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Splitting the Sea of Shidduchim: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Barbara Bensoussan

They were casually introduced by landsleit or mutual relatives and finalized their engagements in the local park. But their children will only meet their spouses through an intricately choreographed and painstakingly staged set of maneuvers. How has the world of shidduchim changed, and why? Two shadchanim — one a savvy, Bluetooth-toting youngster, the other a battle-worn educator — weigh in on this stormiest of sea crossings.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

match maker Two men are seated at the dining room table. One is young and genial; he made his appearance with a Bluetooth over his ear and an iPhone in his hand. That phone continues to emit a now-suppressed string of pings, announcing new messages in his inbox. The other man, older and looking careworn, lowers himself carefully into the chair; his mind is preoccupied with the plight of his many still-single former students. He has some notes in his pocket written neatly on pieces of paper, and when asked for an e-mail address, he has to call his wife to ask for hers.

Yisrael “Freddy” Friedman of Lakewood and Mr. Moishe Yanofsky of Brooklynrepresent two different — if overlapping — eras of shadchanus. Mr. Yanofsky, who served as the principal of Bais Yaakov of Boro Park and Williamsburg from 1969 to 1986, and then Machon Bais Yaakov until 2011, defines himself as “a principal, not a professional shadchan,” despite having been making shidduchim for almost 50 years. (While his former students address him as Rabbi Yanofsky, he prefers to be referred to as “Mister.”) Freddy Friedman has only been doing shidduchim since 2008, when Gateways brought him on board to help seek out eligible single boys for the thousands of girls in their database. But for Freddy, that role has turned into a deeply consuming, full-time occupation.

That distinction says a lot about how the world of shidduchim has changed within a generation or two. Those changes are partly the result of numbers: a comparison of the 1961 Siyum HaShas — which Mr. Yanofsky still remembers as being limited to a grand total of 250 people — illustrates, and this summer’s event, with its 90,000 participants, bespeaks the explosion of the frum population.

But there are lots of other factors figuring in the change. Back when Yanofsky made his first shidduch (he set up his 75-year-old widowed aunt with an 84-year-old alman)there were only a couple of professional shadchanimin the Jewish community. “Forty years ago, nobody made a living from it,” he says. The majority of shidduchim happened more informally, without any need of a shadchan’s services. “It used to be that people would meet inBrooklynCollege, or around someone’s Shabbos table,” he says. “But today it’s considered inappropriate to allow mixed groups in college classes or at Shabbos meals.”

Back then the frum population of New York consisted of a small core of shomrei Shabbos faithful, many of them survivors of the war. Social circles were much smaller, and social problems like divorce and addictions almost unheard of. While the seven degrees of separation said to exist between any random people are probably closer to three or four in the Jewish world, in those days they were even fewer. Today, by virtue of the sheer size and diversity of the community, frum Jews are more likely to be strangers to each other, and more mistrustful by consequence.

Forty years ago, people were happy simply to find a nice young Jewish person who was committed to Torah observance. “My mother descended from a family in Israelof prestigious rabbanim and roshei yeshivah, and my father came from Chicago, the son of an all-American Yankee lawyer,” Freddy Friedman says. “That shidduch never would have happened today. My wife’s grandfather, Shimon Yarmusch, arrived in this country afterAuschwitz, and met up with his cousins from the Yarmusch family. They had four girl cousins, all with the same last name as his own; they told my grandfather, ‘Pick one.’ Today young men can end up matched with one of a thousand different families and backgrounds.”

Mr. Yanofsky met his wife because her father knew him from shul and brought him home to his daughter. “My father-in-law adored me,” he says. He adds with a smile, “Now my mother-in-law, that was another story …”


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