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Monthly Memoirs Sunday, 01/01/2023

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match"

January 2023 Monthly Memoir
It was the spring of 1985 and I was just married.  I literally felt my body and soul floating on "cloud 9" for many magical months; however, in due time, I started to feel a "gravitational pull" tugging me back down to earth.  I was experiencing the sudden urge to get involved in community service.  I made a quick decision to become a FREE de facto Jewish matchmaker.  This volunteer endeavor sustained itself for the next 20 years.  During that time I arranged the marriages of numerous people of various ages.  I will share with you some interesting and funny stories of love (and trickery) to hopefully lighten your day.  The names have been changed to "protect the innocent" and their privacy . . .

I once told a fellow all about a young lady and he was very intrigued by all her qualities until I mentioned that she loved to antique furniture.  That threw cold water on the deal and he said he was not interested in such a girl who could not possibly be snappy enough for his progressive self.  I figured he deserved the benefit of the doubt.  Since the girl’s name was essentially a Hebrew one which had a very close American equivalent, I called him back a week later and slightly tweaked her name with all the same information included; however, this time I slightly reworded the narrative and completely omitted any reference to antiquing furniture. He was suddenly thrilled to meet her and they soon married.  I never told either of them of my deception but wonder to this day if that proverbial light bulb went off in his head once the sandpaper and paint came out.

This one is a good one!  I had a young lady candidate who was very religious and very tall, standing at 5'11".  She staunchly identified with Conservative Judaism.  ‘Shirley’, who lived in Wayne, needed a tall man with the same intense religious outlook.  This was great because I had ‘Robert,’ who lived in Teaneck, and stood 6'4". He also shared those same values that are associated with Conservative Judaism and they both had Hungarian heritage.  I told each of them about the other but since I had mostly stopped using last names, I did not provide them with any.  They were eager to meet each other.  They wanted me to make all the arrangements which some of my clients preferred.  When Robert showed up at Shirley's house something started to click as his finger was positioned to ring her door bell.  There was something about that last name he saw listed under the bell.  Oh no, could this be his first cousin once removed?  Too late, he couldn't stop the motion of his finger.  He felt obliged to go through with the date no matter what.  When she opened the door he saw that his suspicions were confirmed and both knew they were caught in an awkward situation, nevertheless, they went out that night anyway, and many more nights after that.  Once I was walking in an unfamiliar park with my late husband and there they were, Robert and Shirley, two tall beautiful people, holding hands.  We stopped and chatted for a few minutes.  They courted for over a year but eventually went their separate ways and are presently married to others. Nowadays they only see each other at family funerals.

One morning our doorbell rang.  It was ‘Joe’, a neighbor of ours in Fair Lawn.  He knew that I had fixed up his son ‘Scott’, an electrical engineer, with ‘Jackie’, also an electrical engineer who was from Great Neck. However, Scott never made that initial phone call to Jackie and Joe wanted me to urge his son into meeting her.  She sounded perfect.  Fathers usually never intervened, only mothers.  So I told Scott that I strongly felt that he and Jackie were destined to meet and he finally made that call.  They started talking about their mutual profession, one thing led to another, and the following year they were married.  I'll never forget at the wedding when the (Long Island) rabbi's wife looked puzzled and told me that I must be adopted and that my parents just never told me because I looked like the quintessential shiksa and what the heck was I doing matchmaking Jewish singles?  It was as if she knew my lineage better than I did.  I was insulted for 5 minutes but soon forgot the perceived offense because after all this was a joyous occasion and I should have been beaming with pride.

Then there was the middle-age widower I married off to the slightly younger divorcee who was so happy that the man's son asked me to find him a suitable match too.  At the time I was working as a volunteer at the Barnert Hospital and I fixed him up with one of the social workers and they too married. That was the first and last time I married into wedded bliss both the father and the son.

Then there is the story about the nicest young man who had the misfortune of supplying me with a photo of himself with keys in his pocket while standing in front of his grandmother's Cape Cod house in Fair Lawn.  Late one afternoon I invited a client, ‘Kathy,’ over to chat and I showed her ‘Len's’ photo.  She unceremoniously "flipped" the photo back at me from across the table as if it were the ace of spades.  She didn't like the way the keys or his house looked.  I knew at that moment never to show photos again and never to deal with her again.  Also at that moment, I chose not to tell her that it was his grandmother's house because she didn't deserve to know.  >From then on, speaking over the phone was good enough for me and good enough for any prospective candidates to know if the next step of meeting face-or-face was going to happen.  By the way, Len married someone else and he and his wife now live in a lovely house in a very nice neighborhood in Ridgewood and the "keys" to his house are most likely still in his pocket.  

I have so many more of these stories but I will narrate just one more.  It was my very first "match."  A close relative of my husband wanted to be married.  I had the perfect girl for him that I had met one day when I was locked out of the environmental office where I had been volunteering.  ‘Harriet’, a receptionist for another company, saw me from across the hall and asked if I would like to wait in her lobby until my boss showed up.  While we were making small talk I asked her if she would like to meet my husband's relative.  She enthusiastically agreed.  So I called ‘Michael’ and told him all about her.  This was the first and only time I ever fixed him up and you'll soon see why.  He didn't like her first name and he didn't like her last name.  Both their names were too Jewish but combined they were exponentially worse and more than he could bear.  He, too, wanted a snappier version of the Jewish gal.  Never mind that his last name was so awful that it was the name of a fatal disease with a slightly different spelling.  So what was Michael kvetching about?  It was the pot calling the kettle black.  This question and other picky questions about Harriet's hair, her looks and everything else he could conjure up went on and on for an hour.  I only indulged him because I was a newlywed and I wanted to get along with my new family.  Finally he agreed to meet her and that first date lasted for hours and I don't think for a minute when he was sitting across the table from her that first night he cared one iota about either of her two names because he saw only her beautiful soul.  He changed her last name to his and she never blinked about having a surname that belonged in a medical journal.  It's been 35 years and they now live in Pompton Lakes.  It was that very first marriage I arranged that really encouraged me to keep proceeding forward with my new "profession."  I never told any of this 'nonsense' to Harriet.  Although Michael almost made me explode during that phone call, I'm forever grateful I didn't.  But just think that all this began because someone was late for work . . . 

I learned a lot during those 20 years, all about what books and authors people both the young and old loved to read, what music they danced to, pop culture, preferred movies, local and world history and way, way beyond that.  I gave them confidence, occasional dating advice and most of all, hope.  I was honored to know them all.
I will end with a little trivia:     In 1835, John Oxenford wrote a one-act play, "A Day Well Spent."  In 1842, Johann Nestroy extended it into a full length play called "He'll Have Himself a Good Time." In 1938 Thornton Wilder then Americanized it into a comedy called "The Merchant of Yonkers."  In 1954, Wilder was encouraged to revise it and rename it "The Matchmaker" starring Ruth Gordon as Dolly Levi.  In 1964 it became the musical hit "Hello Dolly!"  Wilder was a matchmaker himself.  It was in 1940 that Wilder introduced writer-director Garson Kanin, of Jewish descent, to his future wife, the actress-writer Ruth Gordon. 
Dorothy Douma Greene, a former president of the JHSNJ
Old wedding photo
wedding photo