In June 2013 a group of eligible Jewish bachelors, expats from all over the world, waited in Hong Kong to meet the 22 single Australian Jewish women, who flew there to meet them. The first of it’s kind, an international match-making adventure was arranged by JJunction chief matchmaker, Michelle Lewis who approached Rabbi Asher Oser from Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong. Together with Carla Green, an Australian expat living in Hong Kong with her husband and two daughters and Vicky Gonda of Jetset Rose Bay they organised a girls long weekend in the bustling city of Hong Kong. The worst that could happen was that the 22 single girls would come back with a full suitcase from days spent shopping, some clarity around what they wanted in a partner and a new group of single girlfriends. At best some might meet the man of their dreams.
Leah Greengarten ventured to Hong Kong on a husband seeking holiday, here is the story of her adventure.
Diamond dealers, merchant bankers, entrepreneurs, property moguls and sex-shop proprietors… that’s just a selection of the 40 bachelors waiting in Hong Kong to meet the 22 single Australian Jewish women who have flown in looking for love.
Traditionally, a Jewish woman will only marry a Jewish man, but with Jews making up only 0.2 per cent of the world’s population – and just 112,000 living in Australia – finding Mr Right isn’t easy. And I should know. I’m Jewish, single and 31. I’ve only ever dated Jewish men, because I know that’s who I want to marry. It’s important to me (and my parents), because I want to raise my children the way I was, in a Jewish home. I’m not religious, but I am a traditional Jew, as are most of the women on this trip.
In Hong Kong there are a large number of Jewish expat men, and not enough Jewish women. For many Orthodox Jews, Jewish continuity is of paramount importance. If you choose not to marry a Jew, you can’t be married by an Orthodox rabbi in a synagogue.
When Asher Oser, rabbi of the Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong, became concerned about the number of Jewish men marrying out of the religion, the women of Australia offered a solution, and an idea was hatched. Together with Rabbi Oser, chief matchmaker Michelle Lewis from JJunction (a bespoke Jewish matchmaking agency based in Sydney that boasts 13 weddings in one year!) organised a long weekend away in the bustling Asian city for single Jewish women aged from early twenties to late thirties. We arrive late on the Thursday evening.
Our hotel in Lan Kwai Fong is slap-bang in the heart of the nightlife – there are three nightclubs and bars in the hotel alone. We are right by Wyndham Street, where revellers flood out onto the streets each evening, drinking tequila shots and cocktails. When we check in, we’re presented with a packet of earplugs and I realise I won’t be getting much sleep on this trip.
As we chat at breakfast the next day, I discover most of the women are active daters in their own cities, with brilliant stories to share. Every morning we exchange hilarious tales, gradually building up a blacklist of men in each respective community. One such tale is so funny that the rapture of our laughter raises the disapproving eyebrows of our fellow breakfasters, as one of the girls, Naomi, re-enacts one of her experiences – a blind date. She tells of how she’d planned to meet Paul at a local pub one evening. She was running late and couldn’t find a parking space when she arrived, so she drove past the pub calling out “Paul!” A gentleman walked over. Frazzled by the cars beeping at her to drive on while she tried to explain, she invited him to get in so they could look for parking together. The guy did and, after a few moments, asked her who she was. It turns out that while his name was Paul, he wasn’t the Paul she was meant to be meeting. After parking the car, Naomi made him walk back to the pub on the other side of the road so ‘her’ Paul didn’t think she was arriving to their date complete with a date – or worse, a chaperone.
The Jewish community being what it is, the story had already made its way to Shabbat tables all around town, leading to a chorus of “Oh my god, that was you?” from the other girls.
In the end, Naomi dated both Pauls – the ‘other’ Paul managed to track her down after the date story spread. Unfortunately, both relationships ended up being unsuccessful. Paul is, apparently, not Naomi’s lucky name.
Later, we’re eager to meet our future husbands and we head to the Ohel Leah Synagogue – a beautiful shul in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong Island – for a service. The name Ohel Leah commemorates Leah Sassoon, the mother of the Sassoon brothers, Jacob, Edward, and Meyer, who donated the land for building the synagogue. The Sassoons were among the earliest Jewish merchants from India to settle in Hong Kong during the mid to late 19th century, and a relative of these early settlers just happens to be one of the eligible bachelors on the program. After the service, we move on to a large dining room.
We enter the room and there are men everywhere! My roommate, Sara, comments, “It’s like an awkward school dance; girls on one side and boys on the other.” My friend Lauren tries to break the ice by referring to the “terrible kosher champagne” – it doesn’t go well, and she laughs awkwardly. A laugh I hear many times over the next few days. She’s forever happy and loves to engage a crowd with a good (dating) story, an embarrassing fall or an impromptu purchase.
We are seated at tables of six; three men and three women. After each course, the men move to the next table while the women stay where they are. It’s our first taste of Shabbat speed dating.
Throughout the evening, wine flows freely and we all loosen up and get to know one another. The conversations are interesting and intelligent; the men are very well-spoken, driven and successful. The dinner goes on past midnight, and a few carry on to the nightclubs.
I decide to go to bed and dissect our evening with my roommate. Both of us have had a positive experience, Sara commenting, “If you put a bunch of Australian Jewish guys in a room, the standard would have been completely different.”
On Saturday, the day of rest for Jewish people, we are able to go to shul if we want to – but most of the girls, being non-religious, skip it and head out shopping.
It may sound strange that I’m not religious, yet hope to marry a Jewish man. But for many of us, being Jewish isn’t just about a religion; it’s about the rich tapestry of traditions associated with it. We know that if we don’t marry a Jewish person, these traditions will slowly be lost. One of the girls comments that her dad is so keen for her to marry a Jew, he paid for her plane ticket!
That night, we attend a private party where we capitalise on the open bar. People start to become friendlier with one another, drifting off to the outskirts of the bar in pairs while others carry on dancing to nostalgic ’90s music.
Word has spread around Hong Kong that there are single Aussie girls in town and the men in the group have doubled in numbers – a whole new picking pool for us.
The party moves on to another bar, where we continue to dance the night away. The guy I was speaking to the whole evening suddenly does a disappearing act on me and I’m left looking for friends. I accidentally bump into a guy while wandering around the bar and he turns out to be Jewish and from Miami. There’s something I find very easy about hanging out with Jewish people I don’t know, so I’m drawn to him instantly.
When sheets of rain begin to pour down outside, I call it a night. Mr Miami walks me to my hotel, and we go our separate ways – after some non-kosher kissing and exchanging our details.
Next on the itinerary is a day out on Victoria Harbour. The shul has organised two luxury boats to take us out for the day – both boats are owned by people in the synagogue’s congregation. Now familiar with the men in the group, I ask them questions about their personal lives and what stage in life they’ve arrived at. Those who are new to Hong Kong are happy having fun, whereas the guys who have been away from home for years are looking to settle down – and, thankfully, a move to Australia isn’t off the cards. These are men who have experienced success but don’t have someone with whom to share it. For them, finding a Jewish partner is also very important.
After a day of leisure cruising on the harbour, it’s time to say our goodbyes – our stay all too brief. In the taxi back to the hotel, one of the girls, Freya, remarks, “It’s all been good fun, even if we didn’t walk away with a ring.” Our confidence is boosted and we’ve met some great people. Being single has never been so much fun!
None of us know whose flings will last or if relationships will blossom. Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure – what happens on tour, stays on tour… And to that end, all names – and potentially the outcomes of some of the girls’ interactions with the men – have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.