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Jerusalem-based matchmaker Ayalah Haas has come a long way since she was a single journalist in New York interviewing celebrities like Madonna for MTV.
A year after immigrating to Israel in 2000, the newly observant Haas, then 37, met her bashert (soulmate) with the help of matchmaker Gittel Nadel. Married four months after their first date, Andy and Ayalah Haas went on to found Ezer Kenegdo, their own matchmaking service.
Her own process of truth-seeking, Haas told The Jerusalem Post, made her realize that, as "glamorous as it was being a celebrity journalist, it is really such a huge honor to marry Jews as opposed to selling a Bruce Willis movie."
On Sunday, which happens to be her fourth wedding anniversary, Haas will oversee Israel's second annual Jewish Dating Fair, which will take place at Jerusalem's Orthodox Union headquarters.
For the uninitiated, Haas is quick to point out that, while the fair may well provide an opportunity for attendants to meet other singles, it is not what she calls "a social mixer." Rather, the point of the event is for men and women of all ages to meet the professionals.
"It's an opportunity to network with people who can help you get out of dating and into marriage," Haas explained.
In addition to matchmakers, dating mentors, who advise people on how to look and feel their best on dates, will also be present. A number of relationship-book authors will also make guest appearances, as will clinical therapists who, Haas said, "specialize in removing blockages so that single people can become more marriage-minded."
Modern-day matchmakers like herself, Haas is quick to point out, are far from the figure of the matchmaking Yente in Fiddler on the Roof.
Nevertheless, she said, her model of matchmaking, like that of her mentor, Nadel, is "the classic shidduch [matchmaking] model that goes back to the shtetl era."
A typical fee for an intake interview with a matchmaker, according to Haas, ranges from NIS 200 to NIS 400, although some matchmakers will forgo this initial fee. If and when a match leads to an engagement, the future husband and wife each pay an engagement fee of between $1,000 and $1,500.
Having interviewed some of what she calls "the most freakishly beautiful people in the world," Haas prides herself on always giving accurate descriptions before a first date.
"I don't push a lot," she said, "but if the first date was parve [neutral] or better, I will encourage them to try a second time."
Nevertheless, she said, since halacha decrees that one must be attracted to the person one marries, "If on either side the objection is that they were not attracted and never will be attracted to a given person, I drop it right there."
Gittel Nadel, who has been a matchmaker for over a decade, is credited by Haas with having brought upwards of 70 couples under the huppa (marriage canopy), and has a reputation for finding the right match for her clients within three tries.
Nadel, who credits God with her intuitive talent, told the Post about some of her specialized interviewing techniques.
"I really really listen to what people say, as well as to what they're not saying," she explained.
The last question she asks the men and women she interviews, Nadel said, was how they describe their secret, private self. The answer to that question, she said, often tells her what kind of person they are really looking for.
Linda Holtz, a family therapist who runs the Choices Counseling center with colleague Lori Lurie, is also scheduled to participate in next Sunday's fair.
"A lot of people think about marriage in unrealistic, fairy-tale-type ways," Holtz said.
In Orthodox and haredi communities, Holtz said, single 22-year-old women are typically labeled as old maids. "There's a ridiculous kind of pressure on people who haven't even figured out who they are and what they want," she said.
"There are many Orthodox people who are not getting married," she said, "but you don't want them to do it for the wrong reasons."
In addition to helping people who are nervous about making a commitment, Holtz said, she and Lurie help perfectionists to be more realistic about their expectations.
The most important feature of a successful marriage, she said, was respect. "So many things can work out if people respect each other, but if they don't it's not going to work," she said.
When asked about the differences between on-line dating and matchmaking, Haas noted that, while she has attended the weddings of couples who have met via the Internet, she has also heard some on-line horror stories.
As her husband once pointed out, she added, "The wonderful thing about online dating is that you can have five to six possible dates in a week, whereas I will only line up dates for the purpose of marriage."
"I don't believe in dating for fun," she said, "because it's not fun to date. It's work you have to do in order find out if a person is appropriate."