Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Jewish Matchmaking
Duration
0:00 / 47:09
Published
May 25, 2023

Netflix’s new reality show Jewish Matchmaking, a follow-up to its hit series Indian Matchmaking, follows Orthodox matchmaker Aleeza Ben Shalom as she helps Jewish singles find their beshert, or soulmate. While Indian Matchmaking documents contemporary approaches to an ancient custom, Jewish Matchmaking finds Aleeza applying the principles of an age-old tradition to modern courtship with a cohort of mostly non-Orthodox Jews. The show includes a wide variety of Jewish traditions and practices: Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Mizrahi; secular, “flexidox,” and observant. But there are also notable limits to the diversity—particularly on the question of Zionism—and the show’s picture of Jewish life is strikingly insubstantial. On this week’s episode of On the Nose, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, managing editor Nathan Goldman, associate editor Mari Cohen, and news editor Aparna Gopalan discuss the questions Jewish Matchmaking raises about contemporary Jewishness, dating, and the relationship between endogamy and ethnonationalism.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles and Podcast Episodes Mentioned:

Two Paths for the Jewish Bachelor Contestant,” On the Nose

Is He Jewish?,” Mari Cohen, Jewish Currents

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Intermarriage,’Jewish Currents

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match,” Hannah Jackson, The Cut

It was the million-selling novel that shaped a generation of Jews — does anyone still read it?,” Jenny Singer, The Forward

Couples Therapy,” On the Nose


Transcript

Arielle Angel: Hello, and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. I’m your host for today, Arielle Angel, the editor in chief of Jewish Currents. Today we’re going to be talking about Jewish Matchmaking. The Netflix show, I guess you can call it a spin-off of Indian Matchmaking, which has gone on to multiple seasons. Many of you have requested this episode and we were happy to oblige, because this is our job, fortunately or unfortunately.

Excerpts from Jewish Matchmaking: “My name is Aleeza Ben Shalom, and I am a matchmaker and dating coach.” / “You’re gonna save me, right?” / “Finding your person is the hardest thing to do in the entire world—and that’s where I come in. The matchmaking I strictly do with the Jewish community where I have helped over 200 couples to get to the chuppah.” / “I want them to be obsessed with me. I need passion” / “Animal lover.” / “Blond or blue eyes or, you know, bigger mm-hmm, you know what I mean?” / “I do feel immense amount of pressure. You’re supposed to be married and have children.” / “I’m like the only one in Kansas that is a Jew of my color.” / “As an Orthodox Jewish woman, if you’re twenty? People make comments—‘You’re such a great girl! How are you still single?’ All, like, amazing questions.” / “Well, cheers.” / “The rule of thumb is: date ‘em until you hate ‘em.” / “Red flags: f— boy energy.” / “There are two big red flags: one was that she was a vegan, and one was that she had two cats.” / “Wow” / “Yeah” / “I definitely was into him, there was chemistry.” / “How big is his mezuzah?” / “I have the hardest job in the world, and if you don’t believe me, just try doing it.”

AA: I should say I’m joined by Managing Editor Nathan Goldman, Associate Editor Mari Cohen, and Fellow Current News Editor Aparna Gopalan—making her debut on the podcast, if I’m not mistaken. How did you guys feel watching Jewish Matchmaking?

Mari Cohen: This is Mari: Hi, everybody, glad to be here fulfilling this important function of my job. You know, I felt complicated. On the one hand, I had a good time watching Jewish Matchmaking. As regular listeners of this podcast might know, I do, unfortunately, watch a lot of dating reality TV. Specifically, I watch The Bachelor, and that’s actually not really watching dating because none of it really has very much to do with real dating at all—and instead, it’s just like kind of an elaborate theater performance. Jewish Matchmaking, on the contrary, actually did feel like watching real dating that real people were doing, in which they actually were trying to meet each other and get a sense of each other’s compatibility, and I thought that that was kind of fascinating to watch. On the other hand, it made me feel a little bit sad, because I just felt like the description and representation of Jewish life on offer was not necessarily the most exciting, vibrant version of Jewish life today—you know, a lot of Jewish identity really completely conflated with Israel. A lot of people who seemed maybe a little bit sort of stuck up, or

AA: You could say dumb, Mari, you’re allowed to say dumb.

MC: I don’t know if it’s dumb. I mean, being dumb is not a moral failing.

AA: I know. But they could have had smarter people

MC: Right?

AA: They brought on one smart guy, this architect, to date Harmonie, and they portray him as totally unfuckable. They’re like, “Here’s a representative from the world of thinking people” and then they kind of just shit all over him for being like boring and smart and not handsome.

MC: I think Fay seems kind of smart.

AA: Oh, yeah, that’s true. Well, the Orthodox people are kind of occupying a different space in this show entirely.

MC: I think, in general, the characters are mostly not appealing, which sometimes does some of its own interesting work. In some ways, the Israeli men on here come off looking really bad, which is kind of interesting in its own way in terms of what that actually does for their representation. But I think in general, it reminds me of, I wrote an article about a Jewish dating app—two years ago now, in 2021—called the Lox Club and about the ways in which Jewish identity in America has kind of become this not very appealing, just very bland identity markers in a lot of these dating conversations, and I feel like Jewish matchmaking doesn’t do a ton to change that representation.

Nathan Goldman: Totally. Yeah, I think it was trying—very self-consciously—to show a spectrum in diversity of Jewish experience. And I think, in some ways, it does a pretty okay job for the kind of thing it is, in terms of introducing different terms and like, “Oh, it can mean the most Orthodox and observant people, and it can mean the most secular people, and then this whole range in between.” And so there is something nice in the way it was trying to do that, that also seems like the way in which it becomes totally incoherent. The whole way in which it’s trying to take a framework that comes from a more traditional community, that whole idea of the matchmaker—who is herself Orthodox—and then trying to apply it in this broader context. There’s just all these ways in which that becomes really weird. It begins from this premise that we’ve talked about at the magazine in different ways—especially a few years ago, in this roundtable on the concept of “intermarriage.” It begins from the premise that all of these Jewish people want to find a Jewish partner. And I mean, that’s true in the sense that they are working with a matchmaker who will only partner them with a Jewish partner, but they also all affirm that in different ways; they give reasons for that, but ones that I really wanted someone to press them on that or just ask more about.

Aparna Gopalan: So I saw Jewish Matchmaking a few weeks after a friend made me sit down and watch a couple of episodes of Married at First Sight. That and Love is Blind. And I feel like there’s this whole genre of the “Revenge of the Monogamous Marriage TV Shows,” all these shows where people are just desperate to just get married and start having children tomorrow or something. And this seemed very much in the same genre like Indian Matchmaking, which I also was forced to watch—that felt like much more of like an ethnography of this weird tribe of people who are doing this extremely strange business merger of their families. Whereas Jewish Matchmaking didn’t feel like that at all. It really felt like a continuation of all of these other reassertions of people wanting to get married types of reality shows, but like, Jewishness was just kind of another variable. So in Love is Blind, they might be asking all the contestants, you know, “What are you looking for in your partner?” And then that person is gonna list off a bunch of attributes like physical appearance, or what kind of person they want, what kind of sense of humor, blah, blah, how many kids, and I feel like in Jewish Matchmaking, they just added on, “What kind of Jew do you want?”, and they just kind of say that.

AA: Yeah I mean, I think that’s part of, in a way, why it works: it just really does Basic Dating Show pretty well. Aparna, we’ve talked a little bit about the comparison to Indian Matchmaking. I found Indian Matchmaking successful on a different level. I almost feel like, for me, watching Indian Matchmaking is like watching Fiddler on the Roof. For those who have not seen it, in Fiddler on the Roof, he has five daughters, and through the course of the film, three of them get married but arrange their own matches. So they’re supposed to be matched through a matchmaker, but they decide one by one in different ways that they are not going to be matched through a matchmaker, that they’re going to pursue, basically, love marriages. And I feel like we’re watching, on a certain level in that show, the way that this process is hitting modernity in a certain way and sort of failing. You’re watching these people chafe against that process. And so it’s sort of fascinating because they’re still struggling with the family’s expectation that this is something that they’re actually going to have to do. Whereas for most of the Jewish people, that is just totally not the case. I mean, there’s literally no reason why any of these people would be set up by a matchmaker. As Ari said to us earlier about one of the characters, Nakysha, who is from Kansas City, she doesn’t need a matchmaker, she just needs to move or join a reformed synagogue and meet other people or something, you know? So obviously, this show is coasting off of the success of Indian Matchmaking. And there are many ways—and in fact, Aparna is sort of exploring some of this stuff in her reporting—where the two communities are in some analogous positioning, especially in relationship to ethnonationalism within the culture of the community. But it seems like in this case, it exposes just how different it is—like, Jews have already gone through that process. And so the harkening back to it feels a little bit like tradwife stuff in the way that, Aparna, you were talking about.

MC: No, I think that’s really interesting. And I will say—even though I was starting my comments off with criticism—I do think there is kind of an appealing narrative of Jewishness that’s on offer here, and that it’s actually quite ecumenical and sort of tolerant and open in a sense. I mean, obviously not about certain things—

AA: There’s no queer people.

MC: We don’t see queer couples. And we also obviously, do not see any Jewish people who want to be matched with non-Jewish people, because that’s not the show and—

NG: Or who aren’t Zionists, seemingly.

MC: So there’s huge gaps there. But in terms of thinking about the fact that there’s an actually very religious matchmaker, Aleeza, who ends up being a very appealing, warm character who’s giving this kind of general dating advice, and she’s talking to these people who have all different levels of Jewish observance, and she’s not chiding anybody that they shouldn’t be eating bacon; instead she’s saying, “Okay, great, we’ll find someone who matches your level.” She’s basically saying “It’s okay, no matter which kind of level of Jewishness you’re at, we can find someone. It’s all good.” And so in some ways, it’s kind of appealing, but I think if you dig into it a little bit, it doesn’t totally make sense. Because for Aleeza what’s driving some of this is the sense of like religious observance, and the fact that these, you know, matches need to be made among people who are both observing Halacha Jewish law, and making a Jewish marriage is part of that. But for the people that she’s matching who do not really subscribe to that same notion, there’s not as much of a clear sense of why they need to be doing that. And so, what is on the surface, this really kind of nice sort of openness—which obviously is pleasant to watch—when you dig a little bit deeper, it’s just not totally clear,

AA: I would be willing to bet that Aleeza is Chabad, like Aleeza feels a little bit like she’s doing outreach or like eruv or something. Why does she want to match secular Jewish couples? I mean, did she do that before? Probably most of her business is not secular couples. And this might be an innovation of the show, or might be just a function of how open she is.

MC: Right, that is a good point. And I think for people who aren’t familiar, the Chabad theology has to do with this idea that for any one of Jewish heritage to follow the commandments, in certain ways, brings the world closer to bringing the Messiah. So even if someone’s a reformed Jew, if you can get them to do one prayer, that brings us a step closer. And that’s why they, often, are very into outreach.

AA: Oh my god, I’m right. She’s Chabad. I just found her davening at the rebbe’s grave in Queens.

MC: That makes total sense.

NG: It was interesting to me she has these little principles—or like, catchphrases, most of which I think are kind of secularization of more religious principles. I mean, the one that’s really stuck in my mind—because it’s, in some ways, the most extreme for a more secular context—is the one about touching.

AA: Yeah.

NG: Basically turning that principle, that traditionally Orthodox Jews would not touch until they get married at all, into—I think she says “Wait five dates,” or something? I found myself both really interested in what she was doing with that, and also, it feels so strange to take something like that principle and remove it from its context or water it down in this way. It feels like it becomes totally incoherent.

AA: Right? It’s like, it’s pretty arbitrary, on a certain level: five dates, what happens then? I mean, it only makes sense, again, if there’s a matchmaker. It only makes sense in the context where your experience is being orchestrated by another person. Otherwise, it’s totally unnatural. But I mean, that one actually makes more sense to me, the five dates or whatever, “don’t touch.” Okay, it’s a little bit like assuming everybody’s in Sex Addicts Anonymous or whatever, like they can’t handle the hug or whatever. But the one that feels more weird to me is the “Date them til you hate them.”

NG: Yeah.

MC: But that’s just like the advice that my mom would give me. “If you want to find someone, you gotta try a little harder, and you know, a spark could develop after 10 million years.” Sorry, Mom, that’s not really what she says. But, you know.

AG: Also, was that rooted in any Jewish precepts?

AA: No, no, no, no.

MC: That’s good for her business!

AA: Well, it’s not actually—because in an orthodox context, you really would make that decision pretty fast, you know; you’re not trying to waste a lot of time going on dates with people. And I feel what makes it extra weird is that I feel like she made a lot of really bad matches. She kept bringing Harmonie these guys who were clearly square. And she brought Stuart, at first, like a very square woman. And it’s like, there was no recognition of the aesthetics of what people might be interested in. And those things do matter!

NG: I felt like sometimes she was fulfilling people’s preferences and sometimes not. And I don’t know that I totally tracked the logic of it. Like there are some times when people’s preferences clearly seem to me as just like, really ridiculous, and I wanted to see them get pushed on them. But in a general way, I was trying to parse what she sees her role as, because in some ways, it seems like it’s listening to what people want, and giving them exactly what they want. And in some ways, it’s trying to educate them, aesthetically or something, out of what they think they want, which has led them to misery or whatever. I don’t quite know how she conceptualizes her role, but it seemed like it was sort of both at once.

MC: Right. I felt like the time when that happened most intensely was with Ori, the pretty obvious villain of the season, who’s the Israeli American Mizrahi guy who will only date a woman who has blue eyes. He really wants to have blonde hair, and he’s always talking about you know, he won’t compromise on looks.

AA: And he lives with his parents, and he’s obsessed with his mother in a really weird way. He’s got a lot going for him, obviously.

MC: And goes on a date with like one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, but because she’s not blonde and blue eyed, it doesn’t work for him. And then he’s really condescending to her.

NG: He also demands that they have to speak Hebrew, but then when that woman speaks better Hebrew than him, I don’t think he likes that either.

MC: So Aleeza kind of eventually sits down with him and is like, “Are you really sure? You don’t want to focus so much on looks in this way,” and she tries to guide him a little bit away from the blue eyes thing, but he won’t budge on that. It’s definitely a must for him. And then she does eventually say, “Okay, fine. I’ve got this match for you. It is an Israeli American woman who speaks Hebrew and has blond hair and blue eyes,” to which I say wow, impressive find! She must really have a lot of stables in her match. But it’s also very frustrating, because then at the end of the day, he does kind of get what he wants, which is actually this pretty sexist and racist preference. And so it’s interesting, because there is this sort of attempt at education, but that isn’t really what the project is—the project is finding a match for all of these people, even the ones who suck.

AA: It is interesting. I mean, obviously, that’s something that has carried over from Indian Matchmaking to Jewish Matchmaking, the stated preference for more light-skinned partners. I mean, I think it was like impressive at all that Jewish Matchmaking had a Black Jew on the show. That’s something that I feel like even a couple years ago just wouldn’t have happened. And yet, there’s still just a lot of men being, “Oh, I don’t like brown hair. I don’t like curly hair,” definitely expressing preferences for more white appearance—European, they keep saying the words “European appearance,” which is interesting.

MC: I do think it’s interesting that both of the men who expressed that preference do come from this Israeli context. Which again, is not to say that American Jews aren’t also racist in all sorts of ways, but the two men who really expressed those strong preferences are Ori, this Israeli American guy, and then Noah, I think?

AA: There’s two Noahs, this is the second Noah.

MC: The second Noah.

AA: Yeah, he’s Italian.

MC: He’s living in Israel, and he’s also like, “Oh, I don’t really like curly hair. I like the European look.” I found that kind of interesting, and I was also wondering if it has something to do with some of the racialization of Jewishness in Israel, and the ways in which there is this sense of like, Ashkenazi, versus Mizrahi divisions in society are very much more visible. Whereas I think like American Jews don’t necessarily think as much about these sort of racial differences within Jewishness in the same way, perhaps.

AG: I mean, I think it was also interesting that there were some people on the show who didn’t specifically say the exact look they want, but it was there in the back of their mind. And we could tell like when Harmonie’s rejecting the first whatever number of people that are brought to her, she’s like, “Where’s my six pack?” or whatever–she’s looking for features or characteristics that might be equally shallow and normative but hasn’t spoken them. And I wonder if that’s better or worse, because when she’s first introduced and is talking about what her preferences are and the list is made for her, It’s like: stable, down to earth person, loving to my children, listens to story about my grandmother, all of these kinds of things. It’s like her self-narrative doesn’t match what happens.

AA: I think we should talk about the Orthodox couple, because I do feel like they sort of exist in a different show, on some level.

NG: No, totally, because they’re the only ones for whom the whole matchmaking thing doesn’t feel like kind of a narrative conceit; they are from traditional orthodox households, who would, it seems, use a matchmaker to try to make a match. It’s interesting. They seemed like the best dates in a lot of ways to me—I mean, they do really seem to have chemistry, and they do seem like good prospects for each other.

AA: It’s not even like they have chemistry, it’s like they have a shared context, which nobody else who she set up had a shared context at all. And she didn’t even try—like she could have found a match for the first Noah who was outdoorsy, then they would have had a shared context.

NG: And then the conflicts they come to, they basically ended up not continuing after a few dates because, like, she wants a more observant guy than he is.

AA: She wanted someone who prays all the time, and he doesn’t daven mincha. You know, that’s it.

NG: I think he sort of astutely perceives, like, “I don’t actually want to be more religious. It’s just going to be a sticking point.”

AA: I have two questions to ask: I have one question for Nathan. Nathan, for those listening at home, is married to a high school sweetheart. So I want to know from you: what you have learned about dating from watching the show, if anything? And Aparna, I want to know from you: What have you learned about Jews from watching this show? I know you said you didn’t learn that much about Jews. But I think if you had to say, for both of you, if you landed from another planet and this show was like the only thing you ever saw, what would you think?

NG: I mean, I feel like what struck me the most, or frustrated me the most—and you can tell me, people who have dated more than I have, if this is just reality, or this is the weird container of this show—but the degree to which everything was about this superficial list of preferences and the way in which it was so much about people having to just enumerate this very reductive list of their own desires. Everything felt very solipsistic to me, and this felt true about the Jewish aspect too, in which when she would ask like, “Well, how observant do you want someone to be?” And I totally get on a certain level that if people’s practices and relationships to that are totally misaligned, it’s a recipe for a disaster, but it seemed like people would just articulate such a specificity of preference that, to me, just felt weird considering how most of them reported having fluctuated in their lives. Aleeza herself was more secular and became more religious. And it’s not true for all of them, but I think many of them were more orthodox and now are like what they have called—irritatingly—Flexidox, and have their own conglomeration of things. And so maybe now I’m just talking about the Jewish part, not the dating part. There’s just this collision of wanting flexibility for themselves but not for their partners.

AA: Yeah.

NG: I know, this isn’t how most people date or even how these people would be dating in other contexts. But I was like: How do people meet people? This doesn’t seem like it would work at all.

AA: I mean, Nathan, I think you’re right. I think it is actually really hard. And I do think that part of growing up on some level is recognizing that the thing that you want is not going to come in the package that you want it in—or you can be totally surprised by people. I think the question is more: Are the people on this show just particularly immature? Or is this also a reason why people remain single?

MC: I mean, I do think it’s true that it is an outgrowth of these processes that might be considered more inorganic in terms of like dating apps. And also, this type of matchmaker process in which the logic is kind of reversed, because it’s not about meeting someone and then figuring out if you like them, and then growing a connection from there; it’s this opposite thing where you figure out what you like, and then you try to meet the person who fits that.

AA: You’re shopping.

MC: You’re shopping, and on the apps, I mean, it really does become the thing that’s in your brain, because if you’re looking at the Hinge app, and there’s all sorts of matches there–you can’t talk to all of them, you can’t go on dates with all of them, you know? If you’re just swiping through, you have to start to develop some sort of metric for who you’re gonna swipe on and who you’re not, or you’ll go totally crazy. And so it becomes very easy to be like, “Okay, yeah, I see someone, they say their politics are this, so that’s out.” Which, you know, I think is reasonable. And also, very few people on this show had political considerations, which is also interesting. When you see someone you’re like, “Oh, yeah, they look kind of corporate, that’s out,” it’s like, you have to kind of find a way to filter it, and it totally screws with your brain. And I really do think it creates this marketplace logic.

AA: I had a very strict rule when I was using the apps, which is basically, you can only look at the profile once; if I matched with the person, I would just decide I would go out with them. Because there’s so much room for projection even within what you think you want. And just for what it’s worth, I think a lot of the older people on the show were less prone to this kind of behavior than the younger people. I mean, Stuart, for example—who’s the best, by the way—his criteria didn’t strike me as crazy. He had political stuff, he was like, “I don’t want anyone who’s conservative,”

MC: Really, the fact that he’s the only one who had any real political requirements for their partners. In general, the values did not seem very important for a lot of these people. A lot of it were like these other types of markers: interests, maybe, or like vibes or looks, but yeah, not a lot of values talk.

NG: And I think sometimes they would talk about Jewishness in those terms, or like in different ways people would say they would like “Jewish Values” made me want her to ask “What do you value about Jewishness?” because I felt like for most of them, it was not clear.

AA: Wait, Aparna, I’m sorry, you have not been released from this task of what Jews are like from this show?

AG: I’m trying to figure out a way to say this that doesn’t alienate the people in this room. As with most of my Jewish Currents engagement, I came to the show in a very comparative frame. I literally watched like one episode of Jewish Matchmaking and then I went to one episode of Indian Matchmaking and I did like that for the whole seasons. And I feel like one of my philo-semitic insights or whatever is like–

AA: Is that what you thought was gonna offend us? The philo?

AG: Yes, yes. I really appreciated that this matchmaker’s orthodox, and of course, her interpretations of Jewish tradition are like, weird and arbitrary, and yet that it lends itself to being interpreted in these ways is amazing, you know? Like if it can be interpreted by her in this way, somebody else could take it and do something else with it and actually come up with a theory of love and finding your person or whatever that’s applicable broadly, and that has insights into it that borrow from but transcend Judaism in, like, a beautiful way, I guess. And so I’m not saying Aleeza did that, but that it showed that there was some space for that. And then one thing that I was definitely impressed by, watching the two shows side-by-side, was that the process of assimilation is much further along for all the Jewish Matchmaking characters, and that was clear in the incessant use of the discourse of love and romance and—Is it really true that there’s a concept of the soul mate in the religion itself? Because that’s nuts! As far as I know—maybe I don’t know enough—there’s no equivalent concept of an internal relationship to like, your loved ones or whatever, like, a destined soulmate in Hinduism, or in affiliated other Eastern religions that I’m familiar with. And so it’s not a projection back into the past. Like they’re not projecting American discourse back into the past, is it? If it’s truly in the text?

AA: Well, but it’s different because—well, first of all, obviously, this is all hetero-patriarchal. So Aleeza actually says exactly this: There’s a kind of origin story where men and women, the soul splits, and then they have half a soul until they find one another. I don’t know if this is Midrash, which is like not strictly Torah or Bible, or what. But there is this idea, but I don’t think the idea is that there’s only one person or something; like everything in Judaism is like “There’s free will, and there’s destiny at the same time,” basically, or “God knows everything and there’s free will.” And so, therefore, it’s not like you can’t choose your partner, there’s only one person out there, or something like that. I don’t think that’s really the idea. But there is an idea of a bashert—like a “meant to be”—and there certainly is an idea of half a soul, and there’s a way in which the other person completes that. But I mean, certainly Indian Matchmaking is way less universalizing. I mean, first of all, there’s just a lot more spiritual accoutrement that doesn’t appear in Jewish Matchmaking at all. There’s the face reader, and the astrology, and there’s specific kinds of unspoken—but very much spoken—caste stuff happening, you know, and it’s like in Jewish Matchmaking, there’s none of that.

AG: I mean, one way I was thinking about this earlier today is: In both shows, what is a model of a successful marriage that is shown to us? And I feel like in both cases, it’s the matchmakers’ marriages. Because nobody else has succeeded in a way that’s a model. And so we see Aleeza’s home life briefly, and what it seems to be impressing upon us is that her own life is traditional. She is religious, she has a family, she has done her job and reproduced and all that stuff. But it also shows tenderness with her partner in something that—I don’t know—balances out some of the more endogamous stuff, I guess? And in Indian Matchmaking, in contrast, what we see is Seema’s husband bringing her a cup of chai, and they get together, and they look at these biodatas together because they’re running a business, because they had a merger a few decades ago, and now they’re running their business, and there’s no discourse of love or affection. But there also isn’t any aspiration towards love or affection in that relationship, and that isn’t shown as a sign of success in any way. So I just feel like in Jewish Matchmaking, there is still some space for the person to exist outside of the endogamy, and the business arrangement, and the imperative to procreate, and all these other things that are shoved upon you, but there’s some space for you in there.

AA: I don’t know. The more orthodox you get, the more it’s like the business merger. All right, we have to talk about the Israel stuff on the show, because this is Jewish Currents. I mean, I guess I’ll just get really serious for a second and say that I felt deeply, deeply, deeply sad after watching this show. It was actually a weird sensation, because on the one hand, I was like, “This is fun!” This is a fun show. It’s really enjoyable. I like Aleeza, despite myself, you know? But I also felt like, obviously, if you’re making a show called Jewish Matchmaking, you want to deal with the Jewish world as a whole. I mean, it’s sort of interesting, actually. It’s not like they were looking at Europe, or looking at Latin America, other places in diaspora; it really was like, this bipolar US-Israel show, which makes sense. I mean, that’s where most Jews in the world are. But it just made me feel—I remember as my mom was in the process of becoming more radical or liberal on Israel / Palestine, whatever you want to call it, we had this conversation where she was like, “Look, I get it. It’s bad. It’s apartheid. Everything is terrible. But I just want to go to Israel and feel good.” And for a while I thought about this and I was like, “God, what a fucked up thing to say,” you know? And it is a fucked up thing to say, you know, she just wants to Feel Okay there. But I actually had almost that exact same feeling as I was watching the show, like “I just want to watch the show about Jews and feel okay.” And it felt really sad to me that like, I can’t just watch a show about Jewish people and feel normal about it because it is so suffused with Jewish nationalism, and particularly a certain brand of state nationalism. And that was really painful, actually, and also just so weird. I mean, there’s one woman, Cindy, who’s an American in Israel, who kind of upended her whole life to go there—as many people in the show that we meet have done, in fact, and we even have someone who left and tried to join the IDF—and she’s just like, “You know, the most important thing to me is tikkun olam,” meaning repairing the world, making the world a better place. And she says that like five to 10 times; meanwhile, at the same time, gets really teary-eyed talking about her grandmother and all the hardship that she’d gone through. I think it’s like some kind of Holocaust story, some kind of story of expulsion, you know. Really interested in tikkun olam, moved to Israel to make aliyah, no awareness of what the political implications of any of that is. You have this other couple who’s on a date, talking about how they were brainwashed to love Israel and being like, “And I love it! I love that I was brainwashed! Obviously, this is the best place ever, you know?” I mean, that’s painful. I really felt a yearning for a post-Zionist world where there are Jews in Israel, and I can watch a TV show about them and not feel fucking miserable.

MC: I felt the same way. It did make me feel a little bit like, I don’t know how the Jewish diaspora is going to get out of this hole; how Jewishness in the contemporary world is going to get out of this hole. It did just feel like it’s so intertwined. It’s so deep, this normalization of Israel as a center of Jewish life, in this particular state configuration, that it just made me feel quite pessimistic about what the future holds there. It’s interesting because we’re saying, you know, Aleeza has been willing to see people from a lot of different backgrounds, and it seemed pretty open. Would she consult with an anti-Zionist client? I kind of doubt it, if you saw the size of the Israeli flag on her house in this show, you know? Obviously, there’s some filtering that was done, in terms of the people who are even chosen to appear on a show like this, but still! I mean, we learn about young people moving in different directions, politics changing, the US Jewish community in disarray over the new Israeli Government, and all these things, and then it just reminds you that there’s a lot of people that this really hasn’t touched yet, or there’s a lot of communities where there really haven’t been any inroads in that way. And, you know, I think that’s pretty disappointing. It’s also just interesting to see how different pockets and bubbles just experience these things in different ways. I was reading an article in The Forward the other day that was about the Leon Uris book, Exodus, which is this huge, really popular novel about Israel around the time of its founding that probably successfully brainwashed and propagandized an entire generation of American Jews. And this article was talking about what this novel means to different people, and she was mostly interviewing people that she knew. But it was this older generation of Jews were talking about how this novel had meant so much to them, but then now, all they do is just fight with their children and grandchildren about Israel, who don’t see any of the same promise that they saw, and instead just feel opposed to it. And I thought that was kind of fascinating. And it’s like, okay, it’s clear that there are some social sets and social segments where there is this major generational conflict, or there is a young generation that’s really moving away from this relationship to Israel. And then also, there’s clearly many social sites and bubbles where that’s not the case at all.

NG: Yeah, totally. It feels hard to me to assess what impact a show like this has in terms of presenting a certain representation, but it does seem notable and bad, the way in which it does show this whitewashed view of Israel and this total unquestioned intertwinement of Zionism with Jewish identity and an idea of Jewish peoplehood. And I was thinking, when we were looking at some of the coverage, I was actually struck by the degree to which a narrative of rising antisemitism did not play a role in the show. I don’t actually remember it coming up at all.

AA: No, it didn’t really.

NG: But it has, at least in the coverage in various articles, where it’ll be speculating on why people who would be seeking out a Jewish matchmaker necessarily care about having Jewish partners, why they care about certain kinds of Jewish identification, and various articles that cite the particular ADL statistics about rising antisemitism. And another, I feel, depressing thing is the way in which—just as a cultural object—it ends up playing into and reinforcing this whole web of oversimplified and damaging narratives about what it is to be Jewish. And I feel it goes hand-in-hand with the kind of empty or attenuated Jewishness that it presents. Even in its attempt to be, as we’ve talked about, diverse in certain ways and capacious in certain ways (especially around lines of like observance), it does end up presenting a very flat, Jewish Peoplehood narrative, and one that just flows directly into the idea of Israel.

AA: Something I think is interesting that I didn’t mention earlier: all of the B roll—like when they’re in American cities—leans heavily on images of people of color. Whenever there’s B roll, it’s like Black people, or Latino people. When it was in the US, there was a distinction that was being drawn between the Jews that were dating each other, who, for the most part, with one exception, were white, and then the background; whereas in Israel, Israel is also a very diverse place, but the B roll in Israel is actually more white, on some level, than the general population.

MC: And the B roll is very much like the beach with a giant Israeli flag, and everyone’s frolicking. I mean, there’s other parts of Jerusalem.

AA: Yeah, there’s like the Shuk.

MC: Like Old City sort of vibe. I mean, it’s definitely kind of the Birthright advertisement, you know? They make it look very appealing.

AA: I don’t know, maybe there’s not much else to say about that. It just was really sad.

AG: Yeah. I mean, I share your hope that one day, there will be a way to watch representation that isn’t tied up in all sorts of garbage. And it’s hard to imagine, actually, because this whole enterprise, at least in the Indian Matchmaking context, I can’t actually imagine there being matches made or marriages made that don’t have to do with preserving the bloodline. That’s my background in it, I guess, coming from a like, 90% arranged marriage type of situation back in India, that’s what’s happening. And so: Can this enterprise be saved from some degree of eugenics, really? I don’t know, maybe not.

AA: I mean, I just want to point out that very few people on the actual show seem to express the most base, nefarious version of that, you know? I think, actually, the things that felt really scary, and what all of them were expressing, was more in the realm of “I want somebody European”; sexism, misogyny, colorism, racism, that stuff felt more “up” than a kind of blanket ethnonationalism. And it did feel, to me, like a number of those people would be totally fine dating non-Jews and are on the show for different reasons. So I don’t know. I just mean to say that it’s interesting that actually, the evils of what is expressed through the show are kind of baseline, almost universalized shittiness.

MC: I think that’s a really hard question and something that we have tried to explore in some of our coverage around Jewish dating and continuity, and it’s a question that constantly comes up, which is: Is there a version of this Jews-dating-Jews that doesn’t rely on that sort of exclusionary or racialized logic? I’d like to believe that there is a way in which there maybe are two people who have a real particular interest in joining a certain community, or doing a certain type of ritual, or doing a certain type of text study often, and really making that a central part of their lives and feeling like they want to find someone else who also does that. And I think that there’s a version of that that doesn’t have to be corrupted by some of the nastier parts of it. But I do think, in the current world, it is quite hard because they’re all so wrapped up together.

MC: It’s true, we did not get a lot of sound bites, saying, you know, “We have to replace the babies that Hitler killed.”

AA: There wasn’t a lot of checking to make sure what kind of Jew they were, if they’re, like, halachically Jewish or—she didn’t set up anyone patrilineally Jewish, either. That’s kind of interesting.

NG: I mean, I definitely agree that the most outwardly spoken violences were elsewhere. But I do wonder if there’s ways in which a lot of that continuity between the desire to have a Jewish partner—at least in the context of this show—and ethnonationalism are there and blatant or more suppressed. Often, they would say things about, “Oh, I just want someone who really understands me,” and I can understand why people say that kind of thing. And I also think there’s, buried within that, this kind of rejection of difference as the model of relation—and prizing sameness as the model of relation—that does have this continuity with a form of ethnonationalism. I mean, obviously, it also gets down to some very basic and difficult questions about how to conceptualize Jewishness as a community; even if we set aside a nation state, what the nature of that community is, and what the ethics of its parameters and togetherness are, or whatever. But at least for me, I feel very put off by, and allergic to, and suspicious of even, the very watered-down and banal or sort of familiar versions and articulations of that.

AA: I do want to defend that a little bit. I mean, we’re always talking on the show about how expressions of Jewishness on TV, or in fiction, or whatever, at this stage of assimilation, feel watered down, or like nothing, or whatever. And I think implicitly, what we’re saying is that we want it to mean something. We believe that it does mean something. And if it does mean something, then wouldn’t it also mean it’s something that we might want to express with another person, or get deeper in with another person? And not through having to educate that other person, but something where the other person is bringing that dimension to the relationship. I think that that’s fair. I mean, I think it’s hard to both complain about their Jewishness not having any content and complain about it being only eugenicist or something. I mean, I think the combination of those two is particularly upsetting, where the only thing that’s left is the desire for the lineage without the content or something. But at the same time, I don’t know. For someone like Noah, who lived in Israel for many years, and came back and wraps tefillin every morning or whatever—what are the odds that a non-Jewish person is the right person for him, even as he’s not so religious? Probably not high! He needs someone who’s going to share that with him.

NG: I definitely find it much more compelling and less suspicious, the more that there is a ritual or content to the person’s Jewishness. And I agree that it feels most shitty the when it’s sort of in the absence of anything where it really does end up just becoming like, “I want someone from a similar background,” it often ends up having like particular racial implications and things like that. I do think—and maybe this is idiosyncratic, but I totally see what you’re saying Arielle—but also have a kind of suspicion of what it means to prioritize that sharing within rather than sharing across or something. And I come to these conversations from a particular place, because I have a partner who does share my Jewish life with me and is converting, and that obviously is a very particular thing.

AA: Yeah. And I come to it as someone who’s married to someone who is technically Jewish and actually is very resistant to sharing my Jewish life with me, and it sucks, and actually has changed a lot over time.

NG: Totally.

AA: We’ve talked about this before. And you could go back to our intermarriage episode, if you would like to listen to that, listeners.

MC: Yeah. And I think—as someone who’s been dating for a while—I’ve started to find myself, against some of my impulses, feeling more of that sense of thinking that there is something really nice in being able to share this sense of attachment, or even the sense of wounded attachment or struggle over Jewishness. And I don’t know, I can’t always necessarily defend it. Like, yes, I do think there is a problem of wanting to share within sameness as opposed to across difference. And obviously, there are racial implications, but I’m not sure it’s so different than saying, “Oh, yeah, well, I also probably want to date someone who—

AA: Is a Democrat or whatever

MC: —is a leftist, or really attached to literature or, you know, likes living in a big city. It just doesn’t feel to me always necessarily more nefarious than those other attachments.

AG: I think the difference is that being a Democrat doesn’t flow in the blood, or whatever. So I just keep going back to the field or context in which these things are coming up, and where it becomes really important to make sure that you’re not losing your religion and culture in a biological sense. And also, some of the people in the show are more reasonable in wanting to be with a Jewish person than others. Like why does Ori need to be with a Jewish person? I don’t understand.

AA: Ori definitely needs to be with a Jewish person.

MC: Why? Because we don’t want to inflict him on anybody else?

AA: No, because Ori has a Sephardic observance pattern. He’s traditional. His family has Shabbat dinner every Friday night together and they’re religious the way that a lot of Sephardic people are religious. They’re not Actually Religious at all, but they are traditional. I think probably for these Americans, the model that makes the most sense is that they’ll just meet someone, whether they’re Jewish or not, and then that other person might just decide whether they want to convert or not. That’s more of the American model. And we’re not going to get that on the show or whatever, but, for Ori, I think it’s very unlikely that Ori would ever date somebody who wasn’t Jewish.

MC: All I’m gonna say about Ori is: I feel it’s interesting, because again, there was no problematizing of Zionism or Israel at all in the show, and obviously that made us very upset. And somehow, it still came away with this sort of problematic notion of the way that Israelis approach race, and it made all the Israeli men look like assholes. So in a way, I kind of thought that was maybe one upside.

AA: Yeah. Well, in summation, watch Jewish Matchmaking if you’re folding your laundry. Thank you for joining us. This has been another episode of On the Nose. Thank you to my colleagues Nathan, Mari, and Aparna for joining me. We are actually in the middle of a subscription drive here at Jewish Currents. If you subscribe now, you’ll get our spring issue. Yes, we are late, but you can plug in the subscription code SPRING23 (all caps) and you’ll get 50% off of the cover price. So please do that, because you’ll get a very beautiful magazine that has a lot of great stuff in it this time around, including Aparna’s piece on how American Hindu groups are learning from Jewish American groups on how to codify definitions of—in this case Hinduphobia—to quash criticism of Modi’s India. You’re not gonna want to miss that piece! Thank you so much for joining us. See you soon!

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