SINGLES SUPPLEMENT: Seniors at Jewish singles clubs find friends, activities…

If you're Jewish, single and 49 or older, take heart.

You are part of a growing number of midlifers who, because of divorce or death, find themselves back in the singles scene. Too old for Club Med and too young for the brown-bag bus trip, singles of a certain age have long fallen into a social black hole.

But things are changing.

In addition to well-established organizations with long histories of bringing people together, new groups are cropping up everywhere aiming to help mature singles regain a social life, expand intellectual horizons and enhance their sense of self. You can fill your mailbox with newsletters, fill your calendar with appointments and make new friends.

But if you're looking to change your marital status, well…the news may not be quite so good.

While some of these groups are general and purely activity-oriented, others focus on the changes that come with suddenly being single after years in a relationship. No groups actually hold themselves out as matchmakers (and who would believe them if they did?); but some do report marriages among their ranks, including Emeryville's Joyce and Norman Garrick and Millbrae's Florence and Ike Parecki.

Fourteen years ago, Jack Ploscowe was single and searching for other singles who might be stumbling, as he was, around the community. Without any outreach from temples and other Jewish organizations, Ploscowe started Mid-Peninsula Jewish Singles 35+.

As Ploscowe aged, so did the group, although today both are holding firm at 49. Now called Mid-Peninsula Jewish Singles 49+, the organization mails its monthly newsletter to 200, boasts 27 intragroup marriages to date and offers a variety of activities in the San Mateo area.

Most people join the Mid-Peninsula group to meet others in circumstances similar to their own. Ploscowe admits the possibility of finding that special someone hovers in the back of most single people's minds. First, however, they have to get over the fear and anxiety that surround socializing as an unattached person, he says. And for many, groups are a safe, reassuring setting in which to start.

Many new Mid-Peninsula members "have been traumatized [by the end of a relationship] in one way or another," Ploscowe explains, "and it has an effect on their self-esteem. They are ill-equipped to socialize in the singles world."

Group discussions help members develop coping skills and "bridge the gap from being part of a couple with status to being a single person," he says.

Although sometimes relationships develop within the group, Ploscowe says he is not a matchmaker, nor is he very encouraging about marital prospects. Groups usually draw more women than men, so Ploscowe agrees with women who say they find it more difficult to meet men in groups than the reverse.

Three years ago, Frances Makower of Oakland lost her husband. After the mourning period, she started looking for groups of other singles around her own age. The results were disappointing. Groups were directed at either younger people or an older crowd. So she put the word out and formed Jewish East Bay Singles 50+.

The response was enthusiastic.

"The people who come are very interesting and active," Makower reports.

With 60 subscribers to its bulletin, Jewish East Bay Singles 50+ plans a variety of activities, including plays, ferry trips, swim parties, Yiddish song programs and restaurant dinners. There also are discussion groups that focus on developing a new life as a single person.

Most of the group's events take place on Sundays.

"Before the group [got started], Sunday was a deadly day, very lonely and depressing," Makower says.

Most group members are in their mid-60s. Many, who come with hopes of finding a mate, ask Makower, "How many men do you have?" right off the bat. Makower tells them that is not the group's aim.

With twice as many women members as men, the prospects of finding a partner are not great. No marriages have spun from East Bay Singles 50+ yet, but some bonds have formed. Makower, who has been in a relationship with another group member for two years, considers herself fortunate. One major obstacle hindering potential matchups is that the men tend to be less active than the women, she says.

"We have men who love to dance, but the others are more sedentary."

Perhaps the oldest existing local singles group is San Francisco L'Chaim Singles. Started 20 years ago with a membership of 500, its numbers have since dwindled to 40. Some have been members since the group's inception and most members are now in their 70s.

Although L'Chaim welcomes new members, few continue to participate. Gloria Joseph, one of the few original members, thinks it is hard for new people to integrate themselves because the group has been together for so long.

Then there's SASS, the Society for Almost-Senior Singles, a new group in San Francisco. Its 66-year-old founder, Rhoda Shore, says she is looking for singles at least 59-1/2-years-old who have a positive attitude and "something to celebrate."

Widowed two years ago, Shore has the voice of a 40-year-old and the spirit to match. Far from being ready for a rocking chair, the San Franciscan is an interior designer who walks two miles a day, ice skates and has boundless energy. Not finding any existing groups that met her needs, Shore decided to start SASS. Her goal is to find other active almost-seniors who want to do things together and enjoy life as singles.

The need for SASS is evident by the response to its first press release. Calls poured in from as far away as Sonoma and Burlingame. Still in the planning stage, Shore says SASS is an opportunity for singles to get in on the ground floor and make something happen for themselves.