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The squirmy pleasures of watching ‘Jewish Matchmaking’

Tami Sussman
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The squirmy pleasures of watching ‘Jewish Matchmaking’

Published: 19 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The shared experience of watching the Netflix series raises uncomfortable questions about how people see Jews and how we see ourselves.

“Don’t tell anyone I’m doing this with you,” Yosi says as we sit down to watch the first episode of Netflix’s Jewish Matchmaking. We could blame Yosi’s reluctance to engage in judgy voyeurism on his macho Sephardic roots. But then, I don’t really want people to know I’m watching, either. I’m better than trash TV, I like to tell myself, as I numbly scroll through Instagram.  

Everyone in my group chats have been talking about the show, even my contacts with PhDs, so I caved and decided to take Yosi with me to soften the impact. 

“My stomach feels weird,” I whisper as the show’s generic intro begins. I think it’s my Ashkenazi gut reaction to the anxiety I feel whenever a new Jewish show airs.

Hypersensitive to the notion that "The World is Watching’" I’m nervous that the kiddush spread of Jewish people on the show won’t be presented favourably and by default, Jews in general will get even more bad publicity. I’m worried I’ll have to tell my hairdresser that, “Not all Jews live in multimillion-dollar mansions,” like I did when Luxe Listings first aired. 

It’s not my first foray into Reality TV with marriage as a central theme. Pressured by mates to watch Marriage At First Sight (MAFS), I couldn’t get past the lack of diversity and the fact that producers had obviously mismatched couples for ratings. I switched off. 

Three episodes into Jewish Matchmaking, I’m impressed at how the team have clearly tried to match people based on their requested characteristics and the way host Aleeza Ben Shalom is forthcoming about the traits that don’t fit participants’ extremely specific criteria. Yosi and I like Aleeza’s openness to match Jews of various levels of observance. We admire Aleeza’s ability to bite her tongue. 

I’m impressed at how the team have tried to match people based on their requested characteristics and the way Aleeza is forthcoming about the traits that don’t fit participants’ criteria.

Like when Harmonie (who is 44 years old and likes to have sex under the gaze of a hundred plush unicorns) tells Aleeza that she wants her to find her a reliable mensch who is also extremely f***able, who she can have a baby with, and who’ll travel around the world with their infant while microdosing shrooms.

Aleeza diplomatically replies, “We might pause that dream" when we know she wants to scream. “There won’t be passion or spontaneity when you’re knee deep in nappies, Harmonie!” 

Aleeza is warm and likeable, but we want her to go harder on characters like Ori from Los Angeles. AKA Ori, who wants an Aryan Israeli for a wife. Ori, who says things like, “I’m a good guy” and “I’m not a douche.” Red flag! Aleeza gently encourages Ori to ask his potential match a single question about herself (ie do the bare minimum) when she should be warning potential dates that they are auditioning to be in a threesome with Ori’s mother.

I ask Yosi if all Sephardi men want to shtoop their mums but he’s too busy googling “laminated eyebrows”. I promised myself I wouldn’t focus on female participants’ appearances like other sassy recappers (I’m better than that), but another participant, Dani, can’t stop talking about her perfect eye ornaments (or David’s or Shawn’s), so here we are. 

Yosi is suspicious that Dani and Nakysha’s “extra” expressions of self-love are facades, hiding deep insecurities. My friends put it all down to the “Americanness” of the show as a whole, but I find their unapologetic confidence refreshing. Perhaps because I grew up in tall poppy-syndromed Australia, during a time when young girls were encouraged to take up very little space, to “tone it down,” to not “scare the boys off”, when family TV watching was accompanied by sexist boomer commentary.

Ori, left, an Israeli searching for a wife
Ori, left, an Israeli searching for a wife

“No wonder all these girls need a matchmaker, look at the faces on them!” my father says during our morning phone call. I make a mental note to forward an article about misogynist messaging in the media to the family chat later. 

In another group, one friend is criticising the show for using Nakysha merely to tick multiple diversity boxes, “She’s the only Reform, plus size POC (person of colour)” and another is asking, “Wait, are Yemenite Jews POCs?”

A different contact suggests that even Ashkenazi Jews are white-passing only and my stomach starts to feel weird again. I initially thought Nakysha’s presence was a positive step. Now that the word “tokenistic” is being thrown around, I’m not so sure.  

While we’re on the visibility train, six episodes in I’m still wondering where the queer Jews are. I’m getting anxious about what the world will think about the inherent homophobia in this casting decision.

I’m also starting to worry that people will judge Fay’s contradictory desire for a humble husband who dovens three times a day … and drives a nice car (#notalljews are obsessed with money and status a la Luxe Listings) and I’m not sure how I’m going to explain Cindy’s assertion that men “putting on Tefillin is hot … every Jewish woman, I don’t know what it is about Tefillin but we’re obsessed with it”, to my Lebanese hairdresser.

"Yeah, it’s a thing," Cindy emphasises. No, it’s not a thing.

Six episodes in, I’m still wondering where the queer Jews are. I’m getting anxious about what the world will think about the inherent homophobia in this casting decision.

Interestingly, none of the men in my chats are nit-picking the male participants’ appearances or awkward flexes. The best I get is an innocent revelation from Yosi, “Jewish men don’t need to be good-looking to find partners, do they? They just need to be funny.”  

That’s a good topic for a Shabbas debate, I think, finally understanding why it’s elitist to pooh pooh shows like Jewish Matchmaking. Taking part in the communal experience of watching the series has forced many of us to engage with uncomfortable questions surrounding the Jewish communities we grew up in, to acknowledge our gaps in knowledge, contradictions and unique brands of Jewishness.

As Aleeza says herself, “There’s 15 million Jews in the world and there’s about 15 million different ways to be Jewish”.

Photo: Aleeza at work on the show

About the author

Tami Sussman

Tami Sussman writes for children and adults and is the author of the novel 'So That Happened … But Maybe You Already Knew That'. She's also one half of the TJI Podcast 'Ashamed to Admit'.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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