by Nancy A. Ruhling
There's nothing romantic about Nimrod Lev's Spartan wedding-white Manhattan office save the pin-up poster above his desk of a plump, pink Cupid poised to shoot his amorous arrow at any and all who enter.
Nimrod Lev, by his own admission, is a man who follows his heart, and most recently it was this very same cute, curly-haired Cupid-what a romantic rascal!-who led him from his native Israel all the way to the heart of Manhattan.
It was, as they say in Hollywood movies, a match made in heaven. Okay, in Lev's case, it's more like a match made on the Internet, specifically at JCupid.com, Cupid.co.il, and CupidUSA.com; for, the 32-year-old Lev is the CEO of Manhattan-based PointMatch USA Inc. and is co-founder of Israel-based PointMatch Ltd., the companies that run the trio of online dating sites that play matchmaker to hundreds of thousands of couples by replacing Cupid's arrow with the click of a computer mouse.
"We are dedicated to bringing Jewish singles together," Lev says. "We believe that a major contributor to intermarriages is the lack of natural meeting places for Jewish singles to interact. Providing such an environment that promotes the meeting and coming together of Jewish singles is essential for sustaining the Jewish identity and promoting the establishment of new Jewish families and homes. JCupid's mission is just that."
This mission, Lev says, is crucial when the latest statistics that point to the continuing decline of the American Jewish population are taken into consideration. According to the National Jewish Population Survey, conducted from August 2000 to August 2001 and released in September 2003, the American Jewish population has dropped from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.2 million.
The statistics on intermarriage are not encouraging either. The survey found that 47% of Jews who married since 1996 have married outside the faith, and two-thirds of the children of all intermarried parents are not being raised Jewish.
"Although Jewish organizations spend money on many different causes-and these are many good and worthy causes-few of them, if any, are addressing the problem of intermarriage directly," Lev says. "It's not that Jews don't want to marry Jews. It's that it is difficult for them to meet other Jews easily. JCupid.com recognizes this and has become the meeting place for thousands of Jewish singles."
Speaking of single Jews, before you get any ideas, ladies, the tall, handsome, raven-haired Lev with the soulful hazel eyes isn't one. He met his wife, Efrat, a pediatric resident who looks like a runway model, long before his first online dating site, the Tel Aviv-based Cupid.co.il, was even a gleam in Cupid's all-seeing eye. "Everyone always asks me whether we met online," Lev says, as he calls up a computer portfolio of the latest photos of his 2-year-old daughter, Noam. "We met on a double date. It was pure luck."
But, not to worry, he says, there are other guys, single guys, out there, waiting in the wings for Cupid to make you lucky, too. Just look at the numbers: Cupid.co.il, the largest and most successful online dating site in Israel, has more than 700,000 members; the U.S.-based JCupid.com is the second largest Jewish online dating site, besting its 170 competitors; and CupidUSA.com, which caters to daters of all faiths, was recently launched with some 800,000 users.
With the sites, Lev says, you don't have to wait for Cupid's arrow to strike; all you have to do is click your mouse to find a prospective mate. To prove his point, he logs onto JCupid.com and scrolls through hundreds of bios from around the world of people, aged 18 to 80, who are looking for love.
"Unlike other online dating sites, on ours you can do almost everything for free," he says, adding that the only fees-$24.95 for one month, $49.95 for three months, $74.95 for six months and $99.95 for a year-are "success" fees. Unlike other online dating services, users pay only if they want to respond to someone who has shown an e-mail interest in them.
Then he clicks on the testimonials, the hundreds of stories that play out the classic boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy marries girl and they all live happily ever after, thanks to this 21st century online technological twist.
There is the blurb from Lissa and Tzvi, who can't believe that "e-mail could change my life like this." And the longer e-mail communication from Isaac, who met and married Debbie "after a year and a half of courtship and traveling back and forth from Israel to Miami That picture of Debbie in your file just sent an arrow through my heart. We both wanted to thank you deeply for the service that you are providing and the relative low cost in finding the spouse of your dreams."
Lev reads the note and grins, adding that these stories are what compel him to work around the clock. His favorite, however, comes from one of his first clients, an Israeli woman who found her soul mate on Cupid.co.il when few Israelis even knew what the Internet was. He still keeps one of her original letters-in Hebrew-on his desk. She had met some 50 men through the dating service and just when she thought she was going to give up, she found Mr. Right.
"She used to call me all the time, this was when the idea of the Internet and online dating were new," Lev says. "It was really important for me that she found someone. She was 40 when she started looking, and when we last communicated, she said that they were discussing marriage. I never knew what happened, so a few months ago I went online and started snooping around and found out that they had gotten married and they now have a 3 1/2-year-old daughter. That's really heart-warming for me."
Lev is not only lucky in love, he also is lucky in work. After graduating from The College of Management, School of Media Studies in Tel Aviv with a Bachelor's degree in communications and management, he took a job as the first online editor of Tel Aviv-based Walla Communications Ltd., which subsequently became the leading Internet portal in Israel. "This was when the Internet was in its infancy in Israel," he says. "I didn't know anything about the Internet. I didn't know anything about Walla. I didn't even have a computer at home, so I went to my college and someone helped me log on, and I saw the potential."
It was through Walla, which managed dozens of Internet sites for a variety of big businesses in Israel, that Lev was introduced to Cupid.co.il. "One of our clients, Zion Madmon, had been hired to create a website for an off-line dating service and when the dating service went out of business, he wanted to do something with the software. So we created Cupid.co.il," Lev says. "I worked on several sites for various Walla clients, but this was my favorite."
The idea of online dating seemed so far-fetched that everyone thought Lev was crazy when in 1999 he left Walla, where he had a large package of stock options that had the potential to make him rich, to work full-time on Cupid.co.il. With financing from Mapal Communications, which is owned by Tammy Moses and Nadav Palti and from Rafael Zarfati, a partner in one of the leading advertising agencies in Israel, Lev and Madmon founded PointMatch Ltd. Later, Yedioth Achronot, Israel's largest daily newspaper, joined them.
"In Israel at this time, meeting people online sounded like something from a science fiction movie. When we held events to promote the site, people looked at us like we had landed from Mars," Lev says. "But for me, it was crystal clear why this service was a revolution. It had all the advantages over traditional off-line dating-it was convenient, you could do it at home, privately, anytime you wanted and you could search for exactly the type of person you wanted to meet."
Indeed, the Israeli site became so successful so quickly that by 2001 Lev and his family were settled in Manhattan so he could open the second site-JCupid.com -and get set for the 2003 launch of CupidUSA.com. It was not an easy move. Although Lev had visited the United States several times and was familiar with New York City, his wife had never been there.
"Our daughter was three months old at the time, we had just gut-renovated our apartment near Tel Aviv, we lived only blocks from my mother, and my wife had just started her residency in the best pediatric hospital in Israel," he says. "My wife had to restudy in New York for a year before she could get a residency here."
For Lev, who is in his office 24/7, it all is a labor of love. "I consider myself lucky because I not only like what I do, but I believe in what I'm doing," he says. "Our companies are like one big family; we started from nothing-we had only two employees in the beginning and it was only a short time before we had 35 total in Israel and in New York. JCupid.com and Cupid.co.il are both successful, and they are making a profit. We are always working on making the sites more interactive to further take advantage of our innovative technology-audio, video, and access through cellular phones and PDAs. We've always been leaders in the field; we've always been at least a step ahead of our competitors, and we will continue to do what we do best: introduce people worldwide in the most efficient way."
Ironically enough, it was war-not love-that prepared Lev for his career and reinforced his belief in promulgating the Jewish faith via Jewish marriages. Military service is compulsory in Israel-women serve two years and men three. Lev, however, opted to serve five: three years as a paratrooper in a combat unit and then two years in charge of an intelligence unit that focused on anti-terrorist tactics. Today, he is a captain in the reserves.
"When you walk 60 miles with 40 pounds on you, everything else looks easy," he says. "I wish that young people didn't have to go through this. At this age-after high school graduation-they should be thinking about chasing down dates not about chasing terrorists. But I know that until we find peace, everyone has to contribute to Israel's safety. We're defending Israel so Jews all over the world will have a place to feel safe. This is one of the reasons we need to do whatever we can to bring Jews together."
Lev says that he is happy that his on-line matchmaking, in its own small way, is helping to do this.
"Whatever you do, don't give up on looking for someone to love," he says. "There is someone out there for you."