In an era of swiping left and right and sliding into DMs, some singles are still looking to do things the old-fashioned way.
Enter the matchmakers.
Around 100 shadchanim gathered in Jerusalem on Sunday for the “1st International Jewish Matchmaking Conference,” aimed at sharing knowledge, tips, guidance and expanding the networks of those in the business of love.
Co-hosted by Rabbi Yisroel Bernath of Montreal and new Israeli immigrant Aleeza Ben Shalom – the star of the upcoming Netflix reality show “Jewish Matchmaking” – the event brought together veterans and newbies, as well as those who matchmake as a career and those who do so on a volunteer basis.
“When we build couples, we build community, and when we build community, we build the world,” said Ben Shalom at the outset of the event.
Hosted at the Nefesh B’Nefesh central Jerusalem campus in conjunction with SawYouAtSinai and JMatchmaking, the event was unsurprisingly attended largely by those living in Israel, though it also included some from the US, UK and one matchmaker from Riga, Latvia.
Ben Shalom said while they were starting out in Jerusalem, the organizers have plans to “go to New York and LA and Miami and London, and we’d like to bring matchmakers across the world together – and take this cohort and combine them with others, so that we can really be the largest matchmaking group together.”
While the event was billed for those working with both “secular and religious singles,” the crowd gathered appeared to be mostly religious, with about half leaning more ultra-Orthodox and half closer to Modern Orthodox, though several said they worked with a wider range. About 95% of attendees were women, and the majority were married, although a handful were single.
Bernath – known to some as the “Love Rabbi” – told those gathered that the common Jewish concept of bashert, generally defined as soulmate, does not mean every person has only one predestined match.
“The definition that we’ve come up with is the person who you are both compatible with and who takes you to your divine purpose… someone who will help you become a better person,” said Bernath. “Meeting your soulmate is divinely orchestrated, and people helping along your journey is exactly what our model is here for you to do.”
Building on the cliche of “two Jews, three opinions,” it was clear Sunday that if you gather 100 matchmakers, you’ll end up with 150 opinions.
The audience discussed and debated a variety of touchy topics, including how much pressure to apply to singles, how long to advise couples to date pre-engagement, how much information should be shared before a first date, and whether singles should date more than one person at a time.
Engaged couple Jeremy Hamburgh and Ilana Frank discussed their experiences coaching individuals who are on the autism spectrum.
“Our belief is that every person deserves love,” said Hamburgh. “There’s somebody for everyone… Everybody has someone in the world for them, it’s just a matter of having the right team in place to find that person and to coach them and to mentor them, so that they can be together. But everyone deserves partnership.”
That discussion branched out into the best – and worst – ways to matchmake individuals with a variety of disabilities or mental illnesses, and how and when such disclosures should be made to prospective dates.
In one of the testier exchanges of the event, a matchmaker in the audience recalled a story where a woman in a Hasidic community whose parents were divorced was set up with a prospective date who had one leg: “It hurt her so deeply, to the point where she broke off from the community entirely, because she felt like ‘this is how my people see me – that I’m that flawed and broken just because my parents were divorced?’”
Someone in the audience shot back: “The man with one leg also deserves love.”
Hamburgh urged those gathered to look beyond such labels and definitions.
“Too often we lead with what’s wrong or broken or flawed, and we let that define the person who we are working with,” he said. “We are more than the sum of our limbs, we are more than the way our brains are wired, we are more than our diagnoses and the medications that we take. For every flaw that we have, we also have strengths.”
Ben Shalom noted that even professional matchmakers are motivated by much more than remuneration.
“We personally believe and we know that matchmaking is something that most people do out of the goodness and the kindness of their heart,” said Ben Shalom at the outset. “Some people have built this as a profession, they do this professionally, they do charge for this… but you know that you are never getting paid for all the hours that you put in.”
Esther Kozadayev, a native of Russia who recently moved to Efrat in the West Bank from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and seven children, said she has been matchmaking as a volunteer for about 13 years.
“I’ve been setting up people here and there, and I would like to help people,” said Kozadayev. “People come into our lives, we see them at the Shabbos table, and they are religious Jews who don’t particularly go out in a social scene – they need help being matched, and they’re looking for that kind of help.”
Yael Reshef, who was born in Israel to British parents, has been working as a matchmaker and coach professionally for about four years. She said she came on Sunday because it was “really nice to meet other people that are [involved] in your own interests. I just want to hear what they’re doing.”
Glenn Bochner, one of the few men in the room, said he has been matchmaking for about a decade alongside his wife, Nellie Bochner, who was also in attendance.
“We work in partnership, we take advantage of each other’s personalities,” he said. “My wife does a lot of the research to find the match, and I end up interacting with the singles to warm them up to the idea.”
Bochner said while “it’s a little bit rare” for a man to work as a matchmaker, he and his wife are both dedicated volunteers, “because we love klal Yisrael [the Jewish people] and we want to do everything we can to help.”
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