On Loop, an ancient matchmaking tradition becomes modern
The new dating app allows users to set up their friends, touching off a wave of excitement across the Jewish community
Lisa Babich has already secured her place in Olam HaBa, or “the world to come” — at least according to the Jewish maxim that making three successful matches brings the matchmaker a spot in heaven.
Babich, 37, is not an official shadchanit, or Jewish matchmaker, by profession. But as the wife of a rabbi at a large synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she tries to set up young Jewish singles whenever she can. She’s part of a matchmaking tradition that dates back centuries, one she is helping to bring further into the modern era as an early adopter of the new dating app Loop.
Launched in May, Loop is an online dating platform that bills itself as “the set up network.” Unlike popular dating apps like Tinder or Hinge or Jswipe, where users are met with a seemingly endless series of matches given to them by an algorithm, singles on Loop can only see friends in their network, and friends of those friends. (People who are in relationships are also encouraged to join the app to help match up their single friends.)
“I always say I wish I knew more guys, or I wish I knew more girls,” Babich said. “Then suddenly I have all these profiles, and it’s really great that I can browse through my friends’ people, and then her friends’ people. You definitely meet people and you make connections.” Within weeks of launching, the app took off in the Orthodox Jewish community.
The app’s founders insist that Loop holds widespread appeal. But the three — all Jewish — say the app taps into their own ancient tradition, as well as other dating traditions from around the world. There’s no better cultural moment for Loop to land in, after millions of people tuned into the Netflix reality shows “Indian Matchmaking” and “Jewish Matchmaking.”
“This is really about bringing Jewish wisdom to the world,” said Moriya Blumenfeld, Loop’s CEO and co-founder. “We love the idea of aunties in Indian culture and shadchans in Jewish culture, but a matchmaker could be a friend. It could be a peer. They could be single, they could be not single. It could be your family.”
Early users of Loop say that if it catches on, it has the possibility of being a game-changer — Loop combines the options and convenience of online dating with the trust and comfort built-in to connections made by a friend or family member.
“The algorithm is a human algorithm,” said Joey Barr, a 27-year-old in Cambridge, Mass., who is using the app both to set up friends and to find someone for himself. “There’s no lines of code pushing anyone on me.”
On the app, users are given a prompt to set up a friend. From there, they can look to their own list of single friends — or to “friends of friends,” a much longer list where the user can both see the name and photo of the single person, as well as the mutual connection.
Like other dating apps on the market, Loop shows a photo first. But the user must click through to get any other information, where the potential match has filled in an “About” section listing a short biography, as well as other personal traits such as age, job, religion and politics. Each person also fills out a “looking to meet” section.
Overall, there’s less information than one might find on other apps. That’s by design: “On Loop, the person in the middle becomes the filter,” said Loop’s president, Lian Zucker, who with her brother, Loop’s Chief Technology Officer Adam Zucker, is a co-founder of the app.
In the nearly three months since Loop appeared on the App Store, it has been downloaded more than 13,000 times, and more than 2,000 set-ups have been made on the app, according to its founders. The company has not yet done any paid marketing, instead attributing the early growth purely to word-of-mouth.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for a new dating app is reaching a critical mass of users so that singles on the app have access to enough potential matches to keep them interested. Loop has a long way to go before hitting that point. Within the Modern Orthodox Jewish community, where the desire to meet one’s spouse and start a family is particularly strong, Loop is already starting to reach that point.
“The Orthodox community is by and large organized around the family structure, which is very beautiful,” said David Bashevkin, director of education at NCSY, an Orthodox youth group. “The downside of that is that for people who are not in a committed relationship, people who are divorced, people who don’t have children, you can feel [that it is] more challenging to find your place within established Orthodox communities.”
Bashevkin, who is married, joined Loop in the hopes of making matches for others. “I wish I had more time and capacity to spend every morning on Loop setting up my friends. I love the idea,” he said.
Nina Sivan, 24, has lived in New York City for seven years, the last 18 months of which she has spent on the Upper West Side. For a Modern Orthodox woman hoping to find a husband, there is perhaps no better place to do so — with access to plenty of synagogues and kosher food options, and an infinite number of Shabbat meals where one might cross paths with a future spouse. But that’s not necessarily how it works in real life.
“A bigger community does not necessarily mean it’s easier to meet people. Usually it means there’s already set friend groups, or you show up and you know certain people so those are the people you spend time with,” Sivan told Jewish Insider.
Sivan, who considers herself on the liberal end of Modern Orthodoxy, has used JSwipe and Hinge — both of which allow users to filter for Jewish matches — to little success. She sometimes asks married friends if they have anyone to set her up with. Often, they’ll look through their Facebook friends, pointing out men Sivan might date.
“It’s hard to know, are those people even single? Or, I don’t know what they’re up to in life, or where they live,” said Sivan. She downloaded Loop a few weeks ago after a friend mentioned it to her.
“It’s very helpful to know who’s actually single and who’s not, and then also get to see who your friends are,” she explained. “And you’re like, ‘Oh, my good friend knows this person who looks familiar, but I wouldn’t have thought to set them up.’” She went on one date from the app that was pleasant but ultimately didn’t work out, and set up a friend on a date that went well.
In its early days, Loop’s users are still figuring out exactly how to use the app. There’s no swiping, as opposed to other dating apps. (Tinder, which pioneered the concept, was first unveiled in 2012.) To encourage real-life meetings — and discourage the addictive swiping that keeps people on other apps — Loop does not have a messaging feature. Any match must occur over text message, because Loop’s founders wanted to solve a problem they saw in other dating apps: the conversation graveyard.
“A lot of the time you get ghosted. A lot of the time, nothing happens from these conversations. It’s basically become an entertainment mechanism,” said Blumenfeld. “Here, there’s a friend in the middle who has the best interests of both people in mind.”
While that might be nice in theory, the lack of the ability to message on the app makes it hard for the matchmaker in the middle to respond to a friend’s request.
“When a guy or girl will say no to me if I don’t have their number outside of Loop, then [I can’t] talk to them about it and try to encourage it,” said Babich. She has relayed her concerns to Blumenfeld, who spoke recently at a singles lunch at Fifth Avenue Synagogue, Babich’s congregation.
Outside of New York’s Orthodox community, Loop is still finding its footing. Goldie Davoudgoleh, a Jewish Boston native who is not Orthodox, downloaded Loop after learning about it from a New York-based friend.
“I haven’t spent so much time or mental capacity on it, I think because it has less of a presence here,” said Davoudgoleh, who is 25. “I think if it becomes more popular, maybe in my geographical community, and I see that a lot more people I know start to link or Loop with me, then I might be more inclined to look in their network and see who I can connect with.”
Loop’s belief in the power of networks comes with what could be a challenge for some: Users are limited by their networks and the people in their communities. Barr, who is gay, noted that many of his friends in the Boston area are straight, so his Loop network does not provide him with many options.
“A lot of the people that they know are also straight. So that’s certainly one downfall I’m finding for myself right now,” he explained. Barr pointed out that filtering by location is also difficult. Friends have tried on multiple occasions to set him up with men in New York, where he does not want to live.
But he and Davoudgoleh both said they plan to stay on the app, and encouraged friends to download it. It isn’t just about finding a match for themselves: They want to set up their friends, too.