The Power of Connecting

One Woman’s Mission through Matchmaking and Mentoring

— by Erica Brooke Fajge

Aleeza Ben Shalom loves meeting and connecting people-so much so, that she made it her career. “So much of the world is about relationships and building connections and bringing people together,” she says. “To me, it’s the most meaningful thing that I could do.”

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Since launching Marriage-Minded Mentor in February 2012, Ben Shalom has been offering her matchmaking and mentoring services to a variety of clients in the U.S. and all over the world, including Europe, Israel and South Africa. She explains that matchmaking is not enough; once a client begins dating someone for a period of time, she mentors the client as the relationship progresses, and she provides advice to help keep relationships strong, leading to marriage.

Ben Shalom works with singles looking for a serious relationship; couples, either dating, engaged or married, looking to strengthen their relationship; and even parents of singles who may be giving their children the wrong advice when it comes to dating, relationships and marriage.

Ben Shalom reveals that, in addition to helping people, she had always wanted to write a book-even though writing was not her strong point. Yearning to share her knowledge as an expert on relationships and marriage to a larger audience, she sought the services of an editor whom she, ironically, met at a wedding. With the help of her editor, Alisa Roberts, she learned much about writing and book publishing.

In May 2013, Ben Shalom released her first book, Get Real Get Married. Although she, herself, is an Orthodox Jew, the book is appropriate for anyone serious about getting married-the phenomenon she refers to as being “marriage-minded”-no matter what religious background one comes from.

Ben Shalom actually grew up in a secular household in Philadelphia and was always proud of her Jewish heritage, but it wasn’t until she became older that religion became a larger part of her life. “I was always searching for meaning in life,” she explains, and after spending time caring for a sick family member, she became inspired while taking part in a Jewish learning retreat.

For Ben Shalom, whose main goal is to “help as many people as possible,” being a professional matchmaker and mentor is the perfect career. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, an individualized major she designed herself, combining Jewish studies, children’s literature and environmental studies. Yet, upon graduating, she was unclear on what she wanted to do with her life professionally. Personally, her main goal was always to have a marriage and family. So, she decided to combine her passion for helping people with her belief in successful marriages stemming from healthy dating relationships; in essence, her design of a career is quite similar to her design of a college major and her design for her life in general.

However, Ben Shalom’s real education and training have come from being married and having a family. “Most of my education has come from life experience, which is often the greatest teacher,” she says.

This “life experience” refers to her 11+ years of marriage to her husband, Gershon, whom she met on a retreat in Orlando, Fla.; surprisingly, he was also from Philadelphia, and their commonalities just continued from there. Today, the couple has five children, including a brand-new addition to the family: baby, Avraham Levi.

Ben Shalom’s first endeavor in the world of professional matchmaking was as a matchmaker with SawYouAtSinai.com, and, through that experience, she became somewhat of a mentor. Building on her mentoring skills, she soon decided to develop her own singles network and charge for her services. Starting with only a curriculum and five clients in June 2011, Ben Shalom officially launched Marriage-Minded Mentor as a sole proprietorship in February 2012.

Her services soon started gaining publicity when Philly.com published a story about her and her successful new venture. And she, herself, can attest to its success: 14 of her clients have gotten married, and eight are currently engaged. That means eight weddings to attend in the next year alone!

According to Ben Shalom, “I want to empower and educate people to get from where they are now to where they want to be.” She adds, “If you know who you are and what you want, I can help you get it.”

However, Ben Shalom’s consulting services and book are not her only projects undertaken. She has booked a number of speaking engagements for audiences of various ages and backgrounds, including one with Hadassah, which featured a PowerPoint presentation with a question and answer session. That day was a success, she says excitedly, as a number of people were seeking her advice and showing their disappointment when the day came to an end.

In addition, Ben Shalom has spoken at a number of events with organizations geared for young professionals in their 20s and 30s, including events with the Jewish organizations WOW! and Oorah. She has also been involved with organizations in her hometown of Philadelphia, including the Tribe 12 Fellowship. Ben Shalom actually took quite an active role in the Fellowship, serving as a Fellow and, as a result, learning more about strengthening and promoting her own social entrepreneurial start-up, through seminars, coaching, mentoring, networking and a final “pitch” during Launch Night, held this year at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Ben Shalom also shares her advice to another audience by hosting a weekly radio show called Lunch with Your Marriage-Minded Mentor, where she interviews guests and provides her expert advice. She says she wants to continue her show and also write another book in the near future.

Yet, her next biggest project-apart from being a new Mom again-will be training both married women and men to do what she does and become matchmakers and mentors themselves. “In addition to helping people get married, I’d like to actually train them to do what I do and help others in the same way,” she explains.

Training, consulting and mentoring come naturally for Ben Shalom, who says she always took on leadership roles in various clubs and organizations while growing up. “I always found myself to be a leader in whatever I got involved in,” she says.

At 36, this wife, mother, entrepreneur, consultant, matchmaker, mentor, speaker, author and radio show host, has found the meaning in life she had always been searching for.

“I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. This is it for me.”

Letting People, Not Computers, Find the Right Person for You

Throughout its history, Simantov International, which is based in Frankfurt, Germany, has successfully advised and guided thousands of Jewish singles in their quest for a true life partner. Founded by traditional matchmaker Denise Kahn with the goal to help Jewish singles across Europe meet, marry and rebuild European Jewry, the service is today proudly helmed by matchmaker Jose Weber, who is personally responsible for hundreds of successful matches and marriages.

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The boutique matchmaking service relies on a team of qualified coaches and matchmakers, all holders of Master’s degrees, MBAs and PhDs. The team works with Jewish communities across Europe and around the world, helping Jewish men and women find a person who is right for them. In association with its international partners, Simantov serves clients in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew, and offers each client a personalized treatment.

According to Weber,

People who come to us are often disheartened and frustrated. They have often spent months or even years on online dating services and have nothing to show for it. Our service is completely different in that we take the time to talk to the client and really get to know his or her personality, values, tastes and worldview and understand his or her needs and desires in a relationship. Unlike the algorithms used by many dating websites, our matchmaking process is human.

To thoroughly get to know each new client, the matchmaker first conducts a face-to-face or Skype-relayed interview (in the language of the client’s choosing). The matchmaker then reviews his database of thousands of Jewish singles around the globe for compatible matches. In the following weeks, clients and matchmakers work closely together, with the clients offering feedback on dates. The matchmaker continues to introduce the client to new potential partners until a match is made.

Celebrating its 36th year in business in 2013, Simantov International is today Europe’s most experienced Jewish matchmaking service.