Our Rainbow Twist on Jewish Matchmaking

Thanks to the new Netflix show Jewish Matchmaking, Jewish matchmaking is experiencing a pop culture moment. As Tribe 12’s in-house matchmaker, this time has been so wild and so much fun. The show is everywhere: at synagogue, where people lean across the pews to whisper to me about it (“what did you think of Harmonie’s first match?”) and at Tribe 12 events, where everyone wants to dish about some aspect of the show (“do you think Ori is REALLY that picky?”). I even had a barista ask me a question about the show after listening to a conversation I was having in line at Starbucks.

It helps that the star of the show, Aleeza Ben Shalom, is somewhat of a prodigal son for Tribe 12 – she started her matchmaking business as a Tribe 12 Fellow way back in 2013. Years later, we had a ‘student becomes the teacher’ moment where she gave me to the business coaching to create Tribe 12’s matchmaking initiative, which to this day is a one-of-a-kind structure and process for incorporating matchmaking in a community engagement framework. We were so excited to bring Aleeza back to Philly recently for a watch party on May 17th, where we watched the first episode of the show, engaged in some fun Q&A, and even did live matchmaking right there on stage.

The show is really something to be proud of. It’s not easy to represent Judaism on a global stage, and Aleeza did it with such warmth and grace. She showed a positive portrayal of Jewish life, and such a diverse portrayal at that. There was a wonderful tapestry of backgrounds – South African Jews, a Black Jew, a Moroccan Jew like myself – as well as representations we don’t often get to see, like a dater with a disability. So many levels of practice were also shown, not monoliths of “secular” or “religious” but nuanced representations like Cindy, who kept Shabbat and eats kosher but does not dress according to the modesty laws of traditional Judaism.

While we swell with pride at Tribe 12 for the show, we also acknowledge the reality that there was an important population missing from the show. The LGBTQIA+ community was noticeably absent. Every business person has a target audience, a population they work closely with and understand best. For Aleeza, her population of people she works with does not include LGBTQIA+ folks.

Part of the reason for this is because Aleeza is an Orthodox Jew. Orthodox policies related to LGBTQ inclusion are grounded in traditional interpretations of Torah and subsequent traditional rabbinic teachings which prohibit sexual relationships between individuals of same gender. Matchmaking started as a religious institution and has served those communities for millennia. It is only in very recent years that programs like Tribe 12’s matchmaking initiative have been created to usher this tradition into a modern era, to serve communities who have never before been served by matchmaking.

The thing that distinguishes Tribe 12 from other matchmaking spaces is how it not just serves but welcomes, invites and is actually built for those communities who are new to matchmaking’s framework. An open tent is our default and standard bearer. Our leadership – our staff and board members – represent a broad spectrum of queer identities. My wife is a trans woman, for example, and I have coworkers who identify as non-binary, gay, lesbian and polyamorous. Way back in 2010, before LGBTQIA+ inclusion became something closer to a cultural norm as it is today, Tribe 12 had gay board members and hosted monthly events for the queer community. We were one of the first in Philly’s Jewish community and certainly among the first in the broader national Jewish community to do so.

When I have a matchmaking intake conversation, the likelihood of someone sharing a queer identity is high. The questions we ask reflect this reality: Tell me about your gender identity. Which genders do you date? Do you experience sexual attraction and if so, to whom? Is monogamy a relationship goal for you? We don’t make any judgments about who people want to date, what relationship iterations people seek or what they do in their bedrooms as long as it is rooted in respect for self and others. The fact that these folks come to us and proudly open up about who they are and what they are looking for — that is it’s own victory.

In December, we hosted an international LGBTQIA+ speed dating event on the first night of Hanukkah with partner organizations all over the world. Over 80 people enjoyed a night of group games, interesting icebreakers, and opportunities for connection. We were proud to partner with ESHEL, who specifically serve Orthodox LGBTQIA+ folks, as well as the national Jewish LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization Keshet and local organizations like GLOE in Washington, D.C. and Dayenu in Syndney, Australia. It was significant to us that our small but mighty local organization was the one that brought this event to life. We want to see Jewish matchmaking become something all Jews can hold claim to as a birthright, a thing that belongs to all of us.

It’s okay that Tribe 12’s version of Jewish Matchmaking looks a lot more rainbow than Jewish Matchmaking. One of our core values is ‘there is a Jewish community for everyone’. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every Jewish community is for everyone – only that there must be a place for everyone. We believe it is our job to create those spaces for anyone who has ever been marginalized or felt they don’t belong.

For Pride month in June, we have an almost comical-in-size suite of events coming up including a Pride Singles Shabbat I am hosting. We hope you’ll join us because our open tent has no boundaries – all are welcome here.



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