(JTA) — According to Jewish lore, God has been making matches since the creation of the world. Aleeza Ben Shalom has been at it only since 2007 — but the Jewish matchmaker is about to bring what she calls “the most important job in the world” to the masses.
As the host of “Jewish Matchmaking” on Netflix, Ben Shalom adapts the model of Orthodox arranged matches to Jewish singles from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, including secular, Reform and Conservative Jews from across the United States and Israel.
Formal matchmaking, known as shidduch dating and considered de rigueur in haredi Orthodox circles, has been depicted as oppressive and constricting on Netflix dramas such as “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox.” But Ben Shalom believes her basic approach to love and marriage makes sense for a wide array of people — and she’s out to prove it.
“I’m hoping that people will see that matchmaking and Judaism is not just something that’s old, but that’s timeless, that’s relevant,” Ben Shalom told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“We can use this beautiful, ancient tradition of matchmaking and bring it to modern life, and help people to find love from any age, stage, any background. It doesn’t matter. It’s universal,” she said. “The wisdom that I share is from Judaism. It’s based in Torah, but it’s for the world. Anybody of any background, of any culture can watch this, can learn something from it and can implement it in their lives.”
Ben Shalom isn’t the first to make the case that matchmaking services can help a wide array of Jews find lasting love. Ventures such as YentaNet, a pluralistic matchmaking service that arose about a decade ago, and Tribe 12, a Jewish nonprofit working with young adults in Philadelphia where Ben Shalom got her start, have sought to pair Jewish singles who might be a good fit for each other.
But the practice is most common in haredi Orthodox communities, where the norms around shidduch dating are well known and closely followed. Daters have a “shidduch resume” outlining their education, interests and family background; parents are involved in the process; and dating is intended to move quickly toward marriage. Dates typically take place in public spaces and couples are expected not to touch until they are married.
In formal Orthodox matchmaking, the shadchan, or matchmaker, is usually compensated by the parents, receiving around $1,000 upon a couple’s engagement, although higher-end services may charge more. Some matchmakers may charge a smaller amount for the initial meeting with a client, while Ben Shalom’s company, Marriage Minded Mentor, charges $50 to $100 an hour on a sliding scale based on the client’s salary. (Sima Taparia, the star and host of “Indian Matchmaking,” the Netflix show that inspired “Jewish Matchmaking,” reportedly charges her clients around $1,330 to $8,000 for similar services.)
Matchmakers keep records of who in their communities is looking for a match, but they can also tap into networks of other matchmakers and databases of singles as they seek to pair their clients. “We don’t believe in competition, we believe in collaboration,” said Ben Shalom, who is currently based in Israel.
Ben Shalom grew up in a Conservative Jewish community where matchmaking was not the norm, and later became Orthodox. She knew her husband for three weeks before becoming engaged, then touched him for the first time during their wedding four months later.
She knows that most participants on “Jewish Matchmaking” are unlikely to follow those same restrictions. Still, she encourages them to at least try.
“I’m really trying to have you guys touch hearts,” Ben Shalom tells Harmonie Krieger, a marketing and brand consultant in her 40s, as she explains why she wants Krieger to abstain from physical contact for five dates. “You will gain clarity. If there’s no physical glue holding the relationship together, then there’s actually value-based glue that’s holding the relationship together.”
“I will accept the challenge,” Krieger says. “Maybe. Let’s see how it goes.”
Krieger is one of a number of non-Orthodox Jews who opted to be cast on “Jewish Matchmaking” after being unsatisfied with their own dating efforts. There’s Nakysha Osadchey, a Black Reform Jew who is desperate to get out of Kansas City, Missouri, where she hasn’t had luck finding a partner who understands her multicultural background. Living in Tel Aviv via Rome, Noah Del Monte, 24, is the youngest of the group, an Israeli army veteran and diplomat’s son who wants to transition from so-called “king of nightlife” to husband. In Los Angeles, Ori Basly, who works for his family’s wedding planning business, is looking for a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Israeli woman to fall in love with and bring home to his family.
The Jews cast on the show are all in different places in their lives, some grieving serious breakups or committed to specific religious identities, some picky about looks or hoping their partner will be OK with riding motorcycles. Some of them are looking for particular Jewish commitments to concepts such as tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world” and has come to represent a social justice imperative for many liberal Jews; others want to be sure they’re matched only with people who share their approaches to observing Shabbat and keeping kosher.
Pamela Rae Schuller, a comedian whose material frequently centers on living with Tourette syndrome, a nervous system disorder, demurred when Ben Shalom first offered to set her up about seven years ago, after attending one of Schuller’s shows in Los Angeles.
“I was picking career first. And there are a lot of complicated feelings around dating and disability,” said Schuller, who stands 4 feet 6 inches tall and frequently barks because of her syndrome. “And I never even thought about a matchmaker.”
But in 2022, Ben Shalom reached out again, this time with a possible match, and a catch — it would be for a new Netflix show she was set to host. This time, Schuller was ready.
“I have this life that I really, really love. I’m just at the point where I’ve realized I’d like someone to start to share that with,” she said. “I’m not going into this looking for anyone to complete me.”
Getting back into dating and then appearing on the show, which Schuller hasn’t seen yet, was both scary and exciting, she says
“I’m about to put myself out there. I think that’s scary for everyone, disability or otherwise,” Schuller said. “But I also want to see a world where we remember that every type of person dates.”
Plus, she added, “I love the idea that Netflix is willing to show diversity in Judaism, diversity in dating.”
Ensuring that she show accurately represented American Jews was the responsibility of Ronit Polin-Tarshish, an Orthodox filmmaker who worked as a consulting producer on “Jewish Matchmaking.” Her role was to ensure that Judaism was portrayed authentically. She also worked to help the Orthodox cast members feel more comfortable with their involvement on the show.
“Being Orthodox is who I am, and of course it infused every part of my work,” said Polin-Tarshish, who herself used a matchmaker to find her husband.
Multiple recent depictions of Orthodox Judaism in pop culture — including the Netflix reality show “My Unorthodox Life” — have drawn criticism from Orthodox voices for getting details of Orthodox observance wrong or seeming to encourage people to leave Orthodoxy. Both “My Unorthodox Life” and “Unorthodox,” based on the Deborah Feldman memoir of the same name, depict formerly Orthodox women who left arranged marriages they described as oppressive.
Meanwhile, other depictions of Jews have been panned for botching details. Those include a grieving widow (herself not Jewish, but mourning a Jewish husband) serving hamantaschen at the shiva in the 2014 film “This is Where I Leave You,” and a storyline on the Canadian show “Nurses” about an Orthodox man rejecting a bone graft from a non-Jew.
“So many times we watch shows as Jews and we kind of gnash our teeth, and are like, ‘They got it wrong! They got a basic thing wrong!’” said Polin-Tarshish, who previously produced the first-ever feature-length film by Orthodox women and worked on another reality show about arranged marriages across cultures. “That was my whole job, to make sure that they got it right. And thank God, baruch Hashem, I think we really did.”
Asked if her involvement on “Jewish Matchmaking” has received any pushback, Ben Shalom said she had gotten questions about how she could know whether the showrunners will accurately represent who she is.
Ben Shalom said she was confident in the production based on what she saw on “Indian Matchmaking,” but also because she believed she could pull off the delicate balance needed to represent her own community and make for great entertainment.
“You have to be smart about how you share who you are with the world, and you have to be authentic, and you have to be real, and you have to be true,” she said. “And you have to do that on reality TV with strangers that you’ve just met, and you have to do an interview. So only because I saw it done beautifully before, I knew that I had the ability to do that as well.”
Polin-Tarshish is excited for viewers at home to identify with the cast of “Jewish Matchmaking,” and to even get frustrated by some of the cast members’ actions. But most importantly, she says she is excited to have real, three-dimensional Jewish characters on screen.
“They’re real people in every sense of the word,” Polin-Tarshish said. “There are characters you’re going to love, there are characters you might even love to hate. But that’s life.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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