Singles at conference swap war stories, scavenge for love

Friday, March 14, 2003 | by dan pine

It was the ultimate meet-and-greet.

On Saturday, 200 young Jewish men and women -- all single, smart, attractive and definitely in the market -- squeezed into a conference room at San Francisco's tony Westin St. Francis Hotel.

They were there for "What's So Funny About Being Single," a seminar led by motivational speaker and humorist Scott Friedman.

What they got was 90 minutes of hilarity and insight into the ever-treacherous dating scene.

This was no ordinary group of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. They were among the more than 600 attendees at this year's United Jewish Communities Young Leadership Regional Conference, the cream of the crop of young Jewish activists in the western United States.

The UJC represents and serves 156 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America.

It was hard to believe any of these twenty- and thirtysomethings would have trouble getting a date. But as Friedman demonstrated in his upbeat presentation, nothing resonates among young singles like war stories from the dating battleground.

Friedman started out by commenting on the ironic title of a recent hit movie. "How to lose a guy in 10 days?" he mused.

"Hey, no big deal!"

Since the event was held on Shabbat, no microphones were permitted in the room (which was the size of a small airplane hangar), yet the charismatic Friedman more than held his own.

Making the experience interactive, Friedman handed out a sheet with the heading: "Find someone who..." It was a list of off-beat personal qualities, used to get the participants work the room in a dating scavenger hunt.

Among those listed qualities: "Find someone who...played tennis in high school, has been to the Super Bowl, has lived in Israel, doesn't eat lox, believes in Santa Claus."

The young people dove in, perhaps with a bit too much enthusiasm. As the din rose to Saturn 5 rocket level, the exercise was cut short because folks in the conference room next door couldn't hear themselves think.

No problem. Friedman dove in himself, sharing his knowledge and experience as a veteran dater and, so far, life-long bachelor.

His central message: Life can make you bitter or better. So when it comes to loving and losing, getting on base or striking out, Friedman says: "Let it be painful or choose to be playful. We're so much more attractive when we accept who we are."

At one point, Friedman discussed the personal rules one enforces for oneself, including for example not sleeping with someone on the first date. This comment elicited peals of laughter from one anonymous woman in the back row.

Which, in turn, broke up the room.

From there, Friedman had those gathered break up into small groups to come up with a list of interesting and off-the-wall places to meet others.

Ten minutes later, each group reported back. Besides run-of-the mill locales like the gym, weddings and bar mitzvahs, the most creative ideas included Planned Parenthood, ski lifts, 7-11 convenient stores, baggage claim carousels, a blackjack table, A.A. meetings, jail and the bulk foods department at the Marina Safeway.

Anything seemed preferable to JDate.

While Friedman drew rapt attention for most of the session, the thrill of the hunt seemed to get the best of most of those in attendance. After all, considering that in one, packed room there were so many, young, restless, Jewish singles, how could there not have been a frenzy of sidelong glances, meaningful smiles, exchanged hotel room numbers and, perhaps, dangerous liaisons arranged?

As the session drew to a close, Friedman posed this question to his audience: "Would you marry you?"

Since it was rhetorical, nobody offered to answer that ultimate question, but it gave attendees pause in an otherwise joyous event. It wasn't exactly Jews Gone Wild, but it seemed to give these Jewish singles a new perspective on dating and mating.

Ellen Aaronson of Los Angeles thought Friedman's presentation was "a lot of fun. It was nice to hear a male perspective for once."

Adam Slovik of San Francisco was equally enthusiastic. "People do need to loosen up," he said, "and not take themselves so seriously. I needed his advice and insight because my grandma is really on my case to get married."