A Godsend

Leah Hakimian, a chronicler of Jewish love and matrimony, celebrates her 100th column on ‘Yiddish couplehood.'

Leah Hakimian hard at work. (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
Leah Hakimian hard at work.
(photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
With the heart-wrenching developments of the past few months, some good news is a boon for all of us – and Leah Hakimian is there to cover it.
Writing up the modern “love and marriage” stories of today’s Jewish couples, Hakimian has cause for celebration, having recently reported on the 100th such match in her Godsend blog on jpost.com (also appearing as the monthly Matchmaker column in New York’s Jewish Week, and occasionally in the St. Louis Jewish Light).
“Love is everywhere,” says the immediately likable 74-year-old, who met her husband at age 20 and has profiled Jewish lovebirds all over the US and Israel. Her matches span the age spectrum, from Jacob, 87, who wed 78-yearold Dolly, to Sharona, who married her husband at 19.
“It’s why I write, on a volunteer basis: to inspire people not to give up,” says Hakimian.
“Sometimes, it is happenstance,” she adds. But certainly not all the time – as in the case of the cantor at Stephen Wise’s Free Synagogue in New York City, introduced to his future wife by a canny temple greeter. “Really, it takes a village.”
HAKIMIAN HAS some requirements of her couples.
“They must be 21st-century stories, and I have to meet with them for an interview,” she says, joking that “I’ve done a lot of traveling.”
Ultimately she wants the duo to feel good about the column – which seems to be the case. “After 100 stories, I’ve had no complaints.”
Her path to chronicling love began in St. Louis, where she earned her PhD and served as associate superintendent of the city’s Jewish schools. In 1995, the Jewish community there saw a need and decided to sponsor a matchmaking program. Recognizing Hakimian as a “good networker who liked people,” the community asked her to organize it.
Though her four daughters had already found partners, “it grabbed me. We made 12 matches – I felt great about it.”
In 1998, with her daughters settled, Hakimian and her husband made aliya to Jerusalem. She was still interested in matchmaking, but as time passed, she realized it was time to move on from running shidduch programs to continuing with the endeavor on an informal basis.
“Of course, I still believed in marriage/matchmaking,” she explains. “I was regularly reading The New York Times ‘Vows’ column” – or, as a character in the seminal Sex and the City series calls it, the “single woman’s sports pages.”
“But I wasn’t interested in flowers or dresses,” says Hakimian. “I was interested in the stories.”
Accordingly, in 2006, she approached the editor of a Jewish newspaper in her hometown, the St. Louis Jewish Light, to see if he would be interested in a “Vows”-style column, specifically for Jews. The answer was yes; she’s been writing her columns ever since.
“It’s been eight years, and I’m still enjoying it – each sto- ry is different, and after 100 couples, I’m still seeking new narratives,” she enthuses.
ASKED ABOUT the specifics of the way Jewish couples meet and marry, she replies, “It’s an art and a science.”
Love can be found everywhere, in her experience: first of all via the Jewish community and through friends; then in one’s “cyber community,” through websites such as JDate or SawYouAtSinai; then through various pursuits such as classes at film school, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, or high school (one profiled pair had been sweethearts from the 10th grade). Trips are also a useful method: One Jewish zug met in Mongolia, another in Nepal.
In this way, according to Hakimian, love can happen on a number of levels: on the most basic level, during one’s daily routine (in the supermarket); second, where everyone’s single (a mixer); third, where everyone shares the same interests (a cooking class); and finally – the highest level – where everyone shares the same interests and values (Pardes).
“This [last level] is where you have the greatest odds of it happening,” she says.
She notes that “Prof. Michael J. Rosenfeld at Stanford University did interesting research, which showed that in the 1930s and ’40s, people met close to where they grew up – 30 percent of marriage licenses were granted to couples who lived within five blocks of each other. This has clearly changed. However, in place of that is the Internet, which has become our neighborhood.”
Is the Web still the best Cupid?
“Often, it’s the Jewish mother” who fills that role, she says wryly. She notes New York Magazine’s article on the “yenta experiment,” which investigated who makes the best shadchan – Jewish mother, ex-boyfriend or the algorithms of dating website OKCupid.
Surprise: It was dear old mom.
Hakimian cites a common thread she hears repeatedly from the pairs she profiles. In the words of Gil, a 50-year-old bachelor who married Elisheva, a widow with seven kids, “Never say never, and be open to all possibilities.”
This was the case for Naomi, who says her husband “had everything I wasn’t looking for. I never wanted to date doctors – and I ended up marrying one.”
Liz of St. Louis, a scientist who married a mechanic, agrees: “If you stick to your checklist, it won’t happen.”
By no means did Richard want to date a woman shorter than 5’2”. Of course, he ended up marrying one.
And Amy, a rabbi in a clergy couple, says, “Never in a million years did I think I would marry a fellow rabbi.
Also, I was never interested in anyone with freckles.”
Encouragement from parents and those close to singles often makes the difference. In an effort to help, US Air Force officer Mark’s mother looked through his Facebook page and told him to take his friend Becky out. You guessed it – they got married.
Another tip gleaned from the singles-no-more? “Rules are made to be broken,” says Hakimian. “In so many stories, the woman was the proactive one. For instance, 16-year-old Sharona liked this guy, and she texted him; three years later, they got married. Turns out the guy was shy.”
It’s also important to “give someone a second chance to make a first impression,” she says. An example was Michal, who met her match at a speed-dating event.
“She went out with Amir and found him dull,” recalls Hakimian. “Then he said, let’s go bowling – and it was fun.”
Suggests Hakimian, in the immortal words of Apple Inc.: “‘Think different’ – like Khaya, from a well-established family in St. Louis, who married Shimon from Dimona, whom she met at a bus stop.”
Or Einav, who married a man paralyzed due to his IDF service.
“I no longer notice the wheelchair. I only have eyes for Moshe,” Einav says.
Furthermore, “singles should have their antennae up and ask their friends if they know of anyone,” says Hakimian. “It’s a brave and important step.”
For instance, Sarah in Washington worked for AIPAC and lived by the axiom “Network, network, network. She told someone she worked with, ‘Find me a husband’ – and he did.”
Go outside your circle, she advises, as did former congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada, who was introduced to her Jewish husband by a Muslim.
Yet another crucial piece of advice? “Don’t give up,” Hakimian says, citing the late-in-life story of Lainee and Jonathan as a case in point: “Lainee was in her 40s and had been dating for 25 years, and she was exhausted.
But she picked herself up and went to a singles weekend sponsored by New York’s Camp Ramah – where she met her future husband, Jonathan, who was in his 50s.”
“IF I have one editorial statement to make, based on my columns and matchmaking, it is that the Jewish community has to do more to help singles meet,” says Hakimian with feeling. “Friends of singles and community members must make an effort to set people up and stay involved.”
She tells the “great story” of New York State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, who made it her mission to find a husband for her friend. “She stayed with it and zoned in on her colleague – who was somewhat reluctant – until he finally took her friend out. And they got married.”
The Orthodox community is quite involved, but the non-Orthodox communities need to learn from that, says Hakimian, bringing up the 2013 Pew survey on soaring assimilation and intermarriage rates among American Jewry.
“Everyone is wringing their hands about what we can do. So I say in response: Help everyone who wishes to get married! I have 10 statements on what a community can do, including: Put it on the community agenda; let’s talk about it. Make the rabbis at the seminaries aware of it. There’s a Conservative rabbi in Detroit, David Nelson, who is responsible for 11 matches there; not many non-Orthodox rabbis can say that. Prof. Jack Wertheimer of the [Conservative] Jewish Theological Seminary put together a working group on what could be done, so I met with him.”
How does this translate practically?
“Everyone should adopt a single,” she says emphatically.
“I have adopted three – one each in their 30s, 40s and 50s; two in New York and one in DC. I always have them in mind.” She adds, “We need to start a buzz on this subject; so much research needs to be done. Your intended is not going to literally show up on your doorstep.”
Well, not in most cases: “I heard about a woman named Mali, who barely left her home in Nahariya because she was waiting for her bashert [intended] to walk in the door. It was 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, and a refugee family literally came through her door – and that’s how she met Guy. I like to call this story, ‘A Guy walks through her door.’”
ASKED IF she has any particularly touching stories, Hakimian recounts that of Hila, who “was 5’11” and said she would never date a shorter man. At age 28, she went to a pottery class in Beersheba, and her mother thought she was nuts: ‘How are you going to meet a religious, educated guy there?’ She ended up meeting and marrying Sharon, a religious medical student – but he was 5’5”. What was also great was the involvement of her sister, who encouraged Hila to go with it.”
And what about the storyteller’s story? “I met my husband, a Persian Jew, at a party in June 1960,” says the Ashkenazi Hakimian. “I had been studying at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University that year and wanted to stay longer, but my mother said I had to come home to the States for the brit mila of my first nephew. Of course, a girl listens to her mother.
“At the time, spending a year in Israel was unusual, so I was interviewed for TV about it. Someone working on the story invited me to the party where I met my husband; six weeks later, we were engaged. My nephew whose brit it was, David Makovsky – incidentally the former executive editor of the Post – says he was the shadchan. We’ve been married for 53 years.”
Today, the youthful septuagenarian shows no signs of slowing down.
“My stories keep me young,” she smiles. 
To read Leah Hakimian’s blog: blogs.jpost.com/users/godsend.erica.schachne@gmail.com