CoronaCrush seeks to spark romance amid isolation

digital dating

The Facebook group, launched by a group of friends in New York and Israel, helps facilitate dates via Zoom

Last week, Ariela Abesera was on a date, watching the sunset from the balcony of her Tel Aviv apartment. The 28-year-old, who works at insurance startup Lemonade, was drinking tea; her date was having wine. The conversation was going well. Pretty standard as far as dates go, except for one thing: They weren’t actually together.

The date, which took place virtually on FaceTime, had been arranged through a private Facebook group called “CoronaCrush — creating Jewish couples in quarantine,” launched about a week ago by a group of friends in New York and Israel. 

Its tagline? “Swipe right and sanitize.”

The coronavirus has upended life in countless ways — and dating is no exception, particularly in Israel, where people are prohibited from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes. CoronaCrush seeks to address this issue by helping Jewish singles who are stuck at home maintain some connection to romance, according to Bracha Katsof, who created the group with five other friends. 

“The whole goal of the group is really for people to meet each other, go out on Zoom dates, and potentially turn it into a serious relationship,” Katsof, 29, told Jewish Insider. “And to do it in a fun way with a little bit of humor.”

Appropriately, the idea for CoronaCrush was borne out of Zoom. About a week ago, Katsof was hanging out with friends on the video conferencing service when the discussion veered toward dating in an age of isolation. 

They had all seen a Facebook group that was helping Jewish university students go on virtual dates amid the pandemic, and they figured they could launch a similar service but for a slightly older and more international Jewish audience.

Since its launch, the private group has grown considerably, with more than 2,600 members as of this writing, including people in France, England, South America, New York, California and Israel.

For the most part, group members have been posting about their friends and inviting those who are interested to reach out to them directly. It’s hard to create the atmosphere of a date without an in-person meeting, but members have been doing their best.

“A bunch of girls are having proper Zoom dates,” Katsof told JI, explaining that some men had gotten meals delivered to their dates’ homes via Wolt — a food delivery app popular in Israel — in an attempt at digital chivalry. 

“I’m still waiting for someone to order me sushi,” said Katsof, who has posted her own profile in the group. She has yet to go out on a date via CoronaCrush, though not because she hasn’t been asked on one. “My inbox is flooded.”

Bracha Katsof

Ben Lang, who helped create the group — and is the man behind International Hummus Day — said he and his friends have been trying to help members set the mood. Recently they shared a post instructing users on how to change their Zoom backgrounds — to a lake, for example — in order to conjure a more romantic setting.

“I think people are just really enjoying it because they’re going on a dating experience but on a more social, connected platform,” said Lang, who is 26 and works at a technology company. “And people are craving that right now.”

So far, there are no success stories, though Katsof said she is certain that some matches on CoronaCrush will result in marriage. “I’ll be really happy,” she told JI.

As for Abesera, her balcony date started out well, but when they began discussing their political and religious beliefs, they realized they didn’t have much in common. “It was kind of like, you seem great but, you know,” she said. They haven’t talked since. 

Still, Abesera believes that, in spite of everything, it’s a good time to be dating.

“At first, I got a little nervous thinking this might be a pause on my dating life,” she said. “But I really think this — maybe not for me personally but maybe for other people — could result in a lot of success stories.”

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