What Happens When You Bring the Torah out of the Synagogue and to the Happy Hour?

Rabbi Mark Wildes of MJE, the Manhattan Jewish Experience, left law not because he was disenchanted by it.

“My father raised me to appreciate law and I saw firsthand from his incredible legal practice and his teaching how an articulate and passionate lawyer can do so much more good, but I also felt, given the rates of Jewish disengagement, that the Jewish people could handle with one less Jewish lawyer, but could maybe use an educator to help reconnect those of us who are a bit on the fringe of the Jewish world,” said Rabbi Wildes.

MJE is a community on the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and downtown that offers Jewish life through social, cultural, spiritual, and educational events. MJE provides a Jewish community to millennials through programming aimed towards its members, such as happy hours and learning outside the classroom.

Little did Rabbi Wildes know when he accepted the position at MJE that he would, in a sense, become a shadchan (matchmaker.)

While many millennial Jews are meeting online, such as on JSwipe and JDate, others are still meeting the old-fashioned way. According to Rabbi Wildes, when young Jewish professionals do meet in person, it makes sense that they would meet at a place that brings together like-minded Jewish individuals with similar passions.

Rabbi Mark Wildes is the founder of the Manhattan Jewish Experience
Rabbi Mark Wildes is the founder of the Manhattan Jewish Experience

“Over 279 couples have resulted from MJE. Honestly matchmaking was not really part of the original mission, but getting so many people together for so many events over 18 years…the numbers add up,” said Rabbi Wildes. “Those matches are one of the things I am most proud of accomplishing.”

Although the atmosphere of MJE does not try to be romantic per se, the program does cater to its young adult members.

“On retreats, it’s more discussion and seminar-oriented than formal classes,” Rabbi Wildes said. “We also tend to discuss more dating and relationship issues since we have this whole group of amazing men and women in their 20s and 30s with us all weekend.”

In addition to shared interests and discussing dating in seminars, perhaps MJE members feel more comfortable coupling off since they feel free of the NYC “pressure,” both because of the little MJE “islands” which provide a partial escape, as well as retreats and trips to Israel that literally involve leaving NYC. It seems like sometimes a mental or actual change of scenery can make a difference.

With 16 couples a year and going strong, MJE expects to have many more “l’chaim’s” in their future.

About the Author
Working in NYC politics and from South America, with a passion for those doing great things for the world through philanthropy and featuring their stories.
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