SINGLES SUPPLEMENT: High-tech mavens working miracles matching singles

Leslie and Philip Hammer's story makes it sound easy.

"I saw him through the window of the restaurant where we were going to meet and I knew I was going to marry him," says the former Leslie Saskowitz, 38, who got her husband's name from Jewish Singles Computer Service.

Theirs was a match made on a Mac.

It turns out her intuition was right; they were engaged a month later. And it turns out their families knew each other years ago in Syracuse, N.Y.

"The family has been saying this is beshert," or meant to be, says Leslie, who now lives with Philip in Mountain View. "Three thousand miles away, a generation and half later, [we] meet through a computer."

The Hammers are among dozens of couples of all ages who met through Bay Area Jewish dating services. Matching profiles and wish lists, often with the help of a computer, these services are the yentas of the `90s.

"I find the people for them in one week that they couldn't find in six months," says matchmaker Gene Sadoff, who runs BayDates in San Jose. He boasts 14 marriages in the past two years, along with 72 people currently in relationships.

"Most of my members are mainly looking for companionship leading to a relationship, leading to marriage," Sadoff says. "Everybody is picky, and I'm picky for them. I really have to be. I'm their quarterback. I throw the ball their way when I have somebody."

His clients are people like Jeff and Robyn of San Jose, who had both grown weary of the singles scene.

"It's hard going to bars, and singles events are more for the younger crowd," says Robyn, who asked that only her first name be used. She was 36 when she found Jeff on her computer printout.

They hit it off from the outset. "He showed up, I looked through the little peephole and I saw these beautiful green eyes," Robyn recalls. They're now engaged.

In 12 years of business, the Jewish Connection of San Francisco has helped marry off more than 120 people. Marsha Weiner, who runs the service, attributes her success to a highly personalized screening process. She has her clients fill out a questionnaire, come in for a consultation, look through photographs and chat about the qualities they are looking for. Unlike many other services, which use computers, she mixes and matches entirely by hand.

"It's completely personal," Weiner says of her service. "[Matchmaking] has to be a very subjective and intuitive process."

She paired up Karen Boher and Ron Loewenherz of Redwood City when they were both in their mid-30s. Married four years now, Boher says she remains grateful to Weiner for setting her up with several worthwhile dates and guiding her toward her husband.

"All of a sudden, my dance card was full," Boher recalls. "Every weekend I had something to do, I had something to look forward to."

Shirley Heiman, program director for Jewish Singles Computer Service, says most of her clients are looking for the same thing: an educated Jewish person who makes a good living. Many of those coming into the service, she says, are having a difficult time meeting anyone, let alone anyone Jewish.

That, in fact, had been the greatest obstacle for Mountain View residents Diane Chaiken and Jeff Cohen, both 30. Chaiken works in a department store, where she mainly comes into contact with women; Cohen works as an engineer, surrounded by men.

A year and a half after meeting through Jewish Singles Computer Service, they are currently working on their wedding invitations.

"You have to be open to meeting people," Cohen says. "The initiative all rests with you. They're just saying, `Here are some people you can call up.' For a lot of people that may be a tough first step, but once you get past that, it's great. You can meet a lot of people."

To make the matching process work, BayDates' Gene Sadoff implores his clients to remain flexible. Some of his clients often start off defensive, with rigid, unforgiving standards, or are simply too afraid to call a stranger.

"Unfortunately, people sometimes make judgments too soon and miss out on finding the right person," Sadoff says. "The trick, I think, is to meet everyone you can, to see if they fit. You're not going to find that out on the phone."

Weiner agrees. "They have to be open-minded and think of it as an adventure, and not give up easily," she advises.

Approaching the process as a learning experience is also crucial, according to Boher. "It's important to sit down and really evaluate what qualities are important to you," she says. "You're not necessarily going to meet the person of your dreams, but at least you'll get a better idea of what you're looking for."

Call it fate. Call it the luck of the draw. The happy couples don't know quite what to call it, but in some cases, they're willing to credit computers with a kind of divine intervention.

"If it hadn't been for the computer, we never would have met," says Leslie Hammer. "We had lived within five miles of each other since 1987, but we never would have crossed paths without that computer."