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Book Review: “The Matchmaker’s Gift”

By BERNIE BELLAN Given the subject matter of Beatty Cohan’s column elsewhere on this site – online dating, I thought it appropriate to write about a book I recently finished reading, titled “The Matchmaker’s Gift,” by Lynda Cohen Loigman, which was released last fall.
Now, ordinarily, I think it’s fair to presume that a title like that would engender more interest among women than men and, to be honest, I can’t remember why it is that I chose to download this particular book on to my Kindle a couple of months ago. Whatever the reason, I quite enjoyed reading “The Matchmaker’s Gift.” It was only after I had finished reading it, however – and after I had read the author’s notes, that I discovered I had also read the very first book Cohen Loigman had written, titled “The Two-Family House,” which was published in 2016.
That book had been chosen for what was then known as “The People of the Book Club” at the Rady JCC by the late Sharon Freed, who was the facilitator for that club. But, why would I write that I would think a book about matchmaking would be of particular interest to women? Maybe it’s because we tend to associate the profession of matchmaking with “Yenta the Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” more than anything else.
But, as I discovered during the course of reading “The Matchmaker’s Gift,” at least in New York in the early part of the 20th century, matchmaking as a profession within the Jewish community was reserved for men. In fact, that becomes one of the principal themes of the book, as we are introduced to a character by the name of Sara Glikman, who discovers, unbeknownst to her, that she has a rare and secret talent whereby she is able to determine a perfect match between two total strangers through some mystical power that she possesses.
In an earlier age no doubt Sara would have probably been considered a witch within different cultures. The notion of someone having fantastical powers is, of course, an enduring theme throughout history, and when those powers are set within a modern day context, they often become a source of amusement, as in all the superpower heroes that have come to dominate a good part of our culture.
Yet, in “The Matchmaker’s Gift,” Sara Glikman neither chooses to practice matchmaking nor does she relish the opportunity to engage in the craft. She simply comes to realize that she has a unique gift for being able to put unlikely couples together.
Parallel to Sara’s story we come to read about Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, who is a young lawyer in New York, and someone totally removed from the world of matchmaking – or so we are led to believe.
Cohen-Loigman interweaves the story of Sara’s forays into matchmaking with Abby’s very demanding legal career. The element that both women have in common is that they are able to recognize when two people are right for each other or, as is the case with Abby while she is working for a very hard driving attorney who specialized in putting together pre-nup agreements: when two people who are headed toward marriage – and seem to be compatible on the surface – are not at all right for each other.
Given how common it was for our ancestors to have been put together by way of a “shidduch,” or “match,” I’m sure that most of us would have wondered how those long-ago marriages would have worked out in this day and age. I can well recall watching my own maternal grandparents engaged in fierce arguments over the years when I was growing up. I wasn’t close enough to my paternal grandparents to notice whether the same applied to them, but while reading “The Matchmaker’s Gift,” memories of what seemed to be odd marriages did re-enter my mind.
Sara Glikman though, as talented as she may be with her supernatural ability to anticipate when two total strangers would make perfectly attuned marriage partners, does come up against the prevailing practice of the day, which is to have only men arrange marriages. Since she must keep her unique ability a secret, her carefully thought-out plans to bring various couples together once she discovers that they are meant for one another rely upon a great deal of deception and planned accidental meetings.
Once the male matchmakers of New York come to be aware of Sara’s forays into their world, however, she is brought forward in a “bet din” (house of judgment) where she is forced to account for her behavior.
Similarly, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, has to defend herself when she is exposed as having intervened in a number of situations, either to stave off a doomed relationship or to facilitate one among unlikely mates. Her boss, Evelyn Morgan, is the consummate hard driving career woman who herself has no time for romance and once she realizes that Abby has actually been sabotaging Evelyn’s meticulous pre-nup work, all hell breaks loose.
It’s all quite endearing and really quite fantastical, but at the same time, after reading all of the information Beatty Cohan gives about online dating in her column this issue and how prominent a role it plays in determining relationships, especially, as Beatty notes, among gay men, I was intrigued enough to want to do more research about online dating among Jews in particular.
While it is still the case that, within the Orthodox Jewish community, the role of “matchmaker” is accorded a very special prominence, many non-Orthodox Jews also rely upon matchmakers, it turns out, especially within cities that have high Jewish populations.
According to an article on the “Israel Hayom” or “Israel Today” website, matchmaking among Jews has zoomed upwards in popularity since Covid. Many individuals were dissatisfied with such well-known apps as “JDate,” although a related app, “JSwipe,” has become the most popular app among Jews using apps to look for a relationship with other Jews.
According to that article, which you can find at ttps://www.israelhayom.com/2022/06/17/jewish-dating-game-sees-matchmaking-become-hottest-trend-in-us/, the frustration that so many Jewish users have had in using dating apps has contributed to a skyrocketing use of matchmaking within the Jewish community.
But, in “The Matchmaker’s Gift,” the notion that matchmaking would be superior to other forms of finding a mate is actually made fun of. Both Sara Glikman and her granddaughter Abby fight against prevailing ideas about matchmaking. Instead of seeing elements in common between the men and women who eventually end up getting matched by both Sara and Abby, they rely on some sort of mystical intervention to reveal who is best suited to whom. (Sara actually sees a “strand of golden light” forming a line between two strangers throughout her life.) Later, upon reading her grandmother’s journals, in which she has meticulously documented each of her matches, Abby at first scoffs at what she is reading, then comes to realize that everything was true.
It all makes for a terrific yarn, but in the end, perhaps the lesson to be learned, both from “The Matchmaker’s Gift” and what is going on in the contemporary Jewish dating world is that whatever works is valid.

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