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Centuries-old matchmaking festival comes to Pittsburgh's Strip District

By Kim Lyons
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Tovah Weinberg said she has a knack for getting people together.

In the 29 years she's been a matchmaker, the retired dentist takes credit for more than 100 marriages.

"You really do know right off the bat if two people will be a good match," Weinberg said. "You get a very strong sense."

Speed-dating and Internet match-ups may be hot in the meet market, but traditional matchmakers are alive and well.

Mullaney's Harp and Fiddle has its fifth annual Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival tomorrow night. The Lisdoonvarna festival is modeled after one of the biggest and oldest singles events in Europe, still held in the County Clare town that bears its hard-to-pronounce name.

The centuries-old festival was started to help pair the children of Irish families with mates their families approved.

Jennifer O'Connor acts as one of several of Mullaney's matchmakers, and described her role as a kind of liaison between would-be couples.

"We help them break the ice," O'Connor said. Participants-- usually women, O'Connor said -- approach the matchmakers at Lisdoonvarna and discreetly point out whom they would like to get to know better.

The matchmaker takes it from there.

"You have to ask the right questions: first, are they both legitimately single?" O'Connor said. "And you have to find out enough about them to make the decision -- you don't want to pair up a rock climber with someone who likes to stay home and watch TV and knit."

She said the pub's Lisdoonvarna has been responsible for at least 10 marriages. If a couple does meet through Lisdoonvarna, stays together for a year, and checks in at Mullaney's once a month, they're eligible to win a trip to Ireland.

Weinberg said she got into matchmaking because she was concerned about perpetuating Jewish traditions and culture.

"I got started when my mother kicked me out of the house at 22," said Weinberg, a Detroit native. "She was worried I would never find a Jewish husband unless I went to New York."

While in New York, Weinberg learned her craft from legendary matchmaker, or shadchan, Else Benheim. In other cities she's worked in, Weinberg said, it's harder to find guys for matches, but in Pittsburgh, it's harder to find women.

"Girls are definitely in demand here," she said. Weinberg said she looks for people with similar education and upbringing as a starting point for any match.

She coordinates her database of singles through her Web site, and does not accept any money for her services.

"I do it for the mitzvah, the good deed," Weinberg said. "I like helping people get together. Nobody wants to be alone."

Kim Lyons can be reached at or (412) 320-7922.

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