After what one could call a three-year long hiatus from dating, I am re-entering the scene with full force. More specifically, I am entering the queer dating scene for the first time in 23 years; my whole life. I am here to document my own journey and offer my unique perspective to other queer Jews. So, what are my qualifications? Who even am I?
Welcome to the Jewish Queeries Series! My name is Nat El-Hai. I am a 23 year-old midwestern Jewish butch lesbian. I’m currently based in Minneapolis, along with my dating life. Lately, I feel like I’ve been recycling the same 5 locations for my dates and the regulars are starting to notice. You, however, are not limited to the confines of geography: We are currently taking advice column style submissions from Jewish queers on all topics at the intersection of Jewish and and queer identity from across the diaspora. Obviously, dating advice will be a large component of the column, but don’t let that limit your questions. Submit yours here!
Dating is complicated enough as it is. With the confusion that comes with dating during a pandemic, the rise of online dating apps, and the general neurosis that accompanies the queer Jewish lifestyle, we all could use some guidance. While we’re waiting for the questions to roll in, I thought it would be a good idea to get some advice from The Modern Yentas, two queer Jews in Minneapolis who have taken the age-old problem of Jewish matchmaking into their own hands — with a new twist.
I met the two veteran queer Jewish love specialists during my initial foray into the local dating scene and quickly found we ran in the same circles. I met these housemates on a hot and humid day. We settled in on the back deck of their duplex and sipped ice coffee that quickly melted. They opened up our conversation by immediately citing their inspiration for this project: “The ancient Jewish tradition of meddling.” Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bex Klafter and Natalie Jacobson started The Modern Yentas in 2019 as students at Carleton College. Now both 25 years old, the Yentas have stayed busy since entering post-grad life in south Minneapolis. It’s funny — when I was growing up here, I never saw my hometown as the queer haven as it’s now advertised to out-of-staters. I definitely did not feel a strong connection to the local Jewish community. I hoped the Yentas can change my perspective.
The origin story of The Modern Yentas began with a search for a solution to what Natalie described as the two extremes on a college campus: the intense monogamy of 20-somethings in their first relationships and, of course, hookup culture. After successfully setting up several friends independently, she and Bex joined forces with another yenta and their service was a hit. Not surprisingly, this translates well in Minneapolis: a small city with an even smaller queer community. When I asked Bex to describe being queer and Jewish in three words, they answered with four, “It’s a small world.”
“People are tired of dating apps and the informality of that,” Bex explained. The Yentas tout a complex service that surpasses even the most sophisticated of AIs. “We offer something a little more customized than dating apps. And it also sort of takes off the pressure of having to, you know, wonder, ‘what’s going on here?’ because we’re just setting you up on a blind date.”
The blind date aspect tackles many singles’ dating pet peeves: small talk. The yentas have the solution for that too. “You probably aren’t going to do any pre-chatting, you just show up,” Natalie explained. “You don’t even know what the person looks like unless their email address included their first and last name, then maybe you’d be able to internet stalk them, but maybe you won’t internet stalk them.” Just like in the shtetl!
There is proper matchmaking etiquette that you may get away with on a dating app but doesn’t fly with the yentas: no follow-through. Natalie laid it out for me. “Come on, if you’re gonna sign up, you can’t treat this like a dating app. People are flakey on dating apps, people ghost each other. No, you can’t ghost your yenta match! That’s not cool. We are actually real humans who spend a lot of time curating these matches. Don’t be a dick.”
The Modern Yentas definitely ask more questions of the matches than your traditional matchmaker might. For example, their questionnaire includes questions ranging from, “What qualities are most important to you in a romantic partner?” to “Beaches or mountains?” (with the option to respond with, “I h8 the outdoors,” if neither choice is your thing).
In addition to using your questions as a guide, the yentas each bring something unique to the table. Natalie is a self-described “methodical” yenta who has dedicated several hours at a time to only a handful of matches. “Bex will make, like, five matches in forty-five minutes. And I’ll make one match in forty-five minutes,” Natalie admitted.
“But recently you spent three hours on a Sunday making seven matches.” Bex added.
“I always joke that Natalie is in it to help people find love and I’m in it for the fame.” They’re both talented and transparent.
Readers, I understand if you want verification that you can put your love life in the hands of two 25 year-old Jewish queers, so allow me to present you with some evidence. I received verified testimony of a match made by the yentas that turned into a 4 year-long relationship, currently ongoing. Even more compelling was a situation wherein the Yentas matched people who had already matched themselves: “A funny thing that happened recently with The Modern Yentas was we set up two people who it turns out were roommates. I actually think that was a good match,” Natalie explained. What exactly makes a good match then? “It’s all about vibe!” Sometimes, divine talent cannot be put into words.
Matchmaking isn’t the only thing the Yentas do, either. Before and during the pandemic, they hosted virtual speed-dating events that doubled as fundraisers for various progressive causes. The Yentas are hopeful at the prospect of in-person speed-dating events later this summer.
If your own city is lacking a matchmaker and you see the need, the Yentas have some advice:
“Approach ‘yenta-ing’ with curiosity. Be curious about people — genuine curiosity — wanting to learn about people, what they care about, who they are, and I think good things will follow from a sense of curiosity,” said Natalie.
Bex elaborated on how to streamline the matchmaking process,“[Figure] out what your niche system is. It took us a long time to develop our systems of operation. We’ve lost a lot of efficiency. Natalie is really into it and I’m like, ‘I don’t care about the system.’ But our spreadsheet was a mess for a little while. We spent a lot of time being like, ‘What is this person?’ ‘Who is this person attracted to and how can we find a match for that?’ So, if your systems work for you, even if it’s not spreadsheet based, that helps.”
Satisfied with what I’d learned about what it takes to be a queer yenta these days, I only had one more question to ask: Is Minneapolis a shtetl?
Not surprisingly, no one could agree. However, it is becoming more clear with each match that the potential is there.
You can sign up to be matched by The Modern Yentas here. They emphasized to me that the larger the pool, the more accurate the matches will be. Do your part and contribute yourself to the Minneapolis dating pool. Love, or something else, will follow, G-d willing. Be sure to have three words to describe yourself and your enneagram number on hand. If you’re not based in Minneapolis but still looking for a way to tap in to the queer Jewish diaspora, that is what this column is for! By writing in or reading, you are participating in growing and making visible a community that we all know has been around as long as Judaism itself. Queer Jews, let’s connect!
Our next column will be featuring real dating advice questions from amazing queer Jewish readers. Sound like you? Drop me a message here. You can also find me on Instagram at @sephardaddi or email me at email@example.com. Send in your advice-asks – we can’t wait to hear from you!
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