Ariella Wruble was 25 when she became a widow.
She knew her husband Daniel, 24, had a heart condition—he had told her on their fifth date. But by that point, she was so in love with him that she brushed it aside as “no big deal,” and they married six months later. “That was the most amazing feeling, to be a wife and have a husband and to have that relationship,” she said. Eleven weeks after their wedding, Daniel dropped dead. “That’s pretty much the only way to describe it,” she explained. “It was so sudden and traumatic.”
However much she misses him, Wruble craves that amazing feeling again. Four months after he died, she started dating. “I know it’s not going to be the same,” she said. “I don’t expect it to be the same … I just really hope that it’s soon.”
Wruble is part of a group known, in the lingo of the dating world, as second-time singles—people who have been widowed or divorced who are looking for new spouses. Wruble, who is Modern Orthodox, has found it hard being single in her community, with its emphasis on marriage and family. But the Modern Orthodox community has recently started paying particular attention to second-time singles, helping them find a new match through specially tailored events and dedicated matchmakers.
They face unique problems in the dating world: The widowed may, like Wruble, have memories of their first spouses that loom too large for prospective new mates. The divorced may carry the stigma of having “failed” at marriage once already. And in both cases, the newly single may have children from their first marriage, which may scare off potential paramours.
Statistics about the number of Orthodox second-time singles are hard to come by. Dr. David Pelcovitz, professor of psychology and education at Yeshiva University, said that while there is no “reliable, solid, empirical source” for such information, “there’s a sense that there are more divorces. It’s incredibly unscientific but, for example, when I give talks at rabbinical conferences, I ask, ‘How many of you have experienced a divorce in your community in the past few years?’ You get more people raising their hands. When I ask the people who are doing work in Jewish divorce courts, they tell me that they seem to be busier.”
As second-time singles have become more visible, events tailored to their needs have started to spring up. “I would think there has always been a need for these programs,” said rebbetzin Judi Steinig, director of programming for the National Council of Young Israel. “But events have become more popular. People need to find safe and enjoyable venues to connect with other people in similar situations.”
Last year Steinig brought second-time singles together to learn about Israeli activism at the Young Israel Synagogue of Hillcrest in Flushing, Queens. (Her thinking behind the concept: Why not learn while you mingle?) Fifty people—half men, half women—showed up. That kind of success started a domino effect, and other groups started similar programs. “One group does it and then others start falling into place,” said Steinig.
Seven months later, YUConnects, an affiliate group of Yeshiva University, attracted 70 singles in their 20s and 30s to a private home in Riverdale, where a guest speaker told funny stories about his attempts at dating second time around. Organizer Marjorie Glatt was initially nervous about singling out this particular group for an event; she wondered why they shouldn’t simply be joined with other singles. She was reassured, she said, when “a number of participants came up to me and said when they go to regular singles events they always feel that they have to get out in the initial conversation that they have a 4-year-old at home, or they’ve been divorced, and they never know how the other person is going to react.”
While Glatt acknowledged that she can’t know what happened after the YUConnects event, she said: “There were definitely dates that came out of it. I don’t know of any longer-term relationships, but there definitely were dates.”
In February, Bergen Connections held a wine-and-cheese tasting in Teaneck, N.J., for Modern Orthodox second-time singles in their 30s and 40s. Organizer Leah Shteingart explained she was responding to a direct need in the community for this type of program: “We talk to people and see what is the demand that is needed out there.”
For those who want a more personalized approach to dating, there are matchmakers who cater to second-time singles in particular. Gateway Connections, an online service that employs many matchmakers to help Orthodox Jews meet their bashert, includes a shadchan who specializes in matching second-time singles with others in similar situations: Fayge Rudman. And Nina Bistritv, a volunteer who works with users of the Jewish dating website SawYouAtSinai, says she has a particular knack for setting up second-time singles, who reveal if they’ve been widowed or divorced in their online profiles. “I like working with them,” Bistriv said. “Either they’ve been through a rough time with being widowed or miserable divorces, and it’s very nice that people aren’t jaded. … They still want somebody by their side.”
That somebody is typically another second-time single—someone who has similar experiences and a similar sense of clarity about what they want in a second spouse. And although the matchmakers won’t offer specific numbers, they do say that they’ve made matches that blossom into marriage.
“They just see how amazing their relationship is because they cherish it that much more,” said Bistritv. “Nothing at all is taken for granted.”