Esty Marcus (left) interviews Aleeza Ben Shalom at the Lent Chabad Center, Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)
Esty Marcus (left) interviews Aleeza Ben Shalom at the Lent Chabad Center, Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)

Aleeza Ben Shalom of ‘Jewish Matchmaking’ brings Bay Area singles onstage at live event

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At one time, Aleeza Ben Shalom had no life goals other than to be a wife and mother who lived in Israel.

It was only when she was home with two small children who were crying all day that she realized: I love kids, but I need adult interaction too.

She graduated from college with an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree, making her “qualified to do nothing,” she jokingly told a crowd of 240 people at Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo on Monday night. However, a friend who was employed by a dating website offered her a gig as a matchmaker about 16 years ago.

She took to it immediately. The more she spoke to people about their dating lives, she said, “I became extremely passionate about it, and I started coaching how to get your head on straight, and your heart in the right place, and help you make the right decision.”

Her story took a particularly dramatic turn after she and her husband moved to Israel during the pandemic. By this point, she already knew she had beaten out the competition to become the matchmaker on a reality television series. And if the show went into production, she would be its star.

(Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)
The Aug. 7 event at the Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo drew a large audience. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)

They headed straight for the Western Wall after a mandatory quarantine period for international arrivals. At the holy site, she was brought to tears. As she was backing away from the Wall, her phone began buzzing. A Netflix producer was calling to say that the show was greenlit and that they were sending her a contract.

Ben Shalom is the star of the Netflix reality series “Jewish Matchmaking,” which premiered in early May with eight episodes about nine Jewish singles, most of whom have tried everything but a matchmaker to find their bashert, or soulmate. The show reached Netflix’s list of the top 10 most-watched shows in both Canada and Israel in May, and it got a lot of buzz in the U.S.

Ben Shalom is now on a celebratory worldwide tour, sharing the story of how she went from a mostly secular Jew to an observant one, how she became a matchmaker, and, of course, how she became an international television star. She’s also signing copies of her 2013 book, “Get Real, Get Married: Get Over Your Hurdles and Under the Chuppah” for fans and taking as many selfies with admirers as she can stand.

When Lent Chabad Center Rabbi Yossi Marcus and his wife, Esty Marcus, heard that Ben Shalom was going on tour, they jumped at the opportunity to invite her to the Peninsula.

“We live in a world bombarded with messages of separation, where ‘you’re of this political affiliation’ or ‘you’re this type of Jew,’” the rabbi said at Monday’s event. “These differences are magnified and the similarities are overlooked and then like a shooting star, breaking through all of this, you have the barrel of energy which is Aleeza, who has seemed not to get the memo about all the separation. You can feel it through the screen.”

During a Q&A, Esty Marcus asked Ben Shalom how she learned to be as nonjudgmental as she reveals herself to be on the show.

Aleeza Ben Shalom gets excited. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)
Aleeza Ben Shalom gets excited. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)

“Is that something you were born with? If it is, please teach us so we can all do that,” Marcus said. Ben Shalom said she learned it from her mother, so the rest of us are out of luck.

Then some real-time matchmaking unfolded: Four single people, ages 25 to 53, were invited onstage. Ben Shalom asked them about themselves and what they are looking for in a partner. Then she solicited the help of audience members, asking them to take a participant’s phone number if they knew someone who might be a good match.

“Whether you are single, married or in a relationship, I thought she offered a lot of good advice,” audience member Amy Sosnick of San Mateo said before the event. “I liked how the show portrayed Jewish matchmaking as not that thing that Orthodox people do, but that everyone can benefit from.”

Jacklin Barkhordar of Hillsborough credited Ben Shalom for reintroducing the broader Jewish world to the art of matchmaking.

“So many people are looking, and they don’t know where to look or what to do,” she said. “She opened the door to think about a matchmaker. I think matchmaking should be brought back.”

Liora Brosbe, an East Bay-based therapist who helps singles through the Bay Area’s Relationship Center, said she was inspired by the advice Ben Shalom offered on the show.

Aleeza Ben Shalom gets the audience involved in trying to make matches for four singles at the Lent Chabad Center on Monday. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)
Aleeza Ben Shalom gets the audience involved in trying to make matches for four singles at the Lent Chabad Center on Monday. (Photo/Jeff Bartee Photography)

“I was touched by her warmth, authenticity, and what appeared to be a nonjudgmental stance despite all the different needs of the singles she was working with,” she said. “I feel she’s inspired me to be a better therapist and community member who supports singles and couples all looking to live a meaningful life.”

While the crowd skewed heavily female, a few young men told J. that they had watched little to none of the show and attended the event primarily for the singles mixer afterward.

For all the talk of inclusivity and Ben Shalom’s nonjudgmental approach, one super-fan came from San Francisco with a bit of a different agenda. She represents a community excluded from the Netflix show: LGBTQ+ Jews. And she got the chance to speak directly about that missing piece with Ben Shalom at a private reception immediately before the public event.

“We are looking for soulmates in the same way everyone else is,” the woman, who declined to give her name, told J. “She has said she does not include LGBT couples because she knows what she knows and knows what she doesn’t know. She has said she’s had experiences that have changed her matchmaking ideas. For example, she didn’t set up couples with very large age gaps, but now knows a couple with a significant age gap where it’s going well. It could be the same with the Jewish LGBT community.”

She added, “I came to let Aleeza know that we queer Jews need her, too. She’s too fabulous to only be for the straight folks.”

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."