Intimate Connections: A rabbi, a columnist and a dating coach talk love

Three Chicago Jewish love and relationships experts dole out advice on dating, relating, and everything in between

Intimate Connections photo
Rabbi Josh Marder and wife, Laura; Harlan Cohen; Jason Silver

Move over, Steve Harvey. Chicago is home to three Jewish men doling out expert advice on dating, relating, and everything in between.

The Relationships Rabbi

Rabbi Josh Marder has made it his mission to bring true intimacy back into our lives. It's no surprise, then, that this rabbi and marriage and family therapist in one has become known as the "Relationships Rabbi."

"I am humbly honored to be referred to as the Relationships Rabbi. To me, it's a beautiful synthesis of the two worlds I am constantly striving to learn and share with the world: Torah and modern psychology," said 35-year-old Marder.

Along with his wife, Laura, (also a therapist) Marder runs Chicago YJP (Young Jewish Professionals), a division of the Lois & Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network, as well as seminars for singles and the newly married. He's also in private practice as a couples and marriage counselor.

Having settled in Chicago just over three years ago, Marder and his wife, observant Jews, are the parents of five children.The thread uniting his work is helping singles to young married couples find that connection they so deeply desire.

"We live in a world that is very disconnected and yet everyone is looking for connection -- especially the many young Jews in our community who are not connected or affiliated so they get lost," he said.Marder grew up in Florida, made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) as a teenager, and studied in both New York and Israel.

"I was in so many different places -- and had so many different experiences with a whole spectrum of people and cultures -- that it opened my mind to the human psyche and the multitude of emotional experiences life brings," he said.

Marder began as a grade-school therapist, where he quickly found out that most of the children's issues were really the parents' marital issues trickling down.

Thus began Marder's specialty: counseling couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy, a research-based program designed to help adults connect and improve emotional attachment.

Because what he has found is unlike fairytales where the story ends just when the couple ties the knot, in reality the real story -- and work -- begins within the bond of a committed, intimate relationship.

The only problem is many people today have no idea how to do that. "One thing [couples] know about marriage is that they don't want to add another notch in the alarming divorce rate, but they don't know what they do want out of their marriage or how to get there," said Marder.

That's probably why so many of the young couples Marder counsels come to him on the verge of divorce.

Through marriage counseling, workshops and his blog, Marder aims to help people cultivate the skills necessary "to create deep, intimate relationships and bonds" and to reach interdependence.

"I'm not promoting dependency," he said. "I am promoting interdependence as in 'I need you and you need me.' That is what Adam [in the Bible] knew and that is the divinely built genetic makeup of mankind."

The Advice Columnist

If you ask Harlan Cohen, the reason he got into the advice business was because he wanted answers for his own problems. ("I had many," he likes to say.)

What he quickly found out was that everyone had problems. And as a student at Indiana University, his advice column for the student newspaper took off and Cohen had to turn to real-life experts to help answer all the questions tumbling in.

Now, Cohen is the expert. In addition to being a nationally-syndicated advice columnist, he is the New York Times bestselling author of six books about everything from love to college life to parenting. He's also a popular speaker, including for many Jewish youth groups.

Cohen is also a nice Jewish boy who grew up on Chicago's North Shore and still lives in the area with his family.

"I'm an expert on life transitions," he said. "Transition is the richest and most delicate part of life and the most important part. There is birth then death and everything in between is transition, from being single to being in relationship to being in a couple to navigating children. My specialty is helping people get comfortable with the uncomfortable when they navigate through transitions."

His books, in particular, often stem from personal experience.

Take Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed & Totally Sober), which Cohen wrote based on the trials and tribulations (and ultimate transformation) he underwent in his 20s while looking for love.

"I've been rejected most of my life and dating was always very painful. I didn't understand why so many people were in relationships and I was single," recalled Cohen who now is married and has children.

So he decided to crack the code.

In Getting Naked, Cohen unveils the five steps singles must take to live in a world of opportunities, abundance, and options as opposed to scarcity, fear and avoiding pain.

"For most of us, dating is less about what we want and more about avoiding pain and rejection," he said.

What he discovered is finding true love hinges upon some deep inner work.

"Physically: I need to know I'm attractive enough; emotionally: I need to know I am good enough; spiritually: I need to know my life is fulfilling enough," he said. "We can't depend on someone else to complete us."

Embracing these truths will change your life, according to Cohen. And will make dating and relationships about "…giving someone an opportunity to participate in the most incredible thing in the world and that's you."

(Cohen was actually rejected by his wife on JDate before they met by chance at a UPS store in Chicago, where she apparently began to change her mind.)

Judaism has always been important to Cohen. "Judaism and Jewish values have always been an essential part of my life and my identity. It's a sense of belonging that is the opposite of rejection," he said.

But Cohen is something of an outsider in the advice business, following in the footsteps of greats such as Anne Landers and Dear Abby.

Which hasn't lessened his appeal. "Women find my advice comforting because I can share a little more insight into how the male mind works," he said.

And what about men? "Unlike women who have a sisterhood, men often do not have a lot of people they can safely communicate with. That's why men are very comfortable sharing things with me because there is no judgment and they don't have to put on a façade; I am going to help them," he said.

Because at the end of the day, Cohen's role is about much more than dispensing advice.

"I love that I'm here just to help people," he said.

The Dating Coach

Chicagoan Jason Silver has made it his mission to help singles find their one and only.

But unlike many of his dating and matchmaking counterparts out there today who focus on the external, Silver helps singles transform from the inside out.

"I help give my clients a new experience in dating that is individually tailored for each of them but whose ultimate goal is to find committed, healthy long term relationships," he said.

Silver, who is 34 and married, got into the business after many years of personal struggle.

It began as a teenager when he dug into his mom's spiritual books to help him shed extra pounds.

"I went through a spiritual journey to deal with the excess weight and I ended up learning a lot," recalled Silver who grew up in Buffalo Grove in an affiliated Jewish family.

His journey helped him lose a monumental 100 pounds, at which point he finally felt ready to date.

"For the first time in my life, I felt I could go out there but I didn't know how to deal with women or attract them," he recalled.

So he hit the spiritual books again and began applying their principles. To his surprise, he did attract a girlfriend. But he still didn't feel at peace.

"I thought if I lost the weight and got into a relationship I would be happy but instead, I was really unhappy and I gained back a bunch weight," he said.

So Silver took a dating break. He also started spending a lot of time with his Orthodox cousins in West Rogers Park.

"I felt this really peaceful loving energy from them," Silver said. "They invited me over for Shabbat the second I sat down to dinner and I saw their family interact, I thought, this is what I want."

He became fascinated in particular by the dating customs of Orthodox Jews. "I saw cousins dating one month before they got engaged and I thought, that is so irresponsible! You have to live with someone, right?"

That was then he went into "obsessive learning mode." By day he was working in Internet marketing, but at the Shabbat table and out in the world he was doing his own informal research.

"I am the inappropriate guy at the party who doesn't want to chit chat. I have a hard time with small talk and I unabashedly ask everyone questions," he said. "I would ask everyone I spoke with about their experience: how they met, how they dated, what the secret to the healthy, happy long-term relationship is," he said.

After speaking to 100 people, Silver reached some basic conclusions. "I learned that it's not just about interests, but about values. I also learned that people may say they value something but the best indicator of what they value is how they spend their time," he said.

Only a few weeks after absorbing these lessons, Silver met his wife, Kathy, on JDate. "I ended up picking the sweetest woman," he said about his wife, a school psychologist. "I was shocked this worked for me. I had spent so long learning that when I applied the principles, I met her in such a short amount of time."

Soon Silver started coaching his friends, to great success. "I started seeing some extraordinary results," he said.

Although passionate about his findings, he didn't realize that this could be a career. Until one day in his cubicle, Silver started Googling and discovered that there was a whole universe of professionals out there who help singles find love. On a whim, he flew to Miami for a matchmaker conference, which eventually led to him quitting his job and becoming first a successful matchmaker and then the director of a leading matchmaker-training institute.

Finally, in 2016, Silver decided to follow his true passion of coaching others.

As the CEO of We Just Match, Silver helps his single clients focus on increasing the quality of the match they attract. "I do this by helping them feel and be a more attractive version of themselves because the only way to attract a truly high quality match is by becoming a high quality match," he said.

Silver also hosts live workshops in Chicago on how to meet and attract higher quality matches. And he serves as one of Match.com's in-house educators.

While Silver's coaching is open to all, his approach is steeped in Jewish principles. "One of the Jewish principles I learned is to give more than you receive. If you're looking for someone, you want to develop that muscle of giving and appreciating the other person," he said.

But his coaching is all about taking personal responsibility. "When we begin to accept life as it is (versus how we wish it were), we can begin to focus on the next right action and be proactive in our own success and happiness," Silver said. "If we live in blame, frustration and anger, we usually attract more of that. What we focus on tends to get bigger."

"One of the Jewish principles I learned is to give more than you receive. If you're looking for someone, you want to develop that muscle of giving and appreciating the other person."

Jason Silver



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