Original content written for http://hereandnow.wbur.org.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The 1964 production made history: the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances, it went on to win nine Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.
Four Broadway revivals and one successful film adaptation later, the story of Tevye and his daughters remains alive in popular culture.
Based on the book by Yiddish master storyteller Sholem Aleichem, Tevye attempts to preserve his family and Jewish traditions while outside influences threaten to derail all he knows.
Much of the preservation begins with marriage, and a matchmaker is one of the most important and powerful members of the community. Still today, the matchmaker holds a special role.
Aleeza Ben Shalom is a modern-day professional Jewish matchmaker in Philadelphia. She joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss her job.
Interview Highlights: Aleeza Ben Shalom
How she operates as a matchmaker
“For me, everything is viewed through a dating-for-marriage lens, so it’s not just a life coach, ‘let’s help you get your life in order.’ It’s, you know, if you don’t have a job and you need a job, we’re getting one because you’re stabilizing yourself so you’re ready for what’s about to come, if you have plans of being engaged and married. I have those same plans for my clients, so we want to get things in line and keep everybody’s lives stable and smooth.”
On the importance of the matchmaker in Judaism
“Without a matchmaker, really, the Jewish people wouldn’t be here. Any part of the world where people want and believe in their people and want to see them live on, the only way to do that is by being matched up and continuing to bring more people into the world and to continue on with your beliefs.”
“I would say like in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ you know, like, ‘Tradition!’ You know, like, we want to continue with our traditions. And a matchmaker doesn’t have to be somebody professional. It can be a friend or a relative or a neighbor.”
On getting paid for her services
“Traditionally, once a match is made, a matchmaker is paid, you know, either upon engagement or marriage, depending on what the customs are, and the fees range anywhere from a thousand to several thousand dollars.”
“Matchmakers were always paid, and it’s actually something that’s in the Torah, which is the Jewish Bible, that tells us we are obligated to pay our matchmaker, whether they’re professional or not professional, because it is supposed to bring you blessings in your relationship.”
“There’s no better bargain than a really good spouse. It’ll save you thousands of dollars in a divorce.”
Other ways Jewish singles often meet
“I know especially in our community, matches are often made at the Shabbat table. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath. Right now, there is an awesome organization called Shabbat.com, and people can go onto the website, click to have a Shabbat meal with any family, in any part of the world, and you might just end up meeting your soul mate at that table.”
“The Jewish tradition has delegated it to others, whether it’s somebody professional or not. When you’re talking about a dating website, SawYouAtSinai is for more religious Jews, and they don’t search for themselves. Matchmakers only search for them. But something like JDate is a search engine like any other matchmaking website, and a person can go on themselves. So really, a person is doing the matchmaking themselves. I seem to think what’s missing is the mentoring piece.”
- Aleeza Ben Shalom, matchmaker and author of “Get Real, Get Married: Get Over Your Hurdles and Under the Chuppah.” She tweets @AleezaBenShalom.