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Meet, pray, love: Florida retreat helps singles ease into the Jewish holidays

“It set a very good foundation for me to start out the year,” said attorney Sara Shulevitz-Vorhandin, who attended the Rosh Hashanah program in Miami Beach in 2017.

Miami Beach, Fla. Credit: Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock.
Miami Beach, Fla. Credit: Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock.

This High Holiday season, Jewish singles will seek soulmates in Miami Beach, Fla., in between shofar blasts and dipping apples in honey.

Sam Intrator, a Modern Orthodox rabbi, is planning the latest iteration of his annual High Holiday events, which his organization KavanahLife Singles has hosted in Miami Beach since 2017.

Singles will gather for Rosh Hashanah from Sept. 15-17 at the Holiday Inn Miami Beach-Oceanfront. The organization has also hosted singles events in Phoenix and Baltimore, although it hosted no events—High Holidays or otherwise—in 2020 and 2021, due to COVID-19.

This year, Intrator will also host a Yom Kippur singles retreat in Miami Beach.

‘Third wheels’

Intrator hopes to accomplish two things with the retreats.

Foremost, he wants single Jews to meet one another. “They will have ample opportunity to meet lots of people over the course of 48 hours, so they can survey the room and connect with each other,” he told JNS. “Through very creative singles programming, they get to meet fellow singles and they learn about the holiday.”

He also hopes to engage singles, many of whom have lamented that they struggle during Jewish holidays, sometimes feeling like third wheels. 

“I want to create an environment where singles feel comfortable with new beginnings in the new year and start out with a bang with happiness and joy,” he said.

At previous events he has hosted, men and women have networked and formed friendships and business connections. While marriage is admittedly a long-term goal, Intrator is interested in gathering people together to see what comes out of it.

“It’s a variety of different experiences that are created for singles,” Intrator said. “It’s multipurpose and it becomes a community of its own that continues as people stay in touch throughout the year.”

Making all feel comfortable

Most retreat attendees hail from South Florida and the northeast part of the country, but attendees have also come from other states, as well as the United Kingdom, Mexico, South America and Israel. Participants come from a range of backgrounds—Modern Orthodox, Chassidic, yeshivish, Reform, Conservative, and, of course, unaffiliated.

Rabbi Sam Intrator. Credit: Courtesy.

The program includes five kosher meals, with ample time for socializing and moving around the room to meet one another. Discussions focus on how the holiday’s spiritual teachings can have particular meaning for singles.

Prayer services are also varied. A large, traditional Orthodox service is presented in the musical style of Shlomo Carlebach, as well as a 90-minute, egalitarian explanatory service with mixed seating.

“We’re sensitive to the Reform and Conservatives, and their needs, and we’re creating an environment that makes all feel comfortable,” Intrator told JNS. “It is an abridged service that includes reading and singing, the liturgy, shofar-blowing and Torah-reading, as well as much explanatory commentary, including explaining the deeper and contemporary meaning of the service.”

Singing and dancing take place at both of the services, which encourage participation, and the retreat also includes tashlich, a ceremony where sins are ritually cast away into the water—in this case, along the beach.

Miami attorney Sara Shulevitz-Vorhand attended the 2017 Rosh Hashanah program. She got married the following year and now has a child. Although she didn’t meet her husband at the event, she told JNS that Intrator’s positivity at the beginning of the year “carried on with me through the year.”

“It set a very good foundation for me to start out the year, and I recommend every Jewish single in Miami or around the world to attend this program,” she said.

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