(New York Jewish Week) — When Lea Herzfeld went on her first date with a guy she met on Loop — a new dating app that relies on its users to do the matchmaking — she wasn’t nervous, for a change.
“I felt more comfortable going into it knowing that he wasn’t a complete stranger,” the 23-year-old Modern Orthodox Murray Hill resident told the New York Jewish Week. Herzfeld and her date had a handful of mutual friends — in fact, five of them suggested, via Loop, that the pair would make a good match.
Herzfeld and her date met up for coffee and walked around Rockefeller Center. And while the connection didn’t go any further, it’s an example of how Loop works: Instead of an algorithm or matching based on proximity, Loop relies upon users’ personal networks to help set them up. This means when a potential couple meets up IRL, they know they have at least one point of connection between them, plus the reassurance that someone they know thought they would make a good couple.
“Loop is bringing traditional Jewish wisdom to the world at large,” Loop co-founder Lian Zucker told the New York Jewish Week, referring to the time-honored Jewish tradition of using matchmakers. “We’re bringing this 1,000-plus year-old tradition and giving it a digital facelift.”
Zucker, 32, her co-founder, Moriya Blumenfeld, 35 — who both live in New York City — and Zucker’s younger brother Adam, 28, who lives in California, launched Loop in May. The app has grown to 13,000 users and has had over 2,100 set-ups, most of which have been in the New York area, according to Zucker.
Though the app isn’t explicitly Jewish — anyone can join — it does have a Jewish concept running through its veins: that of the “shidduch,” the Yiddish word for matchmaking. And within the Jewish community, especially in more observant circles, Loop has swiftly become the dating app of choice for those looking to meet their bashert, the Yiddish word for soul mate.
“A lot of the time you have people who come from religious backgrounds look at a ‘secular’ app like Hinge and immediately say, ‘Oh, that’s not for me. I can’t do that.’ It’s like throwing darts at a wall — even if you set your profile to ‘Jewish,’ that could mean anything,” said a 24-year-old Modern Orthodox man in Manhattan who wished to remain anonymous. “With Loop, if all your frum friends are on it, and your married friends can set you up with people they know or offer a personal connection, it’s a lot easier to want to join and use.”
As it happens, the founders of Loop got together — professionally — by a mutual friend who set them up.
Zucker and Blumenfeld were introduced via a man they both dated, whom they refer to as the “OG Matchmaker.” Zucker met the man in 2020 via Bumble. Their date was over Facetime due to the pandemic, and the two spoke about her career in startups. Zucker said her next idea was for a dating app, but she wanted to work with another founder to get it off the ground.
The OG Matchmaker recalled a Tinder date he had gone on five years earlier with Blumenfeld, who had similar goals and ideas. He connected Zucker and Blumenfeld, and the rest, they say, is history.
“We were essentially match made through these failed romantic connections on two separate dating apps,” Zucker said, who added that the OG Matchmaker has remained a good friend.
It is setups like these that inspired Zucker and Blumenfeld to start Loop. After all, so many successful or promising relationships are the ones made within a person’s own network — either their friends, or friends of friends, or even one more degree outwards.
On Loop, users make a typical dating profile. But unlike other apps, they are not given a slew of random options to swipe through. Instead, users make a “Loop” by connecting with anyone from their contact list who is also on the app. They then have access to those connections’ “Loops” — their friends and contacts — after which they can scroll through their friends’ friends.
If they find someone they are interested in, they can request that the mutual friend set them up for a conversation and take it from there.
Unlike other dating apps, non-singles can also make profiles and participate — because the app relies on set-ups, it encourages both non-singles and singles to set their friends up. The matched-up parties both need to accept the match in order for the conversation to move forward.
That means parents and others in the community can also get involved. “There’s all these parents who want to set people up but don’t really have a modern way of doing it,” Herzfeld said, adding that her father is on the app. “Some will ask for resumes or bios, but a lot of people our age don’t really have those. So sharing your dating profile on an app like this is a better way for them to get involved.”
The 24-year-old Manhattanite said that, within his Loops, many users he has seen put their “shidduch resumes” — a standard tool in Orthodox dating circles — in their profiles. Potential matchmakers can use the information to start setting them up with others who have the same observance level, life goals and preferred backgrounds.
“All three of us come from a Jewish background and it’s a huge part of our identity,” Zucker said when asked whether Loop had a Jewish origin story. “We knew full well about the tradition of matchmaking and shadchans [matchmakers] in Judaism and the saying that as a matchmaker if you set up three couples successfully, you will go to heaven.”
However, Zucker added that she and her co-founders have learned that matchmaking is prominent in Indian, Persian, Korean and other Asian and South Asian cultures, as well as in other religious communities like Mormons.
”We really believe that Loop has universal appeal,” Zucker said. “We are not building for any type of specific demographic, whether that’s religious or cultural, or for a specific gender orientation, or really anything else.”
Still, it means a lot to them that the app is popular among young Jews. “It’s been our absolute honor — from a very emotional place, too — that it has gotten a lot of early traction in the Jewish community,” she said. “Quite frankly, regardless of which community, none of us expected this kind of explosive traction.”
“There’s this whole nature of setting your friends up,” said Herzfeld, who uses the app as both a matchmaker and for her own matches. “It’s something that I was already doing, and I think it’s like a big part of the Modern Orthodox Jewish world. So it was a no-brainer for me to download it and send it to all the friends of mine who had been saying, “Oh, do you know anyone to set me up?’ It really helps because you see all of your friends in one place that you might have not thought of.”
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More than 120 Jewish activists call on advertisers and app stores to drop Twitter/X
(JTA) — More than 100 Jewish activists have signed a letter appealing to major advertisers to end their relationship with X, the platform previously known as Twitter that is owned by Elon Musk, calling it “a breeding ground for antisemitism” that “represents one of the largest dangers to Jews in years.”
The signatories are also calling on Apple and Google to remove the platform from their app stores, which would effectively make X’s app inaccessible to the vast majority of mobile users.
The call, issued Tuesday, comes after weeks during which Musk has interacted with white supremacists and written a stream of posts attacking the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights organization that has criticized his removal of hate speech guardrails on the site. The ADL also called on advertisers to pause their spending on the platform last year, and Musk has threatened to sue the group for, in his view, tanking X’s ad revenue.
“We have watched in horror as a new stage in antisemitic discourse has spread like wildfire on one of America’s largest social media networks,” said the letter, spearheaded by Elad Nehorai, a progressive Jewish activist. “All of this has been facilitated and enabled by its owner: Elon Musk.”
Many of the more than 120 signatories are progressives, among them cartoonist Eli Valley and Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president and onetime Democratic nominee for New York City mayor who later led the American Jewish World Service, a global aid group.
But a number of prominent Jewish thinkers and activists from across the political spectrum have signed on as well, including David Hazony, a conservative editor who just published “Jewish Priorities,” a collection of essays; Archie Gottesman, who sits on the board of the Democratic Majority for Israel and co-founded JewBelong, a group that aims to combat antisemitism and reinforce Jewish identity; and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a longtime leading Orthodox Jewish scholar. The letter was also signed by Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, the executive vice president of the Jewish Funders Network, and Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, a scholar and public affairs adviser at the Jewish Federations of North America, though neither listed their organizational affiliations.
“We are alarmed by his targeting of the ADL: not because of our views of the organization (we represent a wide range of views, including some who fundamentally oppose the ADL as well as staunch supporters), but because of the way he has used the organization as a very clear stand in for an antisemitic representation of Jewish power,” the open letter said.
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A Jewish-owned hot dog empire began on this Coney Island street corner
(New York Jewish Week) — For many generations of New Yorkers, eating a Nathan’s Famous hot dog from their Coney Island flagship location is a staple of summer. The iconic hot dog stand just celebrated its 107th season at the city’s iconic beachside destination.
Nathan’s Famous — which started as a nickel hot dog stand and grew to a franchised business that today has over 350 locations in 12 countries — may be most famous today for its annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. It is named for its founder, Nathan Handwerker, a Polish Jewish immigrant who, along with his wife, Ida, opened Nathan’s Famous in 1916, when he was 19.
“It was his life,” Handwerker’s grandson, Lloyd Handwerker, who made a 2014 documentary and wrote an accompanying book about his family history, both titled “Famous Nathan,” told the New York Jewish Week
“He had brilliant instincts about running a business — basic ideas which seem simple, but they work well,” Lloyd said. “Which is keeping the price low, having the quality be great, being a stickler, paying people well and caring about the customer.”
On Sept. 24, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the founding of Nathan’s Famous, New York City co-named the corner of the Surf and Stillwell Avenues Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way.
“Nathan and Ida Handwerker worked together for over 50 years and were part of the few generations who formed the rich Coney Island culture that is now renowned throughout the nation and all over the world,” Lloyd Handwerker’s cousin, William, said at the unveiling event. “It is an honor to celebrate their legacy by memorializing their names on the street corner that houses the original Nathan’s.”
(Lloyd was supposed to give a speech alongside his family, but his father, Sol, died just days before the ceremony.)
Also present that day was Eric Adams, who at the time was Brooklyn Borough President, and Mark Treyger, the Jewish city council member for District 47, which includes Coney Island. “The corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island is now known as Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way, after the husband and wife team who grew a hot dog food cart into a brand that is known worldwide,” Treyger said at the ceremony.
“The inspiring story of these two immigrants, who came to this country facing an uncertain future, working hard to create a product that means so much to so many, is what the American Dream is all about,” he added.
Handwerker arrived in the United States from Poland in 1912 and took a job as a delivery boy during the week. On the weekends, he sliced rolls at Feltman’s German Gardens, a restaurant in Coney Island — where he met a waitress who would become his wife.
By 1916, the couple had saved $300, enough to open their own, competing hot dog restaurant. They used Ida’s secret spice recipe to make their hot dogs, for which they charged 5 cents — half the price of a dog at Feltman’s.
Considering the low price of the product, customers were skeptical at first, so Handwerker allegedly hired men to wear white coats while eating his hot dogs. The image would lend his business credibility, as customers figured that if doctors were eating the hot dogs, they could, too.
The business grew steadily over the next half century, with Handwerker working 18-20 hours a day cooking food, selling it and running the business. When the company went public in 1968, Handwerker was elected chairman of the board.
“As a grandfather, he was a very sweet, soft guy. I had no idea what kind of boss he was,” said Lloyd. “It’s different for different people, but I found out he was pretty tough. He was a stickler, and he was clearly a perfectionist about everything — about the quality, about the workers.”
As for Ida Handwerker, in addition to creating the recipe for the hot dogs, she was often in the back kitchen, peeling and chopping onions, garlic and potatoes, Lloyd said. “My grandmother, too, my dad said, was also pretty tough in her own way,” he said. “She worked in the business for many, many years alongside [Nathan], especially in the early days. She was a great grandmother, warm and wonderful. But I guess they both came up hard and tough.”
By the time Nathan Handwerker died in 1974 at 81, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs was a household name. Over the years, the hot dog stand became a favorite for celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Regis Philbin. In 1936, the hot dogs were served at a lawn party hosted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
The Coney Island location was also an essential stop for politicians from City Council members to the president of the United States. “No one can hope to be elected to public office in New York without having his picture taken eating a hot dog at Nathan’s,” former New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller once told Handwerker during a campaign visit to Coney Island, according to the New York Times.
Handwerker retired to Florida in 1972, with his son Murray taking over and expanding the business. Nathan’s first hot dog eating contest was that same year.
Lloyd Handwerker, who was 17 when his grandfather died, began working on his film in the 1980s, and over the course of 30 years he interviewed some 75 friends, family members and associates of Nathan’s Famous. “My grandfather was always telling stories around the dining room table at the holidays and dinners,” he said. “By the time I took a video class and had access to a camera, my grandfather and my grandmother had passed away, but I still thought ‘we should be preserving this history.’”
Though he never worked at Nathan’s Famous, Lloyd, who grew up in a Reform Jewish household in Long Island, said that he has fond memories of visiting his grandparents’ office in Coney Island, as well as celebrating Jewish holidays at their house in Florida. “My grandmother cooked amazingly, so I have a lot of great memories of Passover in particular,” he recalled. Lloyd said that though his grandfather grew up traditionally religious in Poland, he didn’t keep many traditional customs by the time he came to the United States.
And yet, some tenets of Judaism were deeply ingrained in the entrepreneur: Though he didn’t hire a rabbi to certify the kitchen, Handwerker coined the term “kosher-style” for his restaurant, because his hot dogs were made with 100% beef and therefore could be kosher.
Plus, “the one day that the restaurant was closed out of the whole year was Yom Kippur, so it still obviously meant something to him,” Lloyd said of his grandfather.
Nathan’s Famous is now owned by Smithfield, a subsidiary of the Chinese meat and food processing company WH Group. However, the family still owns the original Coney Island building and is the landlord for Nathan’s Famous there.
“As far as his legacy, he was obviously very proud of what he created,” Lloyd said of Nathan. “He was a pretty humble guy, but look at what he did: He came from starvation in Poland, without an education. He didn’t know how to read or write, he was basically illiterate and he built this institution that everyone has a story about. It’s amazing.”
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Biden’s new book ban czar is a longtime progressive Jewish leader
(JTA) – The Biden Administration’s new point person for combating book bans at school districts and public libraries across the country is a gay, Jewish progressive activist who has served as a government liaison to the Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
The appointment of Matt Nosanchuk comes as the thousands of book challenges nationwide have focused on books with LGBTQ as well as Jewish themes, in addition to works about race. Nosanchuk was named a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Education’s civil rights office earlier this month. In that role, he will lead training sessions for schools and libraries on how to deal with book bans — and warn districts that the department believes book bans can violate civil rights laws.
An Education Department official recently told the 74, an education news site, that the bans “are a threat to students’ rights and freedoms.”
“I am excited to return to public service to work on behalf of the American people,” Nosanchuk posted to LinkedIn earlier this month. “There is a lot of important work to do!”
The Education Department declined to make Nosanchuk available for an interview. He has already taken heat from conservative outlets, which have pushed the narrative that the books being removed from schools and libraries are too sexually explicit for children. Kayleigh McEnany, the Fox News host who served as Donald Trump’s press secretary, called him a “porn enforcer” on-air.
But his appointment has been celebrated by librarians and book access activists. “This is a step forward for the Biden Administration, who has heard the concerns of parents and taken action, but it is just the beginning,” the National Parents Union, a progressive parental education activist group, said in a statement.
Nosanchuk’s career has largely focused on working with the LGBTQ and Jewish communities. In 2009, after serving in a number of roles in Washington, D.C., Nosanchuk was appointed as the Department of Justice’s liaison to the LGBTQ community — a position he held while Obama was still publicly opposed to same-sex marriage. He later worked on the Obama administration’s opposition to a law barring same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.
He subsequently served as the White House liaison to the Jewish community during Obama’s second term, and in 2020 was the Democratic National Committee’s political organizer for Jewish outreach and LGBTQ engagement. That same year, he cofounded the New York Jewish Agenda, a progressive policy group that he led until earlier this year.
Nosanchuk’s first webinar in his new role was held Tuesday in partnership with the American Library Association, an organization with which a number of Republican-led states have recently cut ties. He begins his work after a year that has seen several school districts take aim at books focused on Jewish experiences or the Holocaust.
Two weeks ago, a Texas school district fired a middle school teacher reportedly for reading a passage from an illustrated adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary to eighth-grade students. Other schools’ removals of “The Fixer,” a Jodi Picoult novel about the Holocaust and other texts have been likened to Nazi and Stalinist book burnings — comparisons that proponents of the book restrictions reject.
Democratic politicians, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, have accused Republicans of wanting “to ban books on the Holocaust.” A recent Senate hearing on book bans included testimony from Cameron Samuels, a Jewish advocate for access to books, along with numerous references to “Maus,” a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman about the Holocaust that was pulled from a Tennessee middle school curriculum last year.
PEN America, a literary free-speech advocacy group, welcomed Nosanchuk’s appointment.
“Book removals and restrictions continue apace across the country, as the tactics to silence certain voices and identities are sharpened,” the group said in a statement. “Empowering the coordinator to address this ongoing movement is critical.”
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