It seems the Jewish tradition of matchmaking is alive and well these days, as two very different Jewish novels on matchmaking come to us just in time for Valentine's Day.
"Seven Blessings" by Ruchama King (St. Martin's Press, 2003) is out in paperback, and focuses on the Orthodox Jewish community, specifically American and Canadian ba'alei teshuvah living in Jerusalem.
No. 2, "Matchbook: The Diary of a Modern-Day Matchmaker" by Samantha Daniels was released in hardcover this month. Daniels' story centers on the trials of a single Jewish matchmaker whose clients are single New Yorkers -- both Jewish and non-Jewish.
A matchmaker herself, Daniels wrote her novel in diary form and borrowed heavily from her own experiences. But she asserts the book is fiction, with the characters all composites of the numerous clients she's had over the years.
King, by contrast, is not a professional matchmaker. But she was responsible for two introductions that resulted in marriage, she said, and also lived with a professional matchmaker for two years in Israel where she helped to organize a matchmakers convention.
Both authors noted matchmaking's rich Jewish tradition.
"Matchmaking, I think, is based in the Jewish religion," Daniels said. "I think it's something that goes back to the shidduchs and the yenta days."
The shidduch days are, of course, still very much a part of the lives of religious Jews. But it appears matchmaking has now entered the mainstream much in the same way that online dating has. People are more comfortable exploring less (or more, in this case) traditional avenues for dating. While the Orthodox community has always relied on matchmakers, the stigma of desperation that once existed in the world outside has now largely disappeared.
"These people are anything but desperate," Daniels writes of her clients. "They are handsome and beautiful, wildly successful in their careers, accomplished in a variety of hobbies and have very interesting personalities; the only thing they don't have is a significant other, and they are tired of looking, too busy to look or no longer know where to look, which is why they contact me."
And regardless of whether they've used matchmakers, everyone seems to have taken an interest in the subject, both authors noted.
King said she worried about readers being turned off to the notion of being immersed in a religious culture in her book. But, she said, "matchmaking has such universal interest that I thought it would be a way to bring people in."
This was certainly Daniels' experience.
"I would say that almost from the first day that I started my business, people have always been so fascinated by the stories," she said.
Daniels has capitalized on this interest through other media. The short-lived NBC television show "Miss Match," which she produced, was inspired by her experience and she has various other projects in the works, including offers to turn "Matchbook" into a feature film.
More than strictly good business, Daniels noted that being a good matchmaker means one must "really love the idea of love."
King's novel goes deeper, dealing with the idea of searching and yearning -- for God, for family, for a spouse.
"Matchmaking is a metaphor for all the connections people are looking for in life," King said.
In making love connections, both authors stress an essential combination of pragmatism and good instincts.
"You have to listen, but also read between the lines and be objective," Daniels said. For example, when faced with Jewish clients who say they don't care whether their spouse is Jewish, Daniels said, "I say to them, well are you OK with your kids being baptized? And then sometimes they say, 'I never thought of that. I don't know.' I start exploring all the reality things that being with a person who isn't Jewish would mean.... I flesh it out and try to find out what it really means to them."
"A matchmaker is the one who sees the connection between people that no one else sees," King noted. "I think a matchmaker has to be extremely insightful into people's natures."
As for their own personal lives, King found her husband without the help of a shadchan, while Daniels is still undesperately seeking her bashert.
But if there's truth in the Jewish belief that three successful shidduchim get you into heaven, Daniels is more than set in that department with 48 marriages under her belt.