In the first episode of Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking,” dating coach Aleeza Ben Shalom says that there are 15 million Jews, and so, of course, there are 15 million ways to be Jewish. From that moment on, I was hooked. I grew up culturally Jewish but not entirely secular (read: bat mitzvah-ed, but at the local golf club and in a sequined lilac dress; High Holidays, but don’t fast for Yom Kippur). My family belonged to a Humanistic congregation, and the whole thing was very hippie and DIY. While my peers were learning Hebrew three times a week at Temple Israel, we held Sunday school classes at my middle school cafeteria and High Holidays at a Unitarian Church because it was available for rent. I knew the Hebrew alphabet but couldn’t read prayer, could stumble through the Hanukkah blessing but mumbled at friends’ Shabbat dinners.
Humanistic hippie-ness aside, I was raised in a predominantly Jewish suburb where there was a b’nai mitzvah every weekend and it was decidedly “uncool” if you didn’t go to sleepaway camp every summer. As a result, I didn’t give much thought to my Jewish upbringing until I graduated from high school.
Once I made it to my small liberal arts college in California, I was confronted with a whole host of new questions about my Jewish identity that I hadn’t yet considered in full: Where did I stand on Israel? How did I observe my faith as an individual rather than in a Jewish household? Was I interested in dating/hooking up with people who weren’t Jewish? I met people who had never been friends with a Jew before, and I also met Jews who preferred not to identify publicly as Jewish. There were important campus conversations to be had about BDS and Anthropology classes titled “Palestine and Israel: The Ongoing Crisis & the Plausible Path to a Just Peace” to be taken. But there was also vandalism on fliers about Hillel events and on the mural made after the Pittsburgh shooting in 2018. At some point, I quietly decided that maybe it was best to keep my Jewish identity to my immediate friend group and to distance myself from any campus affiliations.
Since graduating in 2021 and moving to New York City, I’ve been reunited with my Jewish faith in new ways. My friends from high school and sleepaway camp and summer programs — mostly Jewish or what we lovingly call “Jewish-adjacent,” — have hosted Shabbat dinners and Passovers and invited me to their family’s Rosh Hashanahs. In dating, I’ve mostly sought out Jewish partners, a pattern I’ve adopted in part to please my parents and also because I do crave the intimacy that a shared faith (and upbringing) creates. I’ve often felt at a loss for words explaining this desire to my Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike.
Then I watched “Jewish Matchmaking,” and something clicked.
I don’t devour dating reality shows in the same way some of my friends do (certainly not a knock on reality TV — I’ve been known to enjoy “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “Selling Sunset”), so I started “Jewish Matchmaking” hesitantly. I was immediately, pleasantly surprised by the range of Jewish identities expressed, from Shaya Rosenberg and Fay Brezel’s Orthodox background to Harmonie Kriger’s spiritually grounded approach. In the conversations between Aleeza and her clients, as well as between the daters themselves, I saw the spectrum of Jewish expression and the mental (and verbal!) gymnastics that take place when you’re forced to examine your own Jewish identity through the lens of a partnership rather than as an individual.
Seeing Harmonie proudly share that she’s always felt more taken care of by Jewish men — and seeing Nakysha Osadchey’s mom at the table, involved in the dating process alongside her daughter — normalized wanting my Jewish identity, on some level, to be part of my dating process.
My last boyfriend was Jewish, and there was something comforting about the shared dialect of household Yiddish terms, his Nana FaceTiming us to light the Hanukkah candles, and being invited to his family’s Passover dinner. In dating someone Jewish, I was brought closer to my Jewish faith. We had some of the same conversations that Dani Bergman and David Behar had about our respective religious and cultural observances. As cast member Stuart Chaseman’s date Hope describes in one of the show’s interviews, “I think the hardest thing about finding a Jewish match is finding the right match culturally and spiritually.” If relationships are a mirror, the one held up to me showed me that there’s a lot more exploration for me to do around how I observe my faith as a young adult.
At 23, I’ve adopted the mantra that I’m not married to the idea of dating someone Jewish — because I’m not dating to get married. But seeing Noah Del Monte, 24, and his date Tav, 23, openly talk about marriage and marrying Jewish on their second date gave visibility to the conversations I have with friends behind closed doors, but have always felt uncomfortable necessarily bringing up early on in dating. “So do your parents care if you end up with someone Jewish?” Tav asks Noah over chilled white wine, as if she’s asking him what major he studied in college or if he prefers New York to Los Angeles. “I think they definitely prefer it,” Noah replied. As I watched the eighth and final episode, I started to realize that my questions about how my identity and faith affect my dating experiences don’t need to be so private after all.
“Jewish Matchmaking” made the spectrum of Jewish observance and practice inclusive rather than judgmental. I’ve always silently critiqued myself for being Jew-ish rather than Jewish and asked myself, whether looking around at my friends or at my romantic interests’ families, if my Jewish identity was “enough.” Hearing Aleeza reframe the “level” of one’s Judaism for Dani Bergman in the very first episode as the level of “observance” allowed me to feel seen in my identity — maybe even for the first time. “If you’re Jewish, you’re Jewish,” Aleeza tells Dani.
Regardless of whether the show ended in marriage or a perfect pair for any of the cast, Aleeza made a fairytale ending happen for me. She showed me that however I observe and practice my Jewish faith and identity, it is more than enough.