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Mother knows best

Jewish dating app lets parents with a yen for grandkids set up adult children

JustKibbitz combines 21st century technology and Jewish moms’ tried-and-true yenta instincts to match offspring for a little light conversation, or prepaid first dates

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A child climbs onto the 'Ahava'/Love statue in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on December 21, 2006. In 1978, the American artist, Robert Indiana, created a 13-foot-tall steel sculpture. (Lara Hart /Flash90)
A child climbs onto the 'Ahava'/Love statue in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on December 21, 2006. In 1978, the American artist, Robert Indiana, created a 13-foot-tall steel sculpture. (Lara Hart /Flash90)

Jewish moms often think they know best when it comes to who their adult children should date. Now they have their chance to prove it.

A new Jewish dating app called JustKibbitz allows mothers to set up profiles for their sons and daughters and find potential matches for them. First the moms connect, and if they both think that their kids would like one another, they set up a first date for them. And to take the pressure off, the moms can choose to pay for the date, as well.

Although moms are involved, JustKibbitz CEO and co-founder Jeffrey Kaplan emphasized in a recent phone interview with The Times of Israel that it’s not a marriage matchmaking site.

“‘No pressure. Just kibbitz,’ is our brand,” Kaplan said. (In Yiddish, “kibbitz” can mean having a light conversation.)

JustKibbitz.com founder Jeffrey Kaplan (Courtesy)

No doubt, Jewish mothers are generally serious about wanting their children to find a permanent suitable and loving Jewish spouse. But JustKibbitz is merely focused on helping young adults take that first step toward getting to know a potential mate.

Sam Leach, who is pursuing a PhD in chemical and biological engineering in Chicago, said he is excited to see who his mom Jodie Leach will set him up with through the web-based app. In fact, it was Sam, 27, who encouraged his mother to sign up for JustKibbitz immediately after hearing about it from his married sister Hannah Leach Oberholtzer.

“I’m already very close with my mom and talk to her about everything, so I figure why not get her help with dating? Plus I think she’ll probably enjoy getting a window into a part of my life that she doesn’t know that much about. It sounds like a bonding experience,” said Sam, who is gay. (JustKibbitz is inclusive and welcomes LGBTQ individuals.)

Jodie Leach (right) with her son Sam Leach and daughter Hannah Leach Oberholtzer (Courtesy of Jodie Leach)

Suzi Finer from Valley Glen, California, said she was eager to step in and find potential matches for her 27-year-old son Ben Finer, a buyer at a large distribution company and a professional classical singer.

“He’s been very busy with his work and hasn’t been out there looking for dates. And now with COVID young people can’t even meet at parties,” Finer lamented.

Ben Finer (Courtesy of Suzi Finer)

Finer made a point of mentioning that her son is 6 feet 2 inches tall, physically fit and career driven. She expects Ben to possibly “put up a bit of a fuss” about her creating a profile for him on JustKibbitz, but she is confident he will go out with women she matches him with.

“I’m very skeptical about it, but I trust my mom’s intuitions and will see what comes from this,” Ben said.

JustKibbitz founder Kaplan, 34, said he came up with the idea in 2013 while visiting his family in south Florida. He discovered that his mother had created a “fake” profile for his brother on Jdate. Women responded, and Kaplan’s mom interacted with them.

“I thought the idea was so funny. And then I heard that other moms and aunts were doing this,” said Kaplan, who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and baby son. (Kaplan said he met his wife the old-fashioned way: At a Jewish frat party at college.)

Kaplan has a masters degree in entrepreneurship from the University of Florida and works in the start-up and app development field. He said he saw business potential in moms finding “a bizarre workaround” to the problem of their kids not going on dates in pursuit of a long-term relationship.

How JustKibbitz introduces itself to users. (Screenshot)

“I realized that maybe there was a market here. After all, couples being set up through friends and family is the oldest way people meet. This just hadn’t become an online thing yet,” Kaplan said.

In doing market research, Kaplan discovered that 65-70% of Millennials are now on dating apps. He then interviewed more than 100 people in that age group. Fifty percent said they would go out on a coffee or drink date set up by their mother, and a whopping 92% responded they would go out on such a date if it was prepaid.

“There was a definite mindset shift there. The fact that you will not be out any money makes you say, ‘Why not? I have nothing to lose,'” noted Kaplan, who took out a patent on the option for the moms setting up the date to split the cost of a gift card or voucher for a local establishment.

“I think that is a cool option,” said Jodie Leach, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband of 32 years.

JustKibbitz tells it like it is in its marketing to Jewish moms. (Screenshot)

Fortunately for Leach, it was her son Sam who suggested joining JustKibbitz. Other adult children may not be as initially enthusiastic, so the app’s terms and conditions require moms (or any relative or friend) creating a profile for someone to get their consent first. JustKibbitz even provides some pointers on how to convince adult children to give the required go-ahead.

Kaplan and a business partner initially bootstrapped the app’s development, and continued to fund the venture with $150,000 they won in a local pitch competition in September 2019. Currently, JustKibbitz is US-based and focused on the US, Canada, the UK and Israel markets. However, if Kaplan can come up with enough cash in the next funding round, JustKibbitz could expand by hiring employees in Israel.

Right now, moms can sign up on the JustKibbitz waiting list at JustKibbitz.com. According to Kaplan, he doesn’t want to make the app fully operational until there is a critical mass of sign ups, which he expects will happen soon.

“We don’t want to disappoint a mother searching for a match for her child using specific parameters, and for her to find that there are no or very few matches,” Kaplan explained.

An example of the fun, saucy language used on the JustKibbitz dating app. (Screenshot)

Once the app is completely functional, moms will be able to create profiles for themselves and their children, and to search for free. They will need to buy a monthly membership in order to message another mother, and press the “kibbitz button” to connect their children so they can chat online and decide if they want to meet in person. If the mothers choose the prepaid date option, the children will proceed straight to the date and receive a prompt on their phones for an ice breaker-type interaction that will unlock the gift card when they meet.

At first, the profiles will include only basic information, including geographic region, age, sexual orientation and level of religious observance. Future iterations of the app will ask for more details, depending on feedback from users.

Jodie Leach is not hiding the fact that she’s looking forward to Jewish grandchildren to whom her son Sam can pass on the core values he learned from growing up in a close-knit Reform Jewish family.

“A person’s Jewish background is very important. You want a similar level of observance,” said Suzi Finer, who also raised her son Ben in the Reform tradition.

Esther Levy (Courtesy)

Esther Levy, 25, grew up in a Modern Orthodox family in Los Angeles and would ideally like to find a husband who observes Jewish law as she does. But with the dating scene as tough as it is, she is open to being flexible.

Levy now lives in Tel Aviv after serving in the Israel Defense Forces and completing a degree in political science and sustainability at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Although she has yet to personally use dating apps, she thought JustKibbitz was a good fit for religious Jews seeking a match, and would consider using it in the future.

She also thought that secular American Jews would use it for finding a first date, but that Israelis would be less enthusiastic about being set up by their moms.

“I’ve found that young Israelis — although they are close with their families — are more independent in terms of making decisions concerning their personal life,” Levy said.

Levy said she couldn’t imagine her mom — who has good taste in men but is very busy — having time for JustKibbitz. Nonetheless, she’ll mention it to her when she is ready. Levy definitely sees the benefits of having her mom search for dates for her.

“Less work for me!” Levy exclaimed.

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