Slammed with hefty court-ordered judgments in the Northeast, matchmaker Helena Amram has found no peace in South Florida either

Most important, Amram asserts, is that although the business folded, she did not drop any of the clients who had paid her to find mates. "I took care of the clients I had left," she sums up.

May you be like Ruth and Esther.

David Hollenbach
David Hollenbach

May you be deserving of praise.

With no business left to run in the New York area, Amram moved to Beverly Hills, California. She closed up shop there in 1995 and returned to Israel. According to an article published at the time by the Los Angeles Times, police were investigating her business after receiving client complaints. Amram claimed she left Southern California because the 1994 Northridge earthquake had left her too nervous to remain. She migrated to South Florida in 1997 and filed incorporation papers for Soulmate by Helena Inc. in June 1998.

By her own account, she lives a modest lifestyle. "I don't have a Jaguar," she explains. "I'm not a wealthy woman." She and her husband, Itamar, live in a Fort Lauderdale apartment and own a 1992 Cadillac DeVille and 1998 Lincoln Towncar.

The matchmaking she does from her Boca Raton suite varies little from how she's done it for the past 25 years. Would-be brides and grooms learn about Amram from ads or by word of mouth. Fees vary for these clients. In order to maintain a large enough pool for matchmaking, Amram also recruits men and women who are screened but pay no fee. She now has a pool of about 2000 from which to match.

"I only have 300 clients who have paid me in four years," she explains. "Most of them are 'database' clients who pay only $5000. They pay to have a psychology exam, a physical exam, a background investigation. I don't really work for them, but I use them for the people who pay me lots of money. Then there is another program, for $20,000. I work for them day and night. They get priority. Then we have a very few, no more than ten people, who pay $50,000, who are very, very wealthy and very, very particular."

Matthew (not his real name) contacted Amram about a year ago. A 38-year-old self-described workaholic, Matthew owns a distribution company in Broward County. He is one of the elite clients who paid Amram $50,000 to help him find a wife.

"I'm a transplanted New Yorker, and I've been here for seven years. In that time, I've met three different girls who tell me who they are and where they're from, and all of it's been complete lies. Between the small window of opportunity I have to get out and meet women and women I actually meet, it just wasn't matching up. That's why I said, it's time to go to an expert.

"If you have the money and can afford this luxury, I would suggest it," he says. "I'm engulfed in work because I own a business. Why would I not use an expert? If I needed a heart operation, I'd try to find the best surgeon. Well, if I want to meet a girl I want to marry, I want an introduction from an expert."

Clearly, though, Matthew approached the matchmaking idea with a realistic outlook. "Helena doesn't introduce you to a wife," he says. "She finds you an introduction. It's up to those two people to make time for each other." He's met three women through Soulmate. There wasn't any chemistry with the first two, but he and the third match have connected and are getting serious. All three, he notes, were "very compassionate, very beautiful, and intelligent." All were financially secure. "It wasn't like these were girls trying to sink their hooks into a guy with money," he adds. "Helena's services don't come cheap, so it's not like you're going to meet someone who works at Wal-Mart."

Matthew was aware of Helena's past in New York and says he spoke with some of her former clients from there. Perhaps it was the businessman in him, but he was not concerned about her running afoul of the $250 fee cap. "How can you really gauge what this service is worth?" he reasons. "It's not like you can price it at one store and then at another. If a guy can get $10,000 for a car or $20,000 -- whatever a client is willing to pay, is what a service is worth. For what she does, there is no measuring stick for what to charge."

Amram didn't "take the money and run" in his case, Matthew emphasizes. "She'd call and ask how things are going," he recalls. She'd talk to his date, then pass on valuable tips, like recommending a certain restaurant or when the time was ripe for a weekend trip. "There's nothing for her to gain by talking to me after I started dating the woman I'm seeing now. She's made her fee, but we continue to have a relationship."

In March 2001, Tracy (not her real name) paid Helena $20,000 to find her a match. Age 54 and once divorced, Tracy comes across as someone who is nobody's fool and has a firm appreciation for the absurd. She has a high profile in Palm Beach County, where she lives and works at a privately held business. "I cannot go out and find a potential partner by going to a bar," she says. "I thought maybe there's someone similar to me who is equally embroiled in career and other things and would be working through [Helena]. I thought she'd be a clearinghouse and do some of the leg work that I don't have time for. For several months, I had to go for physical exams, get pictures taken, go see a psychologist. My sense is that the psychologist was looking for someone who could articulate their feelings, what they were looking for, an overview of their life and background -- and didn't evidence any bizarre behaviors." She chuckles. "I also had to do a writing sample so she could send it to a graphologist, which is akin to a horoscope, as far as I'm concerned."

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