When Aleeza Ben Shalom was a student at the University of Pittsburgh in the late ’90s, focusing on Jewish studies and children’s literature, she had no intention of becoming a professional matchmaker.
But life had other plans for the Philadelphia native.
These days, Ben Shalom the charismatic star of Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking,” not only spends her days finding besherts for hundreds of singles worldwide but is a celebrated dating coach and trains others in the art of matchmaking.
She will return to Pittsburgh on Oct. 12, for what promises to be a lively and engaging event, hosted by Chabad Young Professionals of Pittsburgh, Chabad of Squirrel Hill and Chabad of Pitt.
Ben Shalom, speaking from her home in Pardes Hanna, Israel, said the show is not just for singles.
“The program that I’m doing is for married people and singles, community members, old, young,” she said. “The event is literally for all ages and all backgrounds. It is really unique in that way. It is something that can touch a lot of people’s hearts.”
The show is part storytelling, part stand-up comedy and part live matchmaking.
“We take two guys, two girls, we bring them up on stage — people that I have never met,” she said. “We learn their names, we learn everything about them, and I train the audience how to be a matchmaker.
“Is a one-of-a-kind show,” she continued. “The audience banters and they play because this is not like a one-woman show or a standalone act. I am engaging with the audience constantly. It is like a running dialogue between us. And it is fun.”
Ben Shalom, who is Orthodox, was raised in a Conservative household. In her early 20s, she was “searching for the meaning of life,” she said, and “ended up on a Jewish singles retreat.”
It was there that she found both God and her husband, she said.
And some years later, she “organically fell into matchmaking.”
“I was kind of doing it all along — you know, middle school, high school, college,” she said. “I always liked to set up friends, but it’s not a career choice. It’s not something that’s offered anywhere. It’s not a degree option. So, I didn’t ever dream of being a matchmaker. I just fell into it.”
After Ben Shalom had children, she was looking for a way to give back to the Jewish community. In 2007, a friend told her about a dating website where matchmakers set up singles. Ben Shalom became a volunteer on the site.
A few years later, she said, she had “turned this passion, hobby, interest, community effort into a worldwide international matchmaking business, so that I could take it very seriously and spend all my time doing it. I wanted to build a business around it so I could 100% dedicate my life to this.”
In addition to matchmaking, that business includes dating and relationship coaching, matchmaker training, podcasts, online speed-dating events and mixers and in-person events, like the one she is bringing to Pittsburgh.
Ben Shalom has had no formal acting training but has a magnetic stage presence. That comes from her passion for the topic, she said.
“I’m really good at being me,” she said. “And I know my subject material inside and out — this is my area of expertise. This is something that I have been informally studying and researching my whole life.”
That expertise comes through loud and clear in Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking,” a reality show in which Ben Shalom works patiently and passionately to help clients from various Jewish backgrounds and interests find their partners.
The show, which premiered in May, has changed her life. She has become an influencer and a celebrity. Along with that notoriety, she said, comes “a social responsibility and a communal responsibility that is much larger than anything that I had before.”
She is happy to accept that responsibility.
“I asked for this,” she said. “I wanted this. I wanted to make a huge change to the world. And I basically said to God, ‘Pick me. I’m going to talk about You, about God. I’m going to talk about Judaism, I’m going to talk about matchmaking, I’m going to talk about love. I’m going to talk about relationships and building healthy homes. Pick me. I want to change the world, but I need a really big platform.’”
Her “new mantra,” she said “is world peace begins at home. And that’s why I do matchmaking, because I want to build a home and I know when I build a home with a couple, then they’re going to help to build their community. And when we build communities, then we build the world and that’s how we bring peace into the world. It has to start at home.”
Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld, rabbi and executive director of Chabad Young Professionals, said he wanted to bring Ben Shalom to Pittsburgh because, in addition to her popularity, she shines a light on “traditional Jewish values.”
“Aleeza is an excellent messenger to the world to show everyone what a Jewish marriage looks like and the ideals that it should be based on,” he said. “People should know and understand what Jewish values are, not just in dating, but also in marriage. And anyone can learn from that at any stage in their life, whether they’re single and looking for their significant other, or whether they’re well into their marriage many years. The Jewish values that Aleeza has been tremendously effective at showcasing can play a role in everybody’s life.”
Chabad Young Professionals is headed into its fifth year in Pittsburgh, and its community is growing, Rosenfeld said. The organization hosts Shabbat services every other week, several social events each month and regular Torah study.
He expects Ben Shalom’s program at Bellefield Hall in Oakland to draw several hundred attendees from throughout the community. For tickets, go to cyppittsburgh.com/aleeza-ben-shalom. Tickets are complimentary to current University of Pittsburgh students by reaching out to Chabad at Pitt. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.