July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

I like to go to the movies,” Michael tells Deana. But enough about him. “Where,” he asks her, “did you go on your last vacation?”

Before she can answer, the bell rings. Michael’s off to the next table to meet another woman, and Deana is facing a new guy. The pair (no last names, please) and 18 other eligible men and women—members of the Jewish organization Aish Ha Torah—are in Maison Gourmet, a kosher Los Angeles coffeehouse, for Speed Dating, a cross between musical chairs and Love Connection designed to help singles find soulmates.

Organized by L.A. Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, 38, Speed Dating was begun in 1999 to encourage the single members of the group to date each other. Now the concept has crossed boundaries of religion, race and sexual preference and is popping up across the country. Participants spend seven minutes chatting, then fill out cards indicating whether they like their “date.” If there’s a match, organizers pass along the phone numbers.

Deyo, a North Andover, Mass., native who met wife Sue, 37, via a friend, says the process “helps people speed up their decision-making.” It may even weed out the creeps. Two complaints of impoliteness—such as ogling someone else—in an evening get a participant banned. Veterans of the singles scene may not be surprised to find that offenders tend to be guys. “Girls,” says Deyo, “wouldn’t do that.”

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