Shapira began piloting JFiix in Israel a couple of years ago and it was launched recently in the United States and Canada with an English version. (screenshot)
In 1996, at a time when not everyone had a home computer, Joe Shapira started a dating website – JDate. Today, very few people in the Jewish community have not heard of it. Since its inception, it has been embraced by Jews around the world.
“When I started in the online dating business, I was one of the pioneers of this business on the internet,” Shapira told the Independent. “And I never anticipated it would become such a big business.
“There were a few other dating sites when I started. I hired the programmer and we launched the very first dating site where you could define your preferences. We started marketing and it took off like a fire.”
Shapira was living in Los Angeles at the time. From a conversation with a friend about the difficulty of meeting other Jews in a place where the majority of people are not Jewish came the idea of JDate. Shapira wanted to help Jews meet other Jews, reduce the rate of intermarriage and help ensure Jewish continuity.
Born in Tel Aviv, Shapira went to a technical high school before serving in the army. After he finished his army service, he became an entrepreneur. Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he stayed for some 30 years before moving back to Israel several years ago to spend more time with his kids.
“I think that people, in general, adapted well to the internet dating world,” said Shapira. “It’s a very highly used internet service. I think, in the Jewish community, the need was there. You live in a certain community and, pretty much by the time you’re 25, your connection – whether it’s your mother, grandmother or through mutual friends – we’re expected to meet a Jewish mate there. It’s ingrained in us. But, sometimes, you just exhaust your ability.
“The internet became more and more [popular and] … the style of work that most people do [changed]. You used to meet more people at work and talk to people on the phone. Now, you don’t even go out to the stores to a certain extent. Instead of telephones, we use email or texting. The lifestyle of people created less interaction with others and the Jewish community had a distinct need.”
Although, technically, Shapira launched JDate in Los Angeles, he was quick to point out that it has always been accessible around the world. In fact, the first marriage through a JDate interaction was in Caracas, Venezuela.
“If you are single and looking and you found JDate somehow, you’re going to tell your friends,” said Shapira. “We Jews are a close-knit community. I loved JDate, because of my concern for Jewish continuity, but I left the company in 2006, before smartphones and Facebook.”
Over the last few years, Shapira has been noticing a gap in communication that computer-based sites are still struggling with – that younger people do all their communication via smartphones, not on laptops or in front of computer screens.
“Millennials use the smartphone more than desktop computers,” said Shapira. “You go to work and you have a desktop computer. You work on your laptop at home. Unless you are in your 20s … then, you use your iPhone for everything.”
Internet dating is “a lifestyle thing,” he said. For someone in their 20s, “online dating is like emailing or texting – very natural. When I started JDate 20 years ago, it was not completely natural. In Israel, it took awhile before it caught on.”
Because Jewish online dating sites were not adapting well to mobile phones, Shapira found that millennial Jews were going to non-Jewish sites and this raised again his concern for Jewish continuity. Hence, he started JFiix.
“If you look at the landscape, you have Tinder on one end of the spectrum and the hookup app,” said Shapira. “And then you have apps like JDate or Match.com that are just a smaller [version] of a website.
“One of the big advantages of having an app is you’re always available. You remember JDate – if you wanted to contact someone, you sent them a message and then it took them two to five days to reply. With a mobile, if a woman contacts you, you decide in seconds.”
Shapira began piloting JFiix in Israel a couple of years ago and it now has about 250,000 users. It was launched only recently in the United States and Canada with an English version.
“We are at the stage of acquiring the user base and marketing,” said Shapira. “I think it will be another four months before [we reach] a critical mass of users.”
Shapira promises to wow users with the app’s complex technology, which includes a matchmaker feature. “The matches we select for you are based on the people that you’ve had good communication or chats with,” he said. “We also do a deep learning of photos you submit, so we know your type. People are usually attracted to the same type.”
With JFiix, no nudity or provocative clothing is allowed. The software monitors what people write in their profiles and analyzes the chats, removing any inappropriate content in a manner that is several notches above the competition.
“The purpose of this is to maintain a very positive community, a positive customer experience,” said Shapira. “We can’t prevent non-Jews from being a part of it, as it would be illegal to discriminate based on religion, just as a synagogue can’t prevent non-Jews from joining. However, we provide certain features, especially for women. For instance, women can define who can see them – age, distance, religion – as, when you register, one of the data collected is if you’re Jewish or not. A woman can say she wants only Jews.”
JFiix communities in Canada, so far, include Toronto and Montreal, with only a few individuals in Vancouver, a community he’d like to see grow to allow JFiix to work best.
“I think we provide a very good solution for millennial Jews,” said Shapira. “With the continuity of the Jewish community so important to the Jewish people, I hope I will be able to make a dent in intermarriage’s growing numbers. I think most Jews want to marry a Jew to continue the tradition. In saying that, I hope to, at the very least, help some Jews find Jewish soulmates.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.