Rachel Garfinkle, 29, an ultra-Orthodox stay-at-home mom in Cleveland, Ohio, was married to her husband Michael in 2003. Her cousin, who also happened to be Michael’s best friend, set them up. As the norm goes in her community, they were married after five dates.
Since then, Garfinkle has looked for opportunities to make matches for others whenever she can. In the past, parents would flock to traditional ‘Yenta the Matchmaker’ types — who knew little about the single in question — to set up their daughters and sons. But now, people like Garfinkle have made a lucrative side business out of finding dates for their friends and family.
As Jewish Orthodox diaspora communities become more modernized, Garfinkle says a new era of the shidduch, a term for the matchmaking process, has emerged. Now many parents eager to find a mate for their children are seeking help from the young people in their social circles. Their knowledge of the young man or woman can offer a more personal touch to finding a potential suitor.
When it’s approaching 1:00 a.m. and I’m simultaneously going through OkCupid profiles, receiving texts from someone entered in my phone as “Jason LES?” and wondering at what age I should consider freezing my eggs, I yearn for the days when matchmakers were the norm. My mind drifts back to the Eastern European shtetls. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” from Fiddler on the Roof, begins to play in my head. Then, before I even get to the verse about being potentially betrothed to a drunken wife-beater, I see Patti Stanger flash across my TV and realize that a modern matchmaker won’t necessarily solve my dating woes.
Unlike the many reality television stars that fill my viewing hours, I have a complex, emotionally-charged love-hate relationship with Stanger, a Jewish New Jersey native who has her own Bravo reality TV show, “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Each episode features millionaires who generally all want the same thing: a hot chick of various hair color and breast size with the IQ of a grapefruit who will mother them and provide round-the-clock sexual favors. My friends and I watch the series not to ogle millionaires, but to see Stanger execute her romantic proscriptions as decisively and meanly as the Soup Nazi doles out cheddar broccoli chowder.
Entertaining as she may be, spend a little time with Ms. Stanger and you’ll realize there are more intelligent reasons to dislike her than there are cocktails thrown in a single season of “Real Housewives.” In one talk-show appearance, Stanger said that single women in New York were too brainy and intimidated men of marriage material; gay men had unmanageable libidos that made them ill fit for monogamy, and Jewish men lie. Most recently, her attempt to explain the Will Arnett-Amy Poehler divorce not only demeaned both parties, but also offended anyone who liked good comedy and/or feminism. Arnett’s primal instincts, Stanger argued, prevented him from accepting his wife’s greater success; moreover, since Poehler had achieved so much professionally, she probably wasn’t paying enough attention to the old hubby, anyways. Stanger’s analysis includes at least a dozen points that are either ludicrous or based in really bad pop science.
Patti Stanger, the “Millionaire Matchmaker,” has moved to Manhattan, making her show is all the much more fun for us New Yawk Jewish girls to watch.
The first New York City-based episode aired in October (but can be seen in reruns on Bravo) and features not just a nice Italian guy from Staten Island who looks like an older Mark Wahlberg and sounds like someone on the Sopranos, but also a beautiful, young Jewish mamele named Bryce Gruber.
Gruber is a 26-year-old mother of a toddler son, and editor of TheLuxurySpot.com, a bloggy website that seems more fun than luxurious. Before her MM turn, Gruber may have been best known for “vajazzling” herself and letting it be documented in the press.
• Whoa! Guess who’s a regular mikveh-goer? “Blossom” star and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik. Makes sense: Her name means “water” in Hebrew. Read Jewcy’s recent Q&A with her here.
• A class action lawsuit was filed last week against Myriad Genetics. Myriad holds the patent to the breast and ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 — most prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Companies other than Myriad are precluded from testing for gene, thus making it impossible for women to seek a second opinion.
• Obama’s budget gets a mixed reaction National Council of Jewish Women. The organization approves of the defunding of abstinence-only education programs, but disapproves of the restrictions on federally funded abortions that the budget keeps in place.
• Jezebel weighs in on Rabbi Avi Weiss’s new training program for Orthodox women who want to become spiritual leaders.
• Youngstown State University in Ohio is has put out a call for academic papers for its March 2010 conference “The Jewish Woman and her Body.” The conference “will explore real and imagined constructions of the Jewish woman and her body,” according to Jewess.
• The mother of an accused Ecstasy smuggler suggests in this newspaper advertisement that by wearing skirts at least “four inches past the knee,” a sheytl that does not attract attention and shoes that do not make noise, women can help spring her son from the Japanese prison where he’s being held. Of the advertisement, blogger Elana Sztokman writes: “The very idea that a woman’s appearance (or now the SOUND of a woman’s body) can be construed as the cause of a person’s suffering is so sick.”
• Patti Stanger, the star of Bravo’s “The Millionaire Matchmaker” discusses her bias against curly hair, telling Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal, “If you want to keep it curly, go to Israel.”
A clip from her recent debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach can be seen below:
Later this month, the peripatetic Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is taking the stage at Nessah Synagogue, a Persian Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, to debate Patti Stanger — the yenta matchmaker of the hit Bravo series “Millionaire Matchmaker.”
Stanger, a Jewish, third-generation matchmaker, was profiled by the San Diego Jewish Journal last year. You can read here. Rabbi Boteach, for all his media-savvy self-promotion, espouses a much more traditional view about what makes relationships succeed. Stanger, who favors miniskirts, works in a world — that is to say Los Angeles — where 40ish men with more money than sense expect to date 20-something women with perfect bodies and professionally blown-out hair. Stanger is happy to make the shidduchim, for fees steep enough to keep a Botox account open indefinitely.
According to Stanger’s company Web site, the non-refundable memberships for men start at $25,000 (cash or check only, please, no credit cards). It costs an additional $30,000 for her staff to do a “personal search” beyond the women in their database.
On her show Stanger catalogues her clients’ flaws — trying to shape up the nebbishy, nerdy and clueless before their dates. She screens women who have submitted professional glamour shots until she finds an acceptable group of about two dozen, who she introduces en masse to one or two of her clients in kind of a harem cattle call. The client selects three women with whom he wants to chat, and then one or two to actually take out on dates, with the cameras rolling the whole time.
Watching “Millionaire Matchmaker” is a little like watching a slow-motion train wreck. You feel a bit sickened, but at the same time you just can’t look away. Stanger’s gig with Shmuley, billed as “Can Money Buy Love? Dating in a Material World,” will take place April 28.