6/25/2008 9:00:00 PM 
From matches come flames Still a Jewish niche for professional setter-uppers
by Eric Fingerhut

Staff Writer

It's not quite the same as the old days. There are now innovations like personality tests and the Internet that help out. But matchmaking is still around, and still successful for a number of Jewish couples.

Take Cathy Polin. The District resident met matchmaker Leora Hoffman through mutual friends about 20 years ago, when Hoffman was trying to get her matchmaking business off the ground and build a pool of eligible singles.

Polin, now 50, said she was "kind of turned off by men" at the time, but came to Hoffman's house and spent some time talking to her. A few months later, she agreed to go out with someone else in Hoffman's pool ----but "only as a friend."

She got lost on her way to the restaurant and arrived 40 minutes late, expecting that her date would be gone. But he wasn't, and she knew right away that "something was going on."

"There was instant attraction. ... It was very intense," she recalled. By the third date, her husband-to-be, Steven, "looked at me and said, 'I surrender.' " They were married a little over a year later and now have two children.

Not only did Hoffman think that their "personalities were compatible," but "they both had serious challenges they had overcome in their lives, and I felt they could relate to each other," she said.

They haven't all been quite that quick and easy, but Hoffman has produced 63 marriages through her business, Leora Hoffman Associates in Bethesda.

For Ronnie Kleinfeldt, matchmaking is more of a hobby. The Silver Spring resident spends a few hours each week as a matchmaker on the SawYouAtSinai.com Web site, and also serves as the self-appointed "Ambassador of Luuv" at Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue ----where he keeps track of who's looking for a partner and will make introductions at Shabbat lunch and other events. He's made one match so far on the Web site, which is filled with photos and profiles like JDate, but has more than 300 shadchanim putting people together instead of leaving it up to the daters themselves.

There are no hard and fast rules for matchmaking, say the two. Kleinfeldt admits sometimes it can be kind of a "crapshoot," but said that he learns from experience.

"If two people have similar interests" and it "looks like to me something's there," he'll put them together.

Hoffman stresses getting to know her clients, both through an interview and a personality test.

"There's no substitute for sitting down face-to-face," she said. "You can't get [the same kind of information] from a written profile."

But she said there's no scientific formula.

"I match common goals, common values," she said, emphasizing that one "must get beyond the superficial." But there's "one element no one can really predict" ----chemistry.

"I'm very sensitive to that," said Hoffman, 51. "I'm not Yenta from Fiddler [saying], 'You'll learn to love them.' "

Both feel they are filling an important need in the community.

"I didn't see anyone dealing with the professional Jewish population [and] speaking about relationships and love instead of just getting dates," said Hoffman, who was looking for more flexibility in her work schedule when she decided to leave the legal profession and start a matchmaking business in the late 1980s.

Having seen how difficult it can be for young adults to meet potential partners by observing his family of six children, Kleinfeldt also believes he is filling a crucial niche.

"So many singles, once they get into the workforce, don't have the opportunity" to meet people, he said, and since "I'm not bashful," he's willing to help.

"I'm ... like a ... cop, directing traffic for people not getting a lot of traffic," he said. "It gives them activity, gives them hope."

Over the years, Kleinfeldt has undertaken all kinds of activities to assist singles find a mate. In pre-Internet days, he would answer Matchmaker ads in WJW on behalf of a young woman reluctant to do so on her own -- and then report back to her with a scouting report if he thought the prospect might be a good fit.

More recently, he attended a singles dance and acted as a facilitator for a female friend, introducing himself to men to whom she was interested.

Hoffman said she is "the kind of person people confide in," and so she figured a matchmaking business could work. She's since returned to practicing law, but kept her business on the side, spending 20-30 hours a week on it.

She charges anywhere from $500 to $7,500 a year, depending on the level of service that one desires. And instead of guaranteeing a certain number of dates for a client -- which she said can lead to someone turning down a good possibility after one date because he or she wants to play the field -- she gives them 12 months over a period of two years. That way, a client can "suspend" her service if he or she starts dating someone and resume it if it doesn't work out.

She said her typical client is one of two types: either those who don't want to "go public" by using online dating or attending singles events, but prefer the privacy of meeting through a third party, or those who don't want to expend the time and effort of searching on their own and would rather hire someone to provide them leads.

Providing feedback and advice to her clients ----acting as somewhat of a dating coach ----is a key part of her service, she said. Sometimes that can take the form of tips on wardrobe or behavior on a date ----and sometimes it can simply be a push in the right direction.

For example, she recalls the client who spent eight hours on a first date, but told her he wanted to move on and get matched with someone else. She replied that such a lengthy first date was "very unusual," and that he should "give it one more date."

"They did," she says, "and they're married today, with two children."

Then there's Refael Hileman of Silver Spring, 41, who has experienced matchmaking on both ends. He met his wife through SawYouAtSinai.com, and liked the site so much that he's now a successful matchmaker on it ----making two marriages in two years.

Hileman said he was using JDate, but as an Orthodox Jew living in Seattle, was not finding many local women with a similar religious profile on the site. So he turned to SawYouAtSinai.com, and in advance of a business trip to the Washington-Baltimore area three years ago, received the names of a couple of prospective matches.

"It worked out well for me," said Hileman, who was engaged a few months later.

Hileman said being on the other side of the site, as a matchmaker instead of a single, does allow him to "see how it works."

"As a member, you always wonder what's going on on the other side," he said.

Even though SawYouAtSinai lists 25,000 singles as using their service, there is still a stigma for some people in using a matchmaking service, human or electronic. In the section of the site that congratulates successful matches, a number chose to remain anonymous.

That puzzles Hileman's wife, Yvonne Shashoua, 34. "So many people meet on dating sites [now] anyway," she said. "Why not use a matchmaker? What matters is how you handle the relationship" after you meet.

"I was very proud, I tell everybody how I met my husband," said Sylvia Rosenwasser, who was matched with her spouse, Stanley, 18 years ago by Hoffman and now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., and thinks no one should be embarrassed by using a matchmaker.

"It's better to go to a matchmaker than a bar or dance," she said, because you don't know anything about the people you'll run into at a random social event.

Any stigma is "dissipating over time," said Hoffman, as online dating and other services become more socially acceptable. But, she noted, "every couple is different, and some prefer to preserve their privacy."

The greatest pleasure of matchmakers is seeing the fruits of their work. For instance, Kleinfeldt had the privilege of attending the wedding of the couple he matched on SawYouAtSinai.com a few years ago.

"It's nice to see you played a little role in bringing two people together to have a nice life together," he said.

"It's so inspiring," said Hoffman, who also has attended the weddings of her clients. "The impact on people's lives is much more significant than career success. You can't really compare love to anything else. I'm blessed to be able to contribute to people's happiness."