On Valentine’s Day, the Russian Jewish community officially joined the ranks of JDate, ChristianMingle, BlackSingles and countless other dating sites tailored to specific ethnic groups by defining its own niche market within the larger Internet dating pool. RAJE On, an alumni association of the Russian American Jewish Experience partnered with JWed.com, the “largest Jewish dating service exclusively for marriage-minded singles,” to launch RAJEMate — an extension of JWed that “includes filters that allow you to focus solely on Russian Jews” when seeking out a potential spouse. And with a tagline that reads “one step closer to finding life-long partners and making our babushkas happy,” who can resist the call to join?
With social media’s increasing ubiquity, online dating has shed its former unwholesome reputation and become something of a mainstream phenomenon. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Internet has splintered off yet another subcategory for online dating clientele — in this instance, Russian Jews. This is all well and good, and I’m sure scores of singles will soon flock to RAJEmate’s calculated interface in hopes of finding that special someone to bring home to Mom.
Many Russian Jewish parents urge their children to gravitate toward others of “their kind” when seeking out potential mates. This gravity of sorts can, in part, be explained by generations of stigma that Russian Jews faced as a minority culture. A common grievance that I hear is “In Russia, we were Jews. In America, we are Russians.” Surely, generations of discrimination explain the tendency to marry within the culture, and often emphasis is only placed on the Jewish factor and Russianness isn’t even a concern (hence the cliché, “is s/he Jewish?” when young people make mention of a significant other). Nevertheless, even in a country as open to diversity as the United States, plenty of first- and second-generation Russian Jews forgo the opportunity to date outside of their ethnic group, as is evident with RAJEmate.
The reasons for this make sense. People feel more comfortable around their own kind; they want to preserve the culture; so on and so forth. But as a young person living in a culturally rich city like New York, is it wise to shun members of other ethnic groups — a practice that is, without question, discriminatory — for the sake of some antiquated traditions? Isn’t it hard enough to find an ideal match without additional ethnic prerequisites? Hasn’t science also effectively argued the advantage of diversifying the gene pool? Or are the urgings of the older generation tried and true — that we should marry our own kind, preserve the sacred lineage and “save” ourselves from getting sucked into the 50% intermarriage rate?
Society encourages us to compartmentalize people based on external markers like ethnicity. The Internet follows suit, and at once makes this practice less abstract with explicit markers indicating faith and race on dating profiles. This crudely oversimplifies complex identities, and shouldn’t be the overriding factor in a quest for an ideal match.
Samantha Shokin, 22, is a senior at N.Y.U. Gallatin, concentrating in literary journalism. She was born in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with her mother and father, who emigrated from Ukraine and Lithuania, respectively.