At first glance, reality TV and Orthodox Judaism seem like an odd pair. Yet, in Netflix’s new show, Jewish Matchmaking, sparks are flying.
A refreshing breath of fresh air in a marred television climate that almost solely shows negative depictions of Orthodox Jews, Jewish Matchmaking is an honest and real portrayal of the beautiful Jewish values we are all striving to live by, told through the lens of singles trying to get together and find “the one.”
Instead of relying on tropes and false, incriminating stereotypes, they show real people — Aleeza ben Shalom being the star. She’s cast as the matchmaker, or shadchan, in Yiddish. She is warm, open, inviting and truly devoted to helping other Jewish singles find their match. Her energy transcends the screen — you feel like you just want to give her a big hug and have all your problems melt away.
She admits it’s a gift she’s been given. “I could sit down with somebody and in three to five minutes, they start telling me their life story,” she shares. “They’re crying, I’m handing them a box of tissues. I think it’s because I come in with no judgment, just connection and with a belief that they will find what they want. I’m here to help them.”
She uses that gift to become her clients’ number one teammate and coach — pushing them out of their comfort zones while retaining their trust. “I’m very accepting and I’m great with who you are,” she shares. From there, she’ll try and encourage them to take something on, like shomer negiah, or the act of not touching the opposite sex — mainly the person you’re dating — until marriage as a way of gaining more clarity in the dating process, for example.
“Maybe they’ll take on a modified version of that. It’s the same way with a workout — you can’t lift 50 pounds but you can lift five. I modify things we traditionally do in observant dating and bring it to everybody. In the show, the audience can grab onto those concepts too. I’m hoping to not just light up the people on the show, but really light up the world and help everyone be able to do this.”
Shomer Negiah is just one example of a Jewish value Aleeza gives over so gracefully. Throughout the episodes, you’ll see her make blessings on foods or a drink, give blessings of her own to her clients, kiss the mezuzah upon walking into a room, just to name a few examples. She effortlessly weaves in the things she already does as an Orthodox Jew and truly makes a kiddush Hashem in the process.
She explains that this is something the production company, IPC and Netflix were very supportive of. They ensured she had kosher food when they traveled to remote locations to meet cast members. In fact, they provided her with a full kosher suitcase full of pots and pans so she could cook with ease when she traveled for filming. Some cast and crew members even came over for Shabbos dinner while she was on the road!
It’s that beauty of living an observant Jewish life that we finally get to see on screen. We see the meshing of different types of Jews — secular, orthodox, traditional, Sephardi, Ashkenazi and more, with love being exuded by and toward all.
A lot of that credit, in addition to Aleeza and the openness of the production team, goes to Ronit Polin-Tarshish, an Orthodox Jewish woman hired to be a consultant and producer on the show. With an impressive background writing, directing and producing plays and movies for the Orthodox Jewish world and then later serving as a development producer for the TV show, Arranged, on FYI, she was the perfect fit.
She, Aleeza and the production crew worked together to ensure that Judaism was portrayed authentically and positively. “They really wanted to hear my opinions and I was not shy about sharing [them],” Ronit explains. “If something was incorrect or even just barely touched on a trope, I would say something. Nobody had malicious intent, but it’s so easy to have something misconstrued and have someone turned into a caricature.”
She shares that all the “characters” on the show are so three-dimensional. “I shouldn’t even call them characters, I should just call them humans! They’re real people with some positive qualities and some negative qualities which is perfect because that’s what real people are like.”
Together, they are hoping that the world soaks up some of the beauty in observant Jewish dating, even if it’s just the mindset attached to it.
On the show, there are singles in their early 20s and 40s alike. If someone is 24 and secular, Aleeza explains, they may want a long-term relationship but not actually want marriage. It’s become the norm in both the secular Jewish and also non-Jewish worlds to focus on other things first like education, earning a living, maybe buying your own space. It’s that emphasis on the individual though that Aleeza says actually harms people from being able to adapt to a relationship.
“We are bred and built to be independent individuals…we wake up one day and say, ‘Okay, I am who I need to be, let me bring somebody in.’ But [at that point], I’m so much of who I need to be, that I have no space for who I need to become.”
She emphasizes that the traditional Jewish value of getting married younger can actually be amazing. “You grow and become who you need to be together,” she says. While you may sacrifice other things in the process, like a bit of financial stability or have someone build their career while married, you do have the stability of your home environment.
“Independence is something that people really started to worship, and we got it. We achieved what we wanted, but we didn’t get what we really wanted, which is love, community and connection to a person we can live and grow with,” she shares. “I think through this show, people might see that. They might shift their timeline and realize they don’t have to wait so long to try and find their [forever] person.”
Jewish Matchmaking is now available to stream on Netflix. Video interviews with Aleeza and Ronit can be seen above.
*Note: It’s important to note that Jewish Matchmaking was not made for an Orthodox audience, so anyone who is sensitive to explicit language and is careful about the content they watch from a tzniut perspective will find objectionable parts to the episodes.