Mention the word matchmaker, and many people will think of Yenta of Fiddler on the Roof fame, the nosy villager who tried to push Tevye’s poor daughters to marry men who were drunkards and three or four times their age.
Nobody could be more different from Daniella Rudoff, who is passionate about helping people build strong marriages on the right foundation.
"I’m not your typical matchmaker.... They’re thinking Fiddler on the Roof, and I’m not,” says the effervescent Ms. Rudoff, a consummate networker, both in person and on social media. After clients meet with her, she says, “They come out with a smile and they friend me on Facebook and they 'like' what I post.”
The role of matchmaker in Jewish communities, once an essential part of preserving the social fabric if not the very existence of shtetels across Eastern Europe, has evolved tremendously. While the Yenta model has a certain stigma attached to it, matchmaking today is increasingly modern and enjoys a relatively wide acceptance in Jewish communities.
The options range from online Jewish dating websites such as sawyouatsinai.com, which uses matchmakers to help clients find a suitable partner, to individuals who cater to particular sectors of Jewish society, such as converts or those who became religiously observant later in life.
“It’s not just for losers and the stigma that used to be associated with it,” says Gavi Lewy-Newman, a 20-something modern Orthodox Jew from New Jersey who became an Israeli citizen last year. “It’s kind of like getting a personal trainer in finding someone who will be fitting to you.”
Ms. Lewy-Newman, who now lives in Jerusalem, has been out on a number of dates through Saw You At Sinai, a combination matchmaker and Jewish online dating service that is free for those in Israel (in America the subscription costs $11 to $19 per month).
While some matchmakers still work on a volunteer basis, for many it is a full-time job with significant compensation. The 5-year-old organization B’Yachad (Together), for example, has a network of nearly 200 matchmakers. It charges 600 shekels ($170) per client and a bonus of 8,000 shekels per couple ($2,260) for matches that result in marriage.
For Rudoff, who works independent of any larger service or website, it is more than matching resumes and then hurrying a couple toward the chuppah. She emphasizes individual, face-to-face meetings that enable her to really get to know her clients, and offers dating mentoring to support budding relationships.
"I try to stay away from, 'She's wearing a skirt, he's wearing pants, let's set them up,' " says Rudoff. And her clients appreciate that.
“Thanks so much for the advice, not just about finding a guy, but about being the best person I can be,” a client of hers told her recently.
Not all matchmaking is so pleasant. In fact, one website, “End the Madness” was created to help correct prevalent matchmaking approaches, including undue attention to superficial religious customs rather than the essential qualities that make for a strong marriage.
“All sorts of arbitrary external practices have become divisive ‘standards’ by which the Jewish nation has splintered, each tiny faction holy unto itself,” with people’s religious worth – and marriage eligibility – based on things like tablecloths used on the Jewish Sabbath or the style of a man’s jacket, according to the website, which offers a code of conduct for matchmakers. “The dating “scene” is replete with this insanity.”
Rudoff is mindful of the religious and political divisions in Israeli society, and the tendency for singles to seek out those with similar views. But she is also happy to be as open as her clients are to going out of outside the box of a certain level of religious observance.
And, she adds, she never pressures a couple for a second date if the first one was rocky. Her background is in mentoring Jewish couples to build successful marriages, and she only got into the matchmaking business after launching her website, “Marriage Architect” a year and a half ago.
"I’m not interested in having a couple get married if it’s not a good idea. I need to see that there are foundations in this marriage for me to put my stamp of approval on it,” says Rudoff, who has seven children with her husband of 17 years. “The real reason I’m doing this is because I want people to be happy. I want them to have strong foundations, to be happy together."