Tova Weinberg has been a matchmaker for nearly three decades and more than 120 of her set-ups have resulted in marriage.
Photo © Yitz Woolf
a single mother of four living in Jerusalem and running her own law
practice, it wasn't clear to Esther Sha'anan that she would ever
remarry. "It's not easy to meet someone appropriate," the religious
American expatriate told JEWISH FAMILY LIFE. "[A] few people
consistently tried to set me up. Everyone else wrote me off."
Except for Tova Weinberg, that is. A family
friend and internationally known matchmaker, Weinberg had always kept
Sha'anan in mind during the 15 years that Sha'anan was single. In
December 2003, Weinberg co-founded Saw You at Sinai,
an Internet-based matchmaking service that enabled Jewish matchmakers
worldwide to pool information and exponentially expand their networks
of singles. Weinberg insisted that Sha'anan register with the site, and
when Sha'anan refused to post a photo with her profile, the
Pittsburgh-based Weinberg affectionately browbeat her by phone until
Sha'anan did so.
A few months later, Sha'anan, who was then 45,
received another phone call from Weinberg, this time asking her if she
would go out with Richard Landes, a good-looking, intelligent, divorced
father of two who taught history at Boston University. Sha'anan was
interested, but told Weinberg that she didn't go out with men who
didn't live in Israel. Weinberg encouraged her to look past logistics,
however, and Sha'anan agreed to give it a try. Landes flew to Israel in
April 2004, and the two met for the first time while strolling through
"It took two dates to figure out that this was
something very serious," recalls Landes, who proposed just over a year
later and is currently in the process of making aliyah. "There were
other people who knew us both, but it did not occur to them to set us
up. Tova had an instinct."
To be sure, if numbers are any indication, the
thin 50-something does indeed have a knack for making matches. In her
29 years as a volunteer matchmaker, Weinberg has introduced over 120
now married couples, 20 of these through the Saw You at Sinai Web site (www.sawyouatsinai.com).
Moreover, of the 20,000 members on Saw You at Sinai, Weinberg has
worked with about 9,000 and is the primary matchmaker to 1,000.
After moving to Pittsburgh, Weinberg discovered what she describes as a 'crisis' in American Jewish life: the incredibly high intermarriage rate, especially in smaller Jewish communities. 'I said I need to do something about it.'
"She has made the most matches [of the 300
matchmakers] on our site," says Marc Goldmann, co-founder and president
of Saw You at Sinai. In the world of informal Jewish matchmaking, "she
is one of the top two or three out there," he adds. "Whenever I talk to
people, rabbis...they are blown away by her numbers."
In contrast to dating-service sites like
JDate, where members take responsibility for selecting their own
matches, Saw You at Sinai employs matchmakers to review member profiles
and set-up potential partners. While the site is primarily geared
toward Orthodox and traditional Jews, Goldmann recently unveiled JRetromatch.com,
a sister site for non-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews, which he says has
about 8,000 members. JRetromatch launched in response to the growing
popularity of matchmaking within the general U.S. population. Indeed,
the Matchmaking Institute, a New York-based matchmaker-certification
organization, reported that in 2006, the industry raked in an estimated
$250 million among 1,500-plus matchmakers. But while some such
professionals charge upwards of $10,000 for their services, Saw You at
Sinai and JRetromatch members pay just $10 to $20 per month and get to
personally select their matchmaker, all of whom work for free.
"A shadchan [matchmaker] has to get
involved," Weinberg explains of dating in today's world. She also works
with non-Orthodox Jews under the auspices of Saw You at Sinai. "When I
see a profile and I know both of them and the guy rejects it, I'll call
him up and I'll say, 'listen buddy, you rejected so-and-so, but you
don't know if this is [meant to be].' Ninety-nine percent of the time
they will accept her again. Most of the time, they need a little
MAKE ME A MATCH!
On a cool Jerusalem evening in April, a Saw You at
Sinai party is underway at a beautifully appointed villa in Jerusalem's
desirable German Colony neighborhood. The 15 percent of the 20,000
singles on the Web site who live in Israel have been sent invitations,
along with a large cohort of North Americans and Brits who are in town
for Passover. Fashionable but modest women in long skirts lean against
marble tables, nibbling at appetizers, while clean-cut men in knitted
kippahs and dress shirts attempt to chat them up without touching. The
presumption among the largely Modern Orthodox group is that the men and
women, aged 25-45, are here to meet strictly for marriage.
Over this scene presides Weinberg, who helped
organize this event and whose name at the top of the invitation is
partly responsible for the 175-plus turnout. Brooke-Astor-like in her
plaid silk evening gown, she flits from single person to single person,
whispering words of encouragement: "You look gorgeous, gorgeous,"
she confides to a frightened-looking woman standing near the wall, who
then lights up with confidence. Then Weinberg darts over to a
20-something man in a dark suit, visiting from New York. "Have you met
anyone tonight?" she prods. Many of the singles in the room know her,
and their faces register welcome, and sometimes relief, upon seeing
"Tova can approach people out of nowhere and
find out if they're single," says fellow matchmaker Diane Burstein, 54,
of New York. "She is very friendly and she has the time to do this."
And yet, while Weinberg seems to be a
natural-born Yenta, she didn't find her calling immediately. One of six
children born to a strictly Orthodox homemaker mother and financial
advisor father, she grew up in Detroit and attended a Bais Yaacov
school before enrolling at Wayne State University. After college, she
moved to New York to enroll in dental school at New York University and
to "find a husband." Ever the extrovert, she met him at age 25 at a
party on the Upper West Side. "I had dated everyone else in the room so
I approached him and said, 'You're the only boy I haven't dated.'" They
went out a few months later, married in 1979, and two years later,
moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he worked as a
Weinberg introduced Richard Landes (left) and Esther Sha'anan (right) in 2004, and they married the following year.
Photo Courtesy of Richard Landes
Once there, Weinberg says she discovered what she
describes as a "crisis" in American Jewish life: the incredibly high
intermarriage rate, especially in smaller Jewish communities. "Instead
of hating them for intermarrying, I said I need to do something about
it," Weinberg explains. And so she left dentistry and began collecting
in a notebook the names of every Jewish single she came across,
observant or non-observant. "I started setting them up. I had parties
at my house."
Over the next two decades, her notebook
swelled to 2,000 names across the country. Then, eight years ago, she
got a call from Goldmann, who had heard about her through the dating
grapevine. He told her that he wanted to start a matchmaking Web site
and needed her advice and database of names. Though she thought it
sounded too good to be true, Weinberg agreed and three years later, Saw
You at Sinai launched. Since then, 300 additional matchmakers have
joined the site, which now enjoys instant name recognition in most
These days, Weinberg is on the Internet by
5:30 a.m. six days a week, answering emails, sending profiles of
potential matches and following up with members all over the world who
have gone on dates she set up. She also throws six singles parties a
year in Pittsburgh, Jerusalem and New York, and is the official onboard
matchmaker for JSingles, a company that hosts kosher singles cruises to
the Caribbean and Baltics. With four of her five kids grown and out of
the house, she stops working promptly at 9:00 p.m., when her husband
comes home from work. "I have to give him a little bit of attention,"
she deadpans. "I don't want to get divorced because I know what's out
Still, the self-described "matchmaking addict"
spends every free minute on the phone or in front of a computer setting
up singles. Indeed, part of Weinberg's success, according to Goldmann,
is that she takes this as seriously as a Wall Street job.
"Tova is about getting people to meet each
other," says Landes. "It's about real relations and not fantasies of
what [people] want."
"Her ability to see beyond [the surface] is tremendous," adds Sha'anan. "We are both eternally grateful to her."
Simona Fuma is the Israel editor of World Jewish Digest.