By Yakira Cohen
Leora Hoffman has been bringing people together for 31 years. So when the pandemic forced Jewish singles to isolate in their homes, the Jewish matchmaker had to rethink her business model.
“Love can flourish under many conditions, and the challenges of COVID do not necessarily have to impact the chance for romance negatively if people are motivated and they are consistent,” she said.
Hoffman said she first got into matchmaking in 1989, when she saw that only large, unresponsive dating services and volunteering rebbetzins were available for soulmate-seeking Baltimore Jewish professionals, with few resources in between. Hoffman, a young mother already looking for an alternative to practicing law, jumped on the opportunity to connect these singles and has been match making ever since. Over the years, she’s had to change her approach with the rise of the internet, and now again, with the rise of the pandemic.
“Quite interestingly, this transition to video has not slowed down the pace at which people want to meet and my practice is going,” she said. “I believe that I have helped people connect during a time that many people are feeling isolated and need connection more than ever.”
Mashe Katz, another matchmaker in the Baltimore area who has been in the business for more than 60 years, has also seen the Jewish dating scene continue to thrive despite social distancing restrictions.
“There’s been a lot of shidduchim made during this time, it’s really surprising, from all over,” she said. “So people are doing something right.”
So far, at least 12 people have reached out to Hoffman during the pandemic. She said that she has made 65 referrals, 20 of which liked each other enough to date past the initial video chat. Six of those couples are still together.
Greg, a widower who is dating a woman he met three months ago through Hoffman’s service (and who did not want to give his last name), is one success story. He said using a matchmaker comes with a level of trust.
“It wasn’t just like going to an online dating site, when you don’t know anything about the person,” he said.
Because dating during the pandemic posed many logistical challenges, Greg said he had to be more creative and “think outside the box” in planning dates that would be feasible in the new and heavily restricted climate. The first two dates he went on featured picnicking on a pier and creating a “little restaurant” by bringing takeout food to a van he rented.
“It was sort of like an alternate universe, like a new kind of a world,” he said. “That made it very unique and special because it added to it.”
Hoffman believes social distancing may be making her clients’ hearts grow fonder.
“It puts off a face-to-face meeting,” she said. “If people really click and they like each other, it creates an environment of longing and desire which has to be put off, and that can be sexy.”
Katz said continuing her practice during the pandemic was challenging at first but has gotten easier as restrictions have lessened.
“It’s just a very difficult situation because I feel that people need to see each other in different venues,” she said.
Hoffman believes dating during the pandemic is beneficial in eliminating many of the hassles that dating typically entails, such as the inconvenience of driving to a venue, the question of who pays and the decision to kiss or hug goodbye.
“All of those questions are off the table now, so it really forces people to just focus on each other, get to know them in a very slow and gradual way,” she said. “It’s safer, it’s more convenient and it takes away many of the uncertainties involved in dating.”
Greg, who has found online dating superficial and unsatisfying, echoed Hoffman’s sentiments. He said before his current successful relationship resulting from Hoffman’s service, he once drove all the way to Washington, D.C., for a woman he met online and instantly felt no chemistry.
“It just took all that pressure off and really enabled us to decide if you felt any chemistry,” he said. “You had to rely on conversation and see if there was a connection through conversation, more than if you were in person.”
Greg’s experience dating during the pandemic was so positive, he said he’d even recommend an initial date over Zoom normally, “COVID or non-COVID.”