Aleeza Ben Shalom doesn’t just enter the Zoom meeting – she bursts in – her broad smile and sunny spirit no different to her on-screen persona which beamed into my living room just a few days prior.
Aleeza is an author, podcaster, educator and founder of executive matchmaking service, Marriage Minded Singles – and with more than 200 marriages under her belt, her success speaks for itself.
But more than any other title, Aleeza is perhaps best known as the vivacious shadchan at the centre of the hit Netflix production, Jewish Matchmaking.
Over eight episodes, we follow her meetings with her clients; Jewish singles in Israel and the US who are ready to find their bashert (soul mate) – and need a helping hand.
Among them, we meet Nakysha, a motorbike-riding Jewish woman of colour from Kansas who has never dated Jewish before.
There’s also Ori, the fastidious Israeli-American on a quest for a blonde-hair, blue-eyed Israeli unicorn – ahem – woman, who embodies the spirit of his mother.
And there’s Fay, an Orthodox entrepreneur who is looking for a “frum” guy who davens thrice daily.
Viewers get to know them, and come along on their dates, feeling all the joy, disappointment – and awkwardness – from their own couch.
Aleeza is the show’s anchor; both guiding her clients without judgment, but holding a mirror to the (sometimes unwittingly) self-imposed limitations that stand between them and their path to true love.
She bestows her dating mantras along the way – or “Aleeza-isms” – as she calls them.
Like “Date ’em til you hate ’em”; not literally, but essentially, the idea of dating someone until you are absolutely 100 per cent sure they are not your person.
“You know where you came from, you understand your past; but you are not your past. You know where you want to go, you know your future, you have an idea of that direction that you want to head; but you’re also not your future.”
The concept is Aleeza’s antidote to what she deems the biggest problem with modern dating: impatience.
“People are rushing, and they need to have answers very fast. They need to know, yes, or no. [Modern technology] gives us everything we need at our fingertips in an instant. But we don’t have that in relationships; we never have, and we never will.”
“This is a process. A slow process. An organic process,” she reminds, assuring that taking one’s time doesn’t equate to ‘leading someone on’.
“Yes, it can be frustrating. You’re gonna go through the motions; the highs and the lows, and it’s not just going to click and work – until that one time that it does.”
“Sometimes it’s a slow grow. But it’s just something that we have to have patience for, and not burnout.”
For Aleeza, her approach to matchmaking is highly intuitive – “something you can’t teach”.
“But I can teach a skillset based around that so that we bring matches together that are compatible … then we always have to wait for the chemistry to see if it’s there.”
There are the other factors to consider, she explains: “personality, values, fears, the ick factor and the things we can’t stand”.
“And we blend them together to make a big picture.”
She likens the process to a giant jigsaw puzzle, looking for the pieces that align; and she teaches her clients to look for those cues too while on the dates.
“Look for points of connection, look for differences, look to see where there’s discomfort.”
And when you recognise that discomfort, gently probe why, she offers.
In a world where Jewish stories are often reduced to broad strokes of stereotypes, are sensationalised or downright misrepresented, Jewish Matchmaking successfully illustrates the diversity among our people. Aleeza’s love-seeking castmates are from Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrachi backgrounds and span the full spectrum of beliefs – from cultural and secular to Reform, traditional and ‘flexidox’, to strict Orthodoxy.
Despite the varying levels of religious practice that often divide, Aleeza observes that “we’re very much the same” when it comes to dating.
“Everybody has preferences, everybody knows what they want and the degree to which they want it, where they’re going to compromise, and where they’re not going to have flexibility.”
“People are passionate and strong about what they’re looking for.”
“On the other hand”, Aleeza continues, “in the religious world, religious values tend to trump and come above everything else.
“Personality, values and life goals have to match too, but how we match on the religious spectrum is extremely important because we are going to live and centre our lives around Judaism and the Jewish life cycle, so we need to be aligned.”
Conversely, in the secular world, Judaism is often part of the list of desired points, “but not number one”, she gleans.
From Aleeza’s native Philadelphia to the global stage of the streaming giant, it’s been quite the journey.
She was raised in a Conservative-Jewish home, she shares, where High Holy Days were observed, but Shabbat candles weren’t lit.
Then, following a Jewish singles retreat in her early 20s, Aleeza’s identity took a drastic shift.
“I said, ‘wow’, I love it [Judaism]. It was a time in my life where I was searching for meaning, and the meaning of life. I found the answer in Judaism and in God and ever since then I’ve been living it.”
Overnight, she pledged commitment to her “top four” aspects of practice: learning prayer, being shomer Shabbat, keeping kosher and dressing modestly.
“For me, it was night and day. I just turned my life around and said, ‘I’m going to live an intentionally Jewish life. I’m going to take on these things in these categories, and that’s it. That’s my new line in the sand and I’m going to do things differently.'”
It wasn’t long after that she met her match, Gershon, who like her, wanted to live a more religiously observant life. The pair married, and share five children.
And it was Gershon who encouraged Aleeza to take her gift for making matches – for a long time, a ‘chesed’ – and turn it into a living, after the family felt the financial strain of the 2008 global financial crisis.
“I understood, if I don’t do this full time, professionally, I’ll have to go get a job, and then I have to take time away from this. But I knew I wanted to do this for my whole life. I wanted to help people.”
Aleeza hired a business coach, and launched a six-week dating coach program, and then came books, and a podcast.
And the phone call.
“People are rushing … [Modern technology] gives us everything we need at our fingertips in an instant. But we don’t have that in relationships; we never have, and we never will.”
Aleeza’s friend – also a matchmaker – was contacted by Netflix asking her to audition for a Jewish matchmaking show; she politely declined, but sent producers to Aleeza.
The call from Netflix came at the most unexpected of times. It was 2021, mid-pandemic, and Aleeza, Gershon and their children had just fulfilled their long-held dream of making aliyah.
“I finally got my life dream to move to Israel, and then I had to get on a plane again and leave!” she recounts.
“That’s how it works,” I suggest. “Man plans, and God laughs?”
And so too, does Aleeza.
Aleeza bestows a blessing for clarity on her viewers in the final moments of episode eight.
“I’m slightly obsessed with clarity,” she jokes. “It’s probably the biggest thing that we need in the relationship.”
It’s clarity that allows for the realisation of moving a relationship forward.
“It gives people so much peace of mind and makes the heart happy too.”
But Aleeza’s goal is not just to get people matched and married – it’s to keep them married.
“Anyone can get married … anyone can also get divorced too.”
So, what’s the key to a good marriage?
“Commitment,” says Aleeza. “An understanding that we’re side by side and we’re constantly drawing each other in; whether it’s through love, or through words of affirmation, or acts of service or through humour and laughter and play and date nights – all of those things contribute to being ‘marriage minded’.”
But for those who are yet to find ‘The One’, Aleeza offers a golden nugget of advice:
“Take a good look in the mirror at the person you are today; not the physical you, the everything you.
“You know where you came from, you understand your past; but you are not your past. You know where you want to go, you know your future, you have an idea of that direction that you want to head; but you’re also not your future.
“I want people to be in alignment with who you are today, and [understand] who’d make a really smart partner for you today, that you could carry with you, and grow with for a lifetime.”
Jewish Matchmaking is currently streaming on Netflix.