With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Sophie Eastaugh wants to know whether the long-standing role of the Jewish matchmaker is still so important.
“Abraham used a Shadchan. If there had never been Shadchans, Jewish people would have disappeared.”
I’m on the phone with Jose Weber, the 67 year old director of Jewish matchmaking service Simantov International. Simantov is a premium, modern-day Shadchan for all levels of religion – a romantic head-hunter with around 1500 international clients, all looking for their true beshert and willing to part with a fee to do so.
But with so many apps, dating websites and networking opportunities out there, do we really need a mediator to facilitate our love lives? Once the preserve of only the most frum singletons, fast-paced living and the shortcomings of e-dating have renewed demand for this ancient profession.
“Without the help of a shadchan, it’s very difficult for a lot of people to find the right person,” says Weber. His clients, marriage-ready but time-poor professionals, range from their early twenties to late fifties.
“We have no mathematical system for finding matches. It’s all about chemistry.” Weber is a specialist in intuition. He interviews each of his clients personally, making important observations about their character before consulting his database. Simantov has clients all over Europe, Israel, the US and Canada, so a match can be made across borders.
“People are prepared to move for love,” laughs Weber’s assistant. “They fall in love and will do anything.”
If only it could always be that simple. I hear from Ruth (not her real name), a 27-year old female professional who wishes to remain anonymous.
As she’s become more Orthodox, she has stopped looking for the opposite sex in clubs or online. Matchmakers, with their many connections and no-nonsense approach, present one of the few options.
“I’m frum but I also have my own mind and interacted with boys growing up. People take you more seriously when you go to a shadchan. They also take the pressure off – they can do a break up for you and make it less awkward.”
“They used to be there for only very Orthodox people, but now they’re an easy way out of a sticky situation.”
Having first visited a matchmaker aged 21, Ruth has tried singles parties, dating websites and several Yente, to her increasing frustration.
“People have too much of a list with high expectations. And there’s such a higher demand for boys than there is for girls! It gets harder the older you get – all of my best friends are married.”
I’m deeply sympathising with the trials and tribulations of Ruth’s Jewish dating experience when I get a call from one of Simantov’s success stories. Stephane Schiller, a non-religious 41 year-old financier from Paris, was introduced to his Siberian wife Marina two weeks after he signed up. She was his first shidduch by the company, who had just created their quickest ever secular match.
“She’s the girl of my dreams – she fits all my criteria. We chatted online in a 3 way conversation, then I invited her to Paris. I’m very lucky – we just clicked and fell in love.”
Stephane almost married someone he met on JDate, but it didn’t work out. Long working hours and his increasing age made him turn to a professional matchmaker. “We were in a rush. The Jewish community in Paris is big – over 300,000 people – but the people that aren’t married are few. You need fresh ideas, fresh people.”
After five years on JDate, the matchmaker dug up gold for Stephane in just two weeks. Yet JDate is hugely popular, boasting over 750,000 active worldwide users per year.
Suzie Parkus, professional matchmaker and Director of YJP Club, highlights some pitfalls of the cyber-shadchan. “People lie a lot, whereas a matchmaker does background checks and only has your best interests at heart.”
Ruth echoes Suzie’s sentiment. “Online scares me – look at Catfish. I’m a very open girl and I trust everyone, so I need someone to recommend the right people.”
Suzie explains that the majority of her customers are distressed – they’re ready to meet their partner and get on with the rest of their life. “Most people have gone to every Jew-do, Friday-night dinner and house party. Matchmaking is usually a last resort.”
If you’re not in that boat, there are dozens of other options. When 27-year old Gilad moved to London from Israel, he wasn’t looking for marriage. But he signed up to a gay dating site, where he met his partner of now five years, who coincidentally is also Jewish.
“For me it would have been less comfortable to entrust the process to someone else. I guess it’s a bit like a personal trainer – if you can’t be bothered to do it, you employ somebody who knows the ropes to help you out.”
Gilad has hit the nail on the head. Matchmaking is like any other type of out-sourcing, just in a more personal field.
For some denominations it’s the only form of meeting a mate, while for others it offers welcome respite from the exhausting minefield of modern Jewish dating.
But if it’s so difficult, has the £170m online dating industry improved our love lives at all? Or are all the algorithms simply failing to replicate the intuitive wisdom that Shadchans have been practising for centuries? [divider]
You can follow Sophie on Twitter @SophieEastaugh.