Aleeza Ben Shalom relates easily to her clients, no matter their observance level. (Photo/Netflix)
Aleeza Ben Shalom relates easily to her clients, no matter their observance level. (Photo/Netflix)

Aleeza Ben Shalom made me fall in love with ‘Jewish Matchmaking’

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When I first heard about the new Netflix show called “Jewish Matchmaking,” I was scared.

With antisemitism on the rise, I wondered whether we needed a show that focused on the desires of some of us to marry within the tribe.

But after watching all eight episodes, which dropped May 3, here’s my hot take: “Jewish Matchmaking” is … good for the Jews. And from what I’m seeing on social media, I’m far from the only person who thinks so.

The show’s premise of helping people pair up falls along the same lines of all reality dating shows. But in this instance, an old-fashioned matchmaker, or shadchan in Yiddish, not only suggests people from her arsenal to meet, but also helps singles see where they might be getting in their own way of finding love. (And if in episode 1 your eagle eye spotted Nechama Langer, the daughter of Rabbi Yosef and Hinda Lander, mazel tov! That was indeed her, leading a meditation for women looking for their partners.)

The singles on the show are all just as vapid and superficial as those on any reality dating show (and yes, I’ve been known to watch them). But Aleeza Ben Shalom, the American-born dating coach and matchmaker who now lives in Israel, is the heart of the show. And she’s a gem.

I would even posit that this matchmaker is one of the most positive representations — if not the most positive — I’ve seen of a Jewish woman on television. She gets extra points because she’s a real person, not a fictional character on a sitcom.

The fact that she’s Orthodox makes it even better. As a ba’al teshuvah (returnee to the faith) and not FFB (“frum from birth”), she relates easily to her clients, no matter their observance level.

When they confess their love of non-kosher food, for example, she shows not a whit of judgment. When one client confesses she might not be “Jewish enough,” Ben Shalom responds that there are “15 million Jews around the world and … about 15 million ways to be Jewish.”

Ben Shalom made me realize how starved I am for positive representations of Jewish women on television. From non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters to negative stereotypes in sitcoms, what we see of us on TV ranges from tolerable to insipid.

Perhaps the bar is set incredibly low, but Ben Shalom is the sister everyone wishes they had. Every client seems to feel they can instantly confide in her. You can see how much she cares about her job and about each person she works with.

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Ben Shalom is the star of the show, but it’s not about her alone. From watching any reality dating franchise, I know these shows can’t survive without a never-ending pipeline of conventionally super-attractive people willing to expose themselves in really unflattering ways for reasons I will never understand. This one is no different.

We see a contestant, for example, who dismisses a potential match because of the woman’s hair color. Does it make it any better or worse that he happens to be Jewish? I don’t think so. For those viewers who don’t know much about Judaism, I don’t think they’ll like or dislike these people any more or less than any of their non-Jewish peers on other reality dating shows.

Another positive: The show made a real effort to show diversity in the Jewish community, in that several singles are Sephardic and that there’s a Jew of color who also happens to be plus-size. The show bounces between the U.S. and Israel. One contestant drills down pretty far, saying her parents, originally from South Africa, prefer that she marries a South African Jew.

You could argue that a show like this should have included queer couples or interfaith couples to be more representative of the Jewish community. I would respond that you can’t have everything in one show, though dating shows admittedly have been overwhelmingly heteronormative.

Nakysha Osadchey from Kansas City, Missouri is looking for someone who understands her multicultural background as a Black Reform Jew. (Photo/Courtesy Netflix)
Nakysha Osadchey from Kansas City, Missouri is looking for someone who understands her multicultural background as a Black Reform Jew. (Photo/Courtesy Netflix)

Obviously, this isn’t my first dating show binge. Before I fell for “Jewish Matchmaking,” I was sucked into its predecessor, “Indian Matchmaking.”

Where the Jewish version differs most from its counterpart is made clear in season 3 of the Indian version. We meet a Hindu woman who goes rogue on dating apps when she doesn’t click with matchmaker Seema Taparia’s choice. The woman starts dating a Muslim man, even though she knows her family and community won’t approve. She confesses that if her father had still been alive, he wouldn’t be happy at first but probably would be OK once he met the young man.

When Taparia hears about all this, she tries not to show her reaction, but it’s clear she doesn’t approve. While it’s unfair to make assumptions, it would be interesting to see how Ben Shalom would handle the same situation — or how she would react to a show where the matchmaker attempts to match both straight and queer couples. That’s apparently asking a lot of the dating reality universe.

Do any of the singles Ben Shalom matches find love? The show leaves it unclear. Regardless, I hope there will be a season 2 of “Jewish Matchmaking.” If the success of “Indian Matchmaking” is a harbinger, a second meet-up with Ben Shalom seems almost certain.

Even if you aren’t into dating shows, I would argue that you might like this one. That’s because the most compelling reason to watch “Jewish Matchmaking” is actually the matchmaker herself.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."