The highly anticipated premiere of “Jewish Matchmaking,” the latest in a prolific array of dating shows on the streaming giant, has the Jewish world abuzz, eager – and a little apprehensive.
The first season of the show, a spinoff of the popular “Indian Matchmaking” which first hit Netflix in 2020, premieres this week, featuring an eclectic array of Jewish singles looking to find “the one.”
The love seekers are guided by matchmaker and dating coach Aleeza Ben Shalom, a native of Philadelphia who now lives in Pardes Hanna in Israel’s north. Throughout the show’s eight episodes, Ben Shalom crisscrosses the US and Israel to meet with prospective clients, set them up with matches and coach them through the process.
“It’s my business to know people and to know people who know people,” Ben Shalom told The Times of Israel in a recent interview in Tel Aviv.
“The Jewish world, I think, is on the one hand, very small, but very interconnected – it’s a very close-knit web,” she said.
From Tel Aviv to Wyoming, Miami to Los Angeles, Kansas to Jerusalem, Ben Shalom activated her networks, built up over 15 years of matchmaking experience, to help Netflix’s most eligible Jewish singles find love.
The singles featured on the show run the gamut of religious affiliations, from those who profess their love of pork or have never dated anyone Jewish, to Fay and Shaya, strictly Orthodox Jews based in Brooklyn who sought rabbinical advice before agreeing to take part.
Ben Shalom – who herself is Orthodox, wears a wig to cover her hair, dresses in modest clothing and did not have any physical contact with the men on the show – said it was important to also represent religious Jewish life on the show, alongside the rest of the participants, who range from traditional to secular.
“I think it’s a really big blessing, because it’s a glimpse into a life that you don’t normally get to see,” she said. “And that’s really who [Fay] is.” She said she specifically called Fay and asked her to take part so that viewers – especially those with little-to-no familiarity with Orthodox Jews – would gain more understanding of that world.
“I called her and said, ‘I want you to come on and be a kiddush Hashem with me, and I want you to come light up the Jewish world,” said Ben Shalom, using a phrase which means “sanctifying God’s name,” or setting a positive example. “It’s hard to get somebody observant to say, ‘okay, let’s give this a shot’… and she got appropriate guidance and got the support to do it.”
Appealing to the masses
And while a wide swath of Jews around the world are likely to be tuning into “Jewish Matchmaking,” the show has the potential to reach tens of millions of viewers around the world. Dubbed into five languages and with subtitles in 32 languages, it’s possible many viewers of the series will have never met a Jew in their lives.
Ben Shalom said she hopes one thing non-Jewish viewers can take away from the show “is that Jewish people, Judaism is beautiful,” she said. “There’s a spark, there is something to look at, respect and feel something positive towards.”
In addition, she said, she believes a great deal of the dating advice that she shares with the participants on the show – including some of her signature catchphrases, like “when in doubt, go out” and “date ‘em till you hate ‘em” – will resonate with viewers of all stripes.
“I’m hoping that viewers don’t just come away with entertainment, but that they come away with something that they could actually do to change their lives,” she said.
At the same time, much of the Jewish world will be watching, dissecting and criticizing the on-screen representation on such a global platform.
Ben Shalom hopes that Jews who watch the show will see the wide range of backgrounds, ages and personalities showcased and believe that “the Jewish people — we’re alive and we’re one, we are unified.”
Showcasing all different types of Jews, she hopes, “doesn’t make us feel so separated, and doesn’t make us feel so far apart. It kind of makes us feel like one big family. And whether you’re in Jackson Hole, Wyoming or Jerusalem, we’re all on the same mission.”
‘Light unto the nations’
With an enormous platform like Netflix, Ben Shalom said she is trying to brace herself for her imminent global stardom – and both the positive and negative feedback her appearance is sure to entail.
“I’ve made peace with it: I knew taking this on, I made the conscious decision that as many people that might love me, I will have equal or more people that don’t love me,” she said. Ben Shalom said she really wants to “represent the Jewish people… and to be a ‘light unto the nations,’ and I have a lot of things that I want to share.”
Ben Shalom, a married mother of five kids – who range in age from 9 to 19 – said she started matchmaking as a side hobby around 2007 on the SawYouAtSinai dating site for religious singles, then slowly began building into a business and a brand alongside mentoring and coaching.
“I just saw family as the core or the central piece of our lives… I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, except for being a wife, being a mother, building a family,” she recalled. “And I wanted to see other people do that also… I was a very good bridge between people, so I was always trying to connect them.”
It is unusual, but not unheard of, for Jewish matchmakers to work with both Orthodox and secular singles. Ben Shalom said she credits her background for enabling her to connect with people of all religious backgrounds.
“I grew up secular and I became observant in my early 20s,” she said. “So I know both worlds very well, and I’m comfortable in both worlds.”
The participants on the show run the spectrum from genuinely likable to difficult-to-root-for, as tends to be the case on reality TV. And while some are likely to be fan favorites, others could end up portrayed as villains — something Ben Shalom suspected would be par for the course.
“I put my best foot forward, and I think the people that I worked with did their best to put their best foot forward – whatever that means to them,” she said. “I think there’s always an amount of concern because I don’t think there’s any production that anybody could do where universally everybody’s gonna be like, ‘those Jewish people are amazing, wow’… I think we did a great job. And I hope that the world sees what I see.”
Without sharing any spoilers, viewers can expect a success rate similar to that of your average Netflix reality dating show. Filming on the series wrapped up in August, though the series does not share too many updates on the participants’ lives in the intervening months.
Ben Shalom said she doesn’t keep an exact count of how many successful matches she has made throughout her career, noting instead that she has “helped over 200 couples to get to the chuppa” or wedding canopy, through a combination of matchmaking, coaching and mentoring, as well as sharing her advice on a succession of ever-wider platforms.
“They’re all God’s matches, they’re not mine anyway,” she said. “Like in basketball, you’re the assist… I’m just a part of the process. And I’m happy to be any part of the process as long as it helps somebody on their journey.”
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