You might already know that getting involved in JUF-sponsored programs and activities is a great way to give back, volunteer and get connected to Chicago’s Jewish community—but did you know these programs are also great places to find love? I know from firsthand experience—my fiancé Mike and I met while both working at JUF. Here are three couples—one dating, one engaged and one married—who met their besherts (destined) while participating in three different JUF-sponsored programs.
Amy and Scott—our dating couple
Amy Leff and Scott Schiff met about five years ago at Yad B’Yad, a volunteer program bringing together Jewish young adults with developmental and learning disabilities who live independently or with minimal support and Jewish young adult volunteers for social, cultural and religious activities. Bringing together the resources of The Hillels of Illinois and Jewish Child and Family Services, Yad B’Yad provides monthly activities for participants and volunteers.
Scott was referred to the program by his stepfather and Amy was encouraged to attend by a co-worker. When they first met in December of 2004, they learned they had been living in the same building for three or four years and had never run into each other.
“One day it came up that Amy needed a ride home,” Scott said—they’ve been inseparable ever since.
“At first I was scared,” Scott said. “She is my first real girlfriend.” Because he has Asperger’s Syndrome, Scott said it is often difficult for him to make friends and meet new people. “It felt really good because women had never pursued me before,” he said. “It was obviously destiny.”
Amy, 35, who is from Homewood Flossmoor, works in a therapy practice that specializes in children with learning disabilities and Scott, 36, originally of Highland Park works two jobs—in an optometrist’s office and at Jewel.
When they’re not working, Amy said the couple spends most of their time together, grocery shopping, cooking dinner or spending holidays with friends and family. They still attend Yad B’Yad programs as often as they can.
Jason and Caroline—our engaged couple
Jason Chess and Caroline Friduss met in the summer of 2008 at the first Oy!Chicago get-together at a bar in Lakeview. Caroline was there to support a friend involved in the website and Jason was there to find a nice Jewish girl.
“I went up to a group of five girls and I started talking to the one I had noticed from across the room, Caroline,” Jason said. “I called her three days later, asked her out and the rest is history!”
Caroline remembers talking to Jason for a long time at the bar and realizing just how much they had in common. “I was so excited when he asked for my number that I called my parents the next day to tell them about him. My parents were in Israel at the time and they told their entire bus about it. Maybe it was beshert, maybe my parents being in Israel gave me good mazel (luck).”
Jason, 30, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and moved to Chicago two years ago where he works as a business banker for National City/PNC. Caroline, 25, is originally from Highland Park and now works as a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Jason proposed this past Chanukah by creating his own episode of their favorite television show “How I Met Your Mother.” Jason created a video telling the story of their relationship, including scenes from where they first met at the Oy!Chicago party, their first date and other memorable moments from their relationship leading up to the proposal. They will be married in Chicago this September.
Their advice to Jewish singles out there?
“Stop looking,” Caroline said. “When you stop looking for your beshert, it will happen.”
“Be involved in JUF, YLD, and other Jewish organizations. Be open to meeting new kinds of people,” Jason said. “We would like to thank Oy!Chicago and JUF for introducing us. It’s amazing how much this organization has done for us and we’re happy to volunteer and stay involved.”
Anne and Marc—our married couple
Anne Gardner Alexander and Marc Alexander met at LEADS—a program of JUF’s Young Leadership Division designed to acquaint young adults to Chicago’s Jewish community—in November of 2008. The couple was married November 15, 2009, just one year and three days later.
Anne, 36, a lawyer originally from Columbia, Missouri, had just moved to Chicago when LEADS started and was looking for a way to become involved in the community. Marc, 30, who works in corporate training and sales and is originally from Northbrook, joined the program on a friend’s suggestion that LEADS was a great place to meet girls.
“We met at a LEADS happy hour following an event,” Anne said. “We were in different LEADS groups and I was sitting chatting with a new friend from my group. Marc introduced himself and the three of us talked for the rest of the evening. We all exchanged phone numbers and the next day Marc texted me and suggested we hang out the following night.”
Anne said she didn’t take the relationship too seriously at first, because she thought Marc was too young to settle down.
“Because I did not take it as seriously, I was a lot more comfortable just being myself, which ended up being the best thing,” Anne said. “My focus with Marc wasn’t on determining if he was ‘the one’—I just enjoyed the time we were together. Of course, I know [now] I’ve found my beshert!”
“I knew I really liked Anne when I was driving to her condo just to walk her dog or picking up her groceries, or taking care of her when she was sick,” Marc said. “I knew I really loved her when I realized she was doing just as much to support me. The best parts of our week were the times we spent together. I knew she was the one when I realized that she had become my best friend.”
Marc proposed five-and-a-half months after they met, in May of 2008, and in November of 2009, they had a beautiful beach wedding in Longboat Key, Florida.
Anne and Marc offered these words of advice to singles: “Keep an open mind. Try to not have too many ‘deal killers,’ Anne said. “Get out there and meet people in person—we never would have met any other way.”
“Due to our difference in age, Anne fell outside my criteria in JDate, meaning that she never would have showed up in my JDate search,” Marc said. “Definitely keep an open mind. Don’t be scared to meet new people. Just get out there and do it and be friendly. That’s the only way that you might, by chance, stumble across that person who you want to share the rest of your life with.”