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story.lead_photo.caption Austin Kevitch started the Lox Club at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. The Lox Club is a private dating app for members who show chutzpah. (The New York Times/Michelle Groskopf)

Just in time for the New Year, there's a new matchmaking service that promotes itself, half-seriously, as a "membership-based dating app for Jews with ridiculously high standards."

It's called the Lox Club, and to join, you have to make it past a committee that examines your ambition, Instagram persona and perceived authenticity.

A sense of humor also helps. The idea, after all, started as a joke.

"I was going through a breakup, and when I finally tried a dating app, I felt it was superficial and cringe-y," said Austin Kevitch, 29, a product designer in Santa Monica, Calif., who came up with Lox Club. "I thought it'd be cool to have one that's more self-aware for down-to-earth people -- the kind of people who make fun of dating apps. To my surprise, when I first launched it as a tongue-in-cheek website [in 2019], tons of people started applying."

I also had to try it. My application originally languished in purgatory, but once I identified myself as a reporter who was curious about the company -- and convinced the team that my dating standards are, indeed, high (what else could explain why I'm still single at 42?) -- I was accepted into the club. (Fees start at $36 for three months.)

Once users make it past the velvet rope, so to speak, they must enter their height and preferred age range, upload six images and answer a series of prompts, including "weirdest sext," "never have I ever," "bar/bat mitzvah theme" and "most neurotic thing about you."

I chose bat mitzvah theme (mine was Broadway musicals), but while Kevitch insists that the site is aimed at Jews, there's no verification process to prove you're down with dreidels. All sexual orientations and races are welcome, too.

"I don't consider myself a religious person, but I admire the cultural values of Judaism," he said. "It's like a deli: culturally Jewish, but anyone can enjoy it." (See: lox.)

Kevitch is as proud of his quirky branding strategy as he is of making a shidduch (Yiddish for "setup") for the app's users.

So who makes the cut under normal circumstances? Kevitch said his team is discerning.

"We spend a lot of time reading about your career and ambition, why you want to be in the community, and stalking your social media," he said.

"We're not looking for status, like who you want to invite to a dinner party," he added. "We're looking for people you'd bump into at a house party and end up talking to for hours."

The Lox Club now has 10,000 members and a two-week wait time for admission because every application is reviewed by a team of eight people, Kevitch said.

While the user experience is similar to Tinder and Jswipe (a popular dating app for Jewish singles) -- and the exclusivity recalls Raya (an invitation-only app where celebrities like John Mayer have reportedly sought love) or The League, a dating app aimed at ambitious, high-achieving young professionals -- the Lox Club is more playful in its interface.

To apply, you need to read a story about Kevitch's late grandparents, Morris Spielman and Josephine Kevitch, and their fictional speak-easy behind a deli. Then you have to find a password hidden within the text and agree to rules, including not to screenshot any photos of anyone on the app and "no speaking of the Lox Club outside of the establishment unless to refer a member." (Kevitch is a fan of immersive theater.)

The photo rule is to maintain the privacy of members who include, Kevitch said, executives, authors and singer-songwriters. (He would neither confirm nor deny that pop star Charlie Puth, who was spotted on the app by Deux Moi, a celebrity gossip account on Instagram, is in the club.)

The other unique element of the dating app is that there is a matchmaker available to all paying members, whom you can text to bolster your profile. (It took only 15 minutes for one to respond to me, though maybe that was because I am a reporter; our chat was friendly, fun and full of emoji.) I was told to swap out my last photo (too many sunglasses) and pick a more zoomed-in photo as my main profile picture.

"People are so surprised that they're texting a real human," Kevitch said of the matchmakers. "They'll help spruce up profiles and make prompts funnier or sound more honest or self-deprecating."

After all, he said, "everyone is more attractive with a sense of humor."

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