Internet, Internet, Make Me a Match

Jewish matchmakers are being squeezed by online dating services

"We're a minority group," says Saker, "with particular marriage requirements. We're not trying to replace the shadchan. We're just trying to make matches. It's really a rather traditional method if you think about it."

Katz does not buy this.

"It's ridiculous," she says. "It's so easy to tell half-truths on there. There's no one checking out backgrounds, no one to ask for references. In the Orthodox circle, there is always someone who knows a person, either from the yeshivah or from synagogue. You talk to a few people, you find out a few things. You see when the red flags go up. You always have to look for the red flags."

Gilbert Ford

Katz is big on red flags.

"How do you know that this perfectly nice-looking person isn't a kleptomaniac? How do you know they don't have cancer? You have a right to know these things. You need to know these things."

Katz folds her hands, flashing gold, chunky rings on each hand. "I, on the other hand," Katz says, "have never had anyone come back to me after a date and tell me something about the other person that surprises me. They might come back complaining of some flaw, and I always say, 'Yeah, well, that sounds about right.' "

It's Katz's job to inform the partner whether there was a successful match and whether there will be another date.

"It's a big responsibility," Katz says, "but you know that going in. It's not my fault if the date doesn't work out. But it's my joy if it does."

To that end, Katz pooh-poohs the idea of citing numbers on the rate of successful matches. "It's enough," is all she'll say. Besides, she adds somewhat defensively, good matches are not just ones that end in marriage. A good match can be a relationship that continues for more than one date. People have such wrong ideas of the word success today, she says. They also have the wrong idea of marriage, but that's another story entirely.

Rabbi Edward Davis, the head rabbi at Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale's Young Israel, has been contacted by Katz and other shadchanim about congregants' backgrounds. A roly-poly man with a white scratchy beard and a round sunburned face, he has some expertise of his own in the art of bringing eligible young people together. He has married off three of his children, which, he says, sounds impressive until you realize he has six more to go.

But in his role as a rabbi, serving his congregants, Davis must deal with some of the same concerns that Katz addresses. "People will call with the weirdest questions," he says. "They'll want to know what the prospective bride's mother wore to services on Friday night, or what type of silverware the family uses when they entertain guests for a Saturday lunch."

It can be a delicate task. When asked about certain persons' characteristics, he confides, he has to be careful about what he says. "There's a reason," he says, "why in England they're called 'virgin queens.' It's because you can't call them 'ugly queens.'"

But, Katz says, when it comes to matchmaking, rabbis like Davis often have their flaws. "I shouldn't tell you this," she says, "but the rabbi [Davis] has set up some not-so-good matches."

This is what really gets Katz's goat: The goal should not be just to find a match but to find a good match, an accomplishment she is sure an online dating service cannot do.

"An online site does not show how good you are to your parents, how you treat your siblings, what your family life is like," she says. "It takes superficial things and attempts to make matches that way."

Now all that Katz has to do is get her clientele back.

"Any ideas?" she asks, sighing.

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