everything and while I did meet some lovely non-Jewish people, I could not find a single Jewish guy (or gal) in my area. A quick Google showed that the town I live in, which is one of the larger towns in the UK, has a 0.02% Jewish population.

Here’s the situation: Jews account for about 0.5% of the entire UK population (about 277,000 Jews). London and the surrounding counties account for about 70% of all Jews in the UK. The remaining 30% of Jews are scattered around the UK.

For comparison, Jewish people make up 18% of the New York population, accounting for 1.6 million Jews. There are 8 million people in New York and 67 million in the UK. That means there are almost six times the amount of Jews just in New York than there are in the whole of the UK, despite there being eight times the number of people in the UK than in New York.

Now, it goes without saying why there may be fewer Jewish people in Europe nowadays, and why what communities are still here have scattered, but it does beg the question: what about Jews outside of Jewish communities? Of course, you don’t have to have a Jewish partner, particularly in a space where you’re unlikely to find one, but if you are a Jewish person who feels strongly about having a relationship with another Jewish person, what can you do?

The short answer is you have to be a bit less picky. If your area is 0.02% Jewish, your odds of finding a Jewish partner are low, so that’s just something you have to accept. This is fine if you don’t feel particularly strongly about having a Jewish partner.

However, if, for whatever reason, you feel strongly about finding a Jewish partner, be it connection to your heritage, faith, or community, your feelings on marriage and/or children or that one time you inadvertently ended up on a Tinder date with an actual self-identified Neo-Nazi (this has really happened to me), there is a solution… and it is called Jewish Speed Dating.

It’s hosted in London at various pubs and bars. The company hosts a couple of events per month for various age groups, but always for Jews. They have two other cities they host these from — Leeds and Manchester — which have similarly-sized Jewish communities to London.

Slight issue: London is almost three hours from where I live.

However, I had to go to London this weekend anyway, so I made the arrangements and on Sunday night I entered a small pub in West Hampstead. I was immediately directed to the basement and had to pause for a minute to consider if I was the clueless protagonist of the next “Saw” movie. But I was eager enough to try Jewish Speed Dating that I took the risk, went down the stairs and found a dozen vaguely embarrassed looking 20-something Jews. All were from various branches of Judaism and all had various levels of experience with speed dating. One had been to over a dozen events by this same company, and one was loudly telling people that he only came because his cousin signed him up. After an overview of the rules — 7 minutes to talk to each person, women sit, men rotate, everyone talks once, drinks upstairs after if you want to stay — we began.

I can see how this is a natural progression of our history and traditions. In places where Jews have strong communities, we have yentas, matchmakers, your mother’s friend’s niece or nephew they want you to meet… it’s all very communal and tightly knit.

Speed dating may feel drastic by comparison, but if you break it down, it’s not so different! We’ve got the matriarch overseeing everyone, there’s a degree of matching in that we’re all Jewish and all within a certain age group, and, if we’re being totally honest, there was not a single person in that room that was not judging if the person they were talking to was likely to be a good spouse.

Highlights include: guy who was not a fan of my small forearm tattoo and made sure I knew it, guy who felt it was pointless of me to be there because I don’t live in London and guy who must have kept forgetting my name because he couldn’t stop staring at my nametag, pinned to the V of my top.

While I travelled the furthest that night, past patrons have come to London from the far ends of the UK, like Cornwall and Scotland, or as far as Tel Aviv and the U.S. (so I’m not sure why my travelling a couple of hours by train was a dealbreaker for that one guy).

As for the event itself, aside from the few highlights, it was fine. Some made an impression, some didn’t, but regardless, I ended up feeling that there’s something very unsexy about being in a room full of people who are openly considering each other as sexual — or marital — prospects.

To be fair, I did meet a few people I liked, and a basement full of single Jews meant it was like dating fish in a barrel. But there’s something uniquely degrading about paying for a man to scold you about a years-old tattoo the size of your thumb.

L: Before speed dating, R: after speed dating, exhausted and still single

Quick conclusions: there were some great guys but the not-so-great ones were the ones I remembered, the process is efficient but embarrassing, and a room full of DTF Jews is not for the faint of heart.

This service, overall, seems like something of a necessary evil for people living in places where, like me, your odds of running into another Jewish person are low (cannot vouch for the people who apparently came from Tel Aviv to meet Jews). Of course, there are plenty of potential partners available who aren’t necessarily Jewish, but if you’re J4J (and no, that second J is not Jesus) and living in a place devoid of Jewish people, Jewish Speed Dating feels like a practical, if imperfect, solution.

I will say, as a Jew living in a place without Jews, it was also just really nice to have that sense of community, even just for a couple hours. We were all from different branches of Judaism and practised to different degrees, but as someone without a Jewish community of my own, knowing that I was surrounded by people I had this one thing in common with was comforting in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I can’t say my first experience with speed dating was great, but I won’t say it’s my last experience, either. I’m leaving that door open, just a crack. Having some time to myself really helped me figure out what I was looking for, and that round of speed dating really helped me figure out what I was not looking for, which will probably help me going forwards.

I still don’t know quite who I am or quite what I want, but I am also still a romantic at heart, and a Jew without community who would really like some. Getting into a relationship just to find that community feels like a terrible idea, but as a woman outside of both a relationship and a community, I really wanted Jewish speed dating to work out.

As I said, the door is not fully closed. Perhaps I will meet my Nice Jewish Boy (or Girl) someday. Perhaps I’ll even go speed dating again. This experience was so unique that it will leave an impression on me for a long time. I’m just not 100% sure what exactly that impression is… and that’s okay. It’s just one more experience on the road toward finding myself, right?

Molly Kate Britton

Molly Kate Britton (she/her) is a writer and student. She has a BA and MA in Literature from the University of Suffolk and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing there. In her spare time, when she has it, she can be found baking.

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