Make Us A Match!

Netflix’s ‘Jewish Matchmaking’ is a star-making turn for its modern marriage mentor

The prospect of Jewish Matchmaking worried me.

Spinning off the success of Netflix’s three-season Indian Matchmaking, the reality series follows professional matchmaker Aleeza Ben Shalom as she links prospective partners. I’m a huge fan of Jewish representation on the page and on-screen, but there were a lot of potential pitfalls. Would the show focus only on visibly Orthodox couples, depicting contemporary Jews as a monolith a few steps removed from Fiddler on the Roof? Would it traffic in painful spoiled-little-rich-girl stereotypes? I braced for a hate watch.

Turns out I was wrong. Jewish Matchmaking spotlights a wide range of couples on the path to the chuppah. (Both my college-age son and I wondered aloud, “How’d they find that super observant outdoorsy guy in Jackson Hole?”) And while the show falls prey to some of the misfires of its predecessor, it remains an entertaining diversion that only made me cringe when someone unwittingly uttered a mid-date deal-breaker.

Aleeza Ben Shalom emerges as the star of ‘Jewish Matchmaking.’

Aleeza – I feel like we’re on a first-name basis now — is the undisputed star here. I would watch twice as much footage of her interacting with clients, carefully taking notes as she elicits their wants and needs while offering quippy inspirational asides.

Spin-off’s warmer feel

Indian Matchmaking’s Sima Taparia embodies a no-nonsense aunty who warns her clients in no uncertain terms what they should and should not expect. I binged Indian Matchmaking (fun fact: Vyasar from the debut season was my kid’s high school counselor, and I remain a devoted member of his considerable fan base) and ended up a little afraid of Sima. Sima dictates, but Aleeza is far less prescriptive.

Aleeza wafts in with big smiles, hugs, and the occasional emotional grasping of hands. She’s got lots of queries, a big note pad, and plenty of encouragement. She even hosts one get-together in her (lovely, sun-drenched) backyard. Her tell is simply the slightest of jaw clenches or the tiniest raise of an eyebrow when a client says something ridiculous.

Aleeza will redirect you, but her approach is modern and matter-of-fact. Imagine if Brene Brown were also a Jewish matchmaker in addition to daring greatly.

Notably, we see Aleeza gently counseling men as well as women that they may need to approach their search from a different lens. Los Angeles event planner Ori repeats ad nauseam that his dates must be beautiful in order for him to even consider; Aleeza sweetly but firmly suggests he get with the idea that beauty is not just on the outside. Chicago musician Stuart gets a visit to a stylist for some new clothes, because after his decades of dating, Aleeza wants him to approach his next outings with renewed sense of vigor and fun.

Disappearing cast

Like Indian Matchmaking, the show gets us invested in cast members only to stop following them. Dani in Miami is bubbly and vivacious, but we lose track of her after Shaun – who shares Dani’s South African heritage and sun-bleached long hair – decamps back to his home base in Hawaii. We’re there as Shaya makes Fay laugh on their first few dates in their religious Brooklyn community and as he consults an elder about their varying levels of observance – and then we never see him again. Would it kill you to keep us updated?

One of Aleeza’s big asks is how observant a client is. It’s a reasonable query, considering that the show’s answers range from “I don’t want to have to explain to her why ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is funny” to daily prayer and text study.

While Indian Matchmaking drew criticism for its implicit adherence to class and caste layers, Jewish Matchmaking seems to have taken pains to explicitly spotlight and endorse a range of Jewish existence. There’s a Black Jewish woman; Israelis, Israeli-Americans and Israeli-Canadians; self-described “cultural” Jews; Brooklyn Orthodox families; and more.

Aleeza is up-front about her own background. Showcased in a glorious haircut segment that’s like a reverse Out of Africa Redford-Streep moment, she and her husband of 20 years became more observant as young adults and are Orthodox. But there’s nary a whiff of pressure to be more or less.

In the end, Jewish Matchmaking is less about making a successful match than depicting that wide world of modern Jewishness. As Aleeza reminds Dani, “There are 15 million Jews in the world and 15 million ways to be Jewish.” Give us a second season, already!


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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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