By Baila Sebrow

Netflix’s new Jewish Matchmaking reality show is generating heavy criticism about its inappropriate innuendos, profanity, references to body parts, and partial nudity unsuitable for young viewers.

When Buckingham Television/IPC initially casted for production, the show was presented as a documentary that was being produced to demonstrate the beauty of Judaism and the various cultures and sects within. One of the aspects continuously promised and emphasized by the production team was that this show will dispel any negative myths about Orthodoxy resulting from the Netflix show Unorthodox, which stars Julia Haart.

This is happening at a time when matchmaking has become a corrupt business, with people joining the shidduch scene and declaring themselves matchmakers. Some charge unreasonable fees or employ mafia-like tactics on their clients or other matchmakers they view as competition to their “business.”

Jewish singles are now oftentimes financially and emotionally exploited by unscrupulous matchmakers and dating coaches. Neither profession is regulated. There is no accountability and no consequences for inappropriate conduct. Nor is there any recourse for anyone who is mistreated in connection to matchmaking.

Within the last two decades, Jewish matchmaking/shadchanus has taken a major nosedive. Gone are the days when most matchmakers were pious people who dedicated their lives to helping Jewish singles find their match, for the sake of the mitzvah. Matchmaking now is an easy money-making venture (for some) that requires no formal education or financial overhead.

My personal experience with the producers of Jewish Matchmaking for Netflix is a prime example of how matchmaking has been turned into an unethical business.

It has been my experience that the production company locked in an Orthodox matchmaker—giving what appeared to be a bona fide contract—in order to gain insider information. While secrets about the production, plots, and characters cannot be revealed, the First Amendment protects the rights of citizens to talk about and call out injustices.

Here is the behind-the-scenes scoop, and my harrowing behind-the-scenes experience with this production company:

In late October 2020, my private number rang. A woman said that she works for the casting department of a television production company. At the time she would not tell me who gave her my private number, though later I did find out who referred me in a scheme to provide sensitive cultural information. It is part of this dramatic story.

My initial instinct told me to get off the phone, but my curiosity got the better of me so I heard her out. She insisted on a Skype meeting with me because I was recommended for starring as a matchmaker on a Jewish dating documentary, like Indian Matchmaking on Netflix. While we were talking, I Googled her name to check the authenticity of the production company, and after feeling comfortable, I agreed to that meeting.

At this recorded meeting, I answered all her questions in full detail regarding how dating for marriage works within the various Orthodox cultures and ages. She was intrigued by my full descriptions of each hashkafah. Moreover, she was excited to learn about the various hashkafos as it relates to their methods of dating.

I explained in broad but comprehensive terms what Jewish matchmaking entails, including the history of matchmaking. She was very thankful for my information. She contacted me again and told me that she forwarded the recorded meeting to her superiors, who were impressed and further intrigued. Meetings with other people from that production company followed. The woman got back to me, saying that they want me for the part.

I met with several other members of that team, and I stressed to them that as an Orthodox Jewish woman and well-known international matchmaker for decades, I need the guarantee that Jewish matchmaking will be presented in a positive manner, demonstrating its beauty and being respectful of the various cultures within Orthodoxy. They agreed and stated that they share the same goal, again stressing that they want to dispel any negative myths about Orthodoxy and Judaism perpetuated by the show Unorthodox.

In early December 2020 they had me sign a hold-contract stating that I won’t say a word to anyone about this project and that I won’t accept any other similar offer.

There were many more meetings to cull information about how matchmaking is accomplished, including recruitment for matches and casting, as well as appropriate lingo. They asked me for pictures of my Orthodox upbringing so they could get a better understanding of the culture.

They asked me to go to my childhood home and collect pictures and other paraphernalia of Orthodox Jewish culture and send it to them. I spent hours poring through old family and community photos and documents, while using the camera on my phone to take shots. I sent them various personal photographs of my childhood, family members, holidays, celebrations, Jewish weddings, and tombstones of my loved ones. They wanted an explanation of each photograph, and in the interest of kiddush Hashem, I obliged.

In March 2021, I was hired for the part in this documentary, and they sent me a final contract to secure my commitment to their schedule and shooting dates. Yet again, one of the stipulations was that I couldn’t tell anyone about this project.

In early fall 2021, I received a call from Aleeza Ben Shalom who, in the past, referred to herself as a dating coach. She told me that she knows that I will be the “other” matchmaker on the show, since she’s the Israeli one. I did not confirm her statement until I had permission from the production team, because I pledged to keep silent about the project.

I immediately reached out to the production team, curious and perplexed as to how she knows about me since everything was top secret. That was the first time they confirmed that there are two matchmakers for the show, and they said it was OK for me to talk to her. When I did call her back, she expressed unhappiness that there were two matchmakers for this show. I told her, “I didn’t go looking for this; they recruited me.”

More meetings with production followed. More of picking my brain about the Jewish cultures. The producers sent me pictures and bios of many non-Orthodox singles to match. I started to feel uneasy about this upcoming documentary as I know that observant singles are concerned about marrying a compatibly observant spouse. I was then asked how I feel about matching LGBT for the show. I responded that my clientele in matchmaking does not disclose to me any orientation other than heterosexuality.

They requested of me to refer Orthodox singles to them, and I spent many weeks’ worth of hours researching, interviewing, and referring Orthodox people from my database of thousands of singles, with their permission, for casting.

Meanwhile, the production team sent me shoot dates to be available covering a large span of time over several months. Some of those dates included the requirement to travel out of state or country for shootings. Each time it came close to a shoot date, they canceled. Yet, they kept in close touch with me to make sure that I didn’t plan anything else on every one of those dates. I was consistently instructed to be available to them, and I was always compliant. During all that time, I turned down many offers and opportunities.

More months went by, and I became aware that while the company was telling me that there was a delay in the shooting, they were shooting with the other starring matchmaker. I contacted them about it, and they assured me not to worry, that they were just filming the matchmakers one at a time and to please keep all the shoot dates open and not plan anything else for those dates. There was one circumstance where they filmed a short episode with one of my dating couples, but they then used an excuse not to go through with it.

In March 2022 word was out in the media about this upcoming show. The production team sent me an e-mail to not say anything to the press about the show and that if anyone from the media reaches out to me, I should let them know. They sent me more legal documentation requiring my signatures in April 2022 to assure me of their legitimacy and commitment.

They still kept holding me to the shoot dates, e-mailing and calling me to ensure my availability to them. But I was getting suspicious that something was not right.

More time went by, and finally, in August 2022, the truth was disclosed to me. The production company used me for information. Through a few phone calls, e-mails, and texts to me and the assigned attorney handling the contract, the production company apologetically expressed how badly they feel and how unfairly I was treated. They offered me $8,000 in compensation, in exchange that I sign a non-disclosure agreement. I declined the offer.

The president of the company then personally reached out to me, pleading with me for my silence, and he offered me $16,000 to sign a non-disclosure not to say anything about what transpired or about anyone connected to the company, show, etc. And since I was a “CONSULTANT,” he said he would add my name to the credits as a consultant. They sent me an agreement, giving me 21 days to decide. Oddly, they pulled that offer in less than three days without explanation. My attorney was flabbergasted, and she said I should retain a litigator.

I retained another attorney, and various phone conferences and e-mails ensued. Fearful that I would go public with the story, they sent me a new contract offering me $16,000 and a “consultant” credit for each episode in exchange for my silence.

Through a series of back-and-forth attempted negotiations, and frequent changes in their waiver and release they pressured me to sign, for my silence, it was becoming more and more transparent that this project was not kosher. In addition, I was being contacted by people familiar with this project who somehow heard through the grapevine about my experience; they had concerns of how this show will be depicted to non-Jewish audiences, consequently resulting in chilul Hashem.

My Orthodox background is such that I have strong familiarity and knowledge about all the various customs and sects. The production company unjustly enriched themselves by taking my professional and valuable time and information. It also appears that they are mixing and matching my information for a very inaccurate portrayal of what real, true Jewish matchmaking is all about.

In my opinion, Jewish singles will likely get the raw end of the deal as a result of this reality show, particularly as it misrepresents Jewish singles and Jewish matchmakers. Their vulnerability will now be exposed for the world to enjoy—all for money. I also can’t help but feel that this new Netflix show about Jewish matchmaking will do more harm than good. This is a culturally sensitive topic and if it is not handled with the respect it deserves, it will give way to antisemitism and harmful stereotypes that hurt the Jewish community. The danger that this show poses to impressionable young viewers starts with its title “Jewish Matchmaking” and the assumption that the content and behavior of the characters are acceptable in Jewish tradition. 

 

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, WVIP 93.5 FM HD2, and talklinenetwork.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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