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May 5, 2023 10:07 am
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Matchmaker, Don’t Make Me a Match; Netflix’s Jewish Dating Show Lacks Spark

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avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Opinion

A screenshot from “Jewish Matchmaking” on Netflix.

“Putting on tefillin is hot,” says Cindy, a 27-year-old Jerusalem resident, in describing one quality that she likes in a man on Netflix’s new show “Jewish Matchmaking.” Too bad the guy she says this to doesn’t wear tefillin during his morning prayers.

In the Netflix show, we see different couples set up by Aleeza Ben Shalom, a matchmaker who now lives in Israel with her husband and five kids.

She comes off as sweet, kind, and knowledgeable. Some may be upset that there is some cursing, that an Israeli guy complains his date does not have a large enough chest, and because that same guy loves to eat pork, while a Jewish woman says she loves to eat cheeseburgers.

But people must understand that Netflix is not a PR company for Jews. It’s a business to make money. That’s why it’s mindboggling that the show lacks chutzpah.

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The reason to watch a show is to either root for someone to find their match if they’re likeable, or root against them if the person is a jerk or rude. The dates shown here — at an art gallery, horseback riding, and at a restaurant, are yawn fests with nothing at stake.

Ben Shalom deserves credit for landing the gig. A number of her ideas are insightful, and she seems to care about the people she is trying to help. She is knowledgeable, and in making 200 marriages, she has earned her place in heaven. There is good production value, song selection, and it’s hugely important that Nakysha, a Black Jew from Kansas City, is shown, because many ignorant people are unaware there are Jews of color, and representation is needed. For whatever reason, Nakysha is set up with a guy who needs to get on a personality transplant list ASAP, because he has none.

Dani, a woman originally from Los Angeles, has a killer smile and is charismatic, and I was rooting for her. She goes out with a guy named David, who is the head of a Sephardic club in Miami; the show tries to play off a conflict in that he is Sephardic, and she is Ashkenazi. But since he has the personality of a shoebox, there’s no reason to care.

I feel for Cindy, the observant woman in Jerusalem, who says this about online dating: “Let’s say you match with 100 guys, only about 50 of them will actually answer or still be available and out of those 50 of them, only about 30 of them will answer the first time and then it’s over,  and then out of the 30 of them, only about 15 will keep talking, out of the 15, only 10 will actually call you and ask you for a date, and out of the 10, only five will actually go out with you, and out of the five, only two will be something that you are looking for, and in the end the two just gets to zero.”

Hearing her say this is one of the few compelling moments of the show; we are teased that she may not be over her ex, but no details are given to make us care. Stuart is a guy who jokes that he doesn’t want a woman who doesn’t think “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is funny and I have the same rule. He shows Ben Sholom leather pants and when she asks if it’s for a night on the town, he jokes it’s for that or Chabad.

There’s a moment where a female asks, ‘How big is his mezuzah?” It’s a feeble attempt at humor, and the show doesn’t know what direction to go in. Sadly, there is no date shown here that is more interesting than the most boring date I’ve been on.

As someone who has interviewed many in the Jewish dating scene in Manhattan for more than 15 years,and heard tons of stories, and has written some, I can attest that there are numerous intriguing people that could have been on the show. Poor casting is something the show can’t recover from. An attempt to make it more edgy by having the episodes begin with married couples talking about risqué moments from their youth, utterly fails; it comes off as trying too hard.

The only couple that looks to have any real chemistry is Fay and Shaya, who are both Shomer Shabbat. But the big problem is she goes to pray for evening service and he doesn’t. That’s really something that can’t be worked on?

A better model would have either had one incredibly charismatic matchmaker or a competition where numerous matchmakers competed setting up people. Either way, you need more interesting daters. An Israeli guy who lives with his parents calls his date simple, as if he is God’s gift to the world. Perhaps focusing only on Dani, Cindy, and Nakysha would have been better. Instead, like a diner with too many dishes, the show lacks focus and is bland. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ashkenazi or Sephardic, you need at least a little spice.

Aleeza Ben Sholom deserves praise for landing a Netflix matchmaking show, but the series lacks sizzle.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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