In the anxious weeks following the October 7 attack on Israel and the corresponding and equally alarming uptick in antisemitic incidents and feeling of isolation experienced by American Jews, many Jewish institutions, groups and synagogues have turned to expected tried-and-true models. Some have organized fundraisers for Israel. Some are sending medical kits and supplies overseas. Some are writing letters to Israeli soldiers on the front lines. Many are participating in protests.
But an Upper East Side Orthodox congregation has taken a possibly unorthodox approach to counter the crisis: matchmaking.
The reasoning, according to the Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife) of the Altneu Synagogue, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, is if the future of the Jewish people is on the line, then what’s needed is more Jewish people—and that starts with more Jewish couples.
The initiative involves interested singles in the congregation and their close friends.
“Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do from here,” she said. “I felt very much that the best way to respond to darkness and death is to bring in more light and more love and to bring people joy. Traditionally, that is the Jewish response to catastrophe.”
The idea clicked. An email announcement, a social media posting, and within two weeks, almost 200 people signed up—nearly half of them congregation members.
The practice of matchmaking in Judaism is centuries old, as anyone familiar with “Fiddler on the Roof“ knows. But the recent Netflix hit, “Jewish Matchmaking,” fueled a renewed interest in the subject. The Rebbetzin, whose own marriage to Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt was the product of a shadchan (matchmaker), had toyed with the idea for months, keeping it on the back burner due to concerns that with a busy schedule and three young children she wouldn’t be able to pull it off.
Then October 7 happened.
“It’s a moment where a lot of people were like, ‘Wow, it’s on me to find someone to continue our Jewish peoplehood,’” she said. “It has been ringing in my head since Oct. 7 that I need to help. We, as a community, need to help those who are looking for love and those who want to start families. This moment shook us awake and I think it sort of forced us to shed a lot of our pretenses, the artifice, all the games that I often see, especially in Manhattan, around dating.”
As with any enterprise, there are forms to fill out. Collected by five women— “connectors,” age ranging from late 20s through 50s—the forms consist of questions concerning family background, education, hobbies, passions, religious observance and, of course, the kind of partner desired. The connectors tabulate the answers and the matchmaking begins.
Eden Schonfeld Fischman, one of the connectors, said, “It’s not like your grandmother’s shadchan. At the Altneu, this is something that’s very organic. We have so many young professionals that are as committed to a community and their religion as they are to their careers here.”
After Oct. 7, “people have a little bit different take and feel about hopefully being with another Jewish person,” she added. “The Jewish community is clutching to our identity. We realize what’s at stake here now, so I think we’re in the right place at the right time.”
Synagogue member and prospective match, 29-year-old Joe Piroozian, prefers the Altneu approach to dating apps because of the congregation’s tight-knit sense of community. “The best way to do it is to be set up by people who understand your lifestyle, understand where you like to spend your weekends, where you spend your days,” he said. “What better group of people to get set up by than the people that you spend most of your time with?”
Another matchmaking hopeful, 30-year-old Alexa Sokol, likes the idea of a more personal way for singles to meet. “In a city like New York, there are a lot of ways to meet people. But going to big fundraisers and events and meeting hundreds of people at a time is not always the best, most conducive place to really meet your match,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having a little bit more of an infrastructure for dating and having an intermediary to feel like there’s more support to the dating process rather than just meeting someone and you’re on your own.”
Both Sokol and Piroozian agree that the stakes rose significantly on October 7. “There’s been a mass awakening with Jews around the world consciously and unconsciously that their identity matters,” Sokol said. “Having places where your Jewish growth is considered and encouraged—including marriage—helps people who are on the fence push themselves to the next step.”
Piroozian added, “Specifically during this time, I feel the need to strengthen our community. The best way to strengthen our community and to fight antisemitism is by building strong families with religious and moral values.”
The experiment is working. Interest is awakening. The only question now is how well will it work. As Rebbetzin Chizhik-Goldschmidt says, “We have limited energy, we have limited time, we have limited resources. If this whole initiative only results in just one pair finding one another, it’s worth it.”
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