In cities with small Jewish communities, finding a partner who shares religious values can seem impossible. These jet-setting matchmakers work to overcome that geographic barrier.
One week last spring, I met the matchmaker Jessica Fass in her temporary Tel Aviv office, a WeWork location with hardwood floors, exposed mechanicals, wheat beer on tap, and Millennials talking about deliverables while eating $20 salads at a communal lunch table.
Fass, a Jewish matchmaker from Los Angeles, had descended on Israel—where she spent five years and which she considers to be a second home—to find suitable mates for her clients in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Melbourne. She has a confessional nature, an efficient, straight-A-student upbeat vibe, and plans to build her business—called Fass Pass to Love—into a matchmaking empire.
Fass started her matchmaking business as a hobby, but has been working at it full-time since 2013. She has a certificate from the Matchmaking Institute in New York City, a facility licensed by the New York State Department of Education that promises a science-based approach to helping others find love. Fass’s services can be expensive, ranging from $2,500 to $20,500 depending on the scope of the assignment and the client’s “matching criteria.” The more expensive the package, the more extras she throws in—including personal stylists, home organizers, dating/relationship/flirting coaches, therapists, headshot photographers, personal fitness trainers and “anything else the client might need to become the ‘best version’ of himself/herself and be ready for love.”
But finding Jewish community isn’t a given across the country—especially in smaller cities or towns. “I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and there are not really many Jewish people here,” says Laurie Berzack, a matchmaker since 2006 with Chai Expectations. Shortly after starting her business, Berzack realized that she would have to expand her network, cobbling together a series of small Jewish populations in places like Atlanta and Raleigh. “I always say that love doesn’t have to be in your backyard,” she says. “If you really want it, you need to expand your parameters in terms of a lot of things—especially geographic.”
Making a match between two Jews is considered a “mitzvah”—technically, a Biblical commandment, but colloquially expressed as a general good deed. “After three mitzvahs, you’re guaranteed a place in heaven,” Fass said. She has made six marriages to date. “Most Jews want to marry other Jews,” she added. “Even if you’re secular, you want to celebrate Passover. And a lot of the Jews I meet have been to all of the singles events in their city, and their mother has set them up. They run out of Jews to date, and that’s when they come to me.”
Even in cities with relatively large Jewish populations, the dating pool can feel small. The global Jewish population is just 15 million, with about 6 million in each Israel and the United States, and another 3 million spread out across the rest of the world. Montreal, London, and Melbourne each have fewer than 200,000 Jewish people, and Rome has fewer than 20,000. In the U.S., two trends are further winnowing the dating pool: More than half of American Jews now marry non-Jewish partners, and there are questions about the decline of Jewish identity among both Americans and Millennials. A Pew survey from 2013 found that fewer American Jews are raising their children Jewish, and also found declining religiosity among Jewish Millennials, 32 percent of whom describe themselves as culturally or ethnically Jewish, but not religious.
So, in many cities around the world, a hometown search might not last long. That’s where global matchmakers like Fass enter the picture, not to mention plenty of alternatives without the premium price tag. In addition to online services like JDate.com, there’s an extensive network of Jewish matchmaking connections across the spectrum of observance that span major cities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Rome. Several services in Israel explicitly facilitate introductions between Israelis and Jews in the diaspora.
Matchmaking is particularly popular among Orthodox Jews, some of whom seek a partner within a very insular community. Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, noted that one website of Chabad (an Orthodox movement) lists 27 matchmakers in Brooklyn alone, and dozens more worldwide, from Cincinnati to Melbourne.
These services aren’t just for the devout. Many secular Jews also turn to matchmakers, and the majority of Tel Aviv—where Fass was trying to drum up clients—is not particularly religious. Concerns about Jewish continuity, about raising Jewish children and going through the essential motions of tradition can become important enough to overpower other reservations—even about a geographic relocation. One of Fass’s clients, a 43-year-old nurse who lives in Sydney, said he was receptive to meeting someone locally, but pragmatic about the odds: “A large proportion of our people live in Israel or America, and the idea is not to limit the prospective match.”
Margaux Chetrit-Cassuto, a matchmaker with Three Matches in Montreal, said 90 percent of her clients are willing to consider relocation for the right partner. She has established networks in New York City, Miami, and Tel Aviv. “Everyone has his or her own reasons,” she said. “There are children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who feel a strong sense of responsibility. There are others who identify as cultural Jews and they want to make Jewish jokes and have someone who gets it. Some people just feel more comfortable with someone Jewish because they grew up with Jews.”
That comfort can also help ease integration in a new city that also has an established Jewish community, says Berzack. She recently attended a party for a local man she coached to celebrate his marriage to a woman from New York. “What I saw was people from a small Jewish community opening their arms to his new bride, giving phone numbers and embracing her in the community,” she says. It helps, too, that even small and secular communities have what Berzack refers to as “infrastructure”: established institutions and weekly rituals like Shabbat lunch. “That helps create a real community feeling and camaraderie, and people just need to tap into it.”
Of course, Jewish culture and practice is far from homogeneous, and low population numbers and a diaspora that spans out across the globe can make it harder to find someone compatible, Fass said. Jews from Los Angeles might have little in common with Jews from Yemen, she points out. “This is what makes Jewish matchmaking so hard,” she said. “You can be attracted on every level, but if practice is off, it can be a deal breaker.” But she is seeing more openness to intercultural relationships. In addition to some of the usual questions one might expect from any matchmaker—career ambitions, willingness to relocate, family expectations, physical type—Fass also asks questions specific to Jewish tradition, such as the keeping of kosher dietary laws and holiday observance.
In one Facebook post, Fass outlined the international Jewish clients to match with eligible Israelis. It included a 41-year-old venture capitalist in New York City who is attentive, easygoing, loyal, kind, and willing to relocate for a good match. There was the 55-year-old doctor who attended three Ivy League institutions, enjoys ice cream, and was seeking a woman willing to relocate to Los Angeles to start a family. A 38-year-old female social worker who loves salsa dancing and kayaking was willing to relocate to Israel or anywhere in the United States for “a man who can appreciate an optimistic and ambitious partner.” All clients are identified as Ashkenazi or Sephardic (a reference to geographic familial origins), and their respective preferences for levels of religious observance are made clear.
Despite matchmaking’s typically starry language about commitment and eternal soul mates, all matchmakers essentially work in a more vulgar trade: sales. I sat in on Fass’s meeting with Osher, a 33-year-old architect with a passion for swing dancing and a recently broken heart. He and Fass almost immediately started to discuss the public relations value of my presence, as I quietly took notes and tried not to get involved. There was a protracted debate over whether Osher should tell me about his former involvement in Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, lest it be perceived by any prospective matches as overly nerdy. (The debate was inconclusive.)
Later that night in Tel Aviv, Fass sat down with a group of budding matchmakers that she was hoping to draw into her business (starting at 35 shekels an hour), mostly to help scout for potential matches for clients. As the aspiring matchmakers snacked on crackers and cookies, Fass showed them a promotional ad she had just shot. The room was typically diverse, with American, Israeli, Russian, Swiss-German, and French women. All were interested in making some cash, but they were also drawn to the romantic ideals of matchmaking. One young woman from Philadelphia said she was keen to make her family proud: “I hope I can match up some Jews soon because my mom says it’s a mitzvah.”