Occasionally, Rabbi Tamara Miller jokes that she could be the perfect one-stop shop for finding a partner and getting married. Miller has a dual career now as a matchmaker and a rabbi.
As a rabbi without a congregation, she has served Jews in the Washington, D.C., area by planning for and conducting life-cycle events from baby rituals, like naming ceremonies, to bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals and grief support. She also offers individualized instruction in Hebrew, leadership of parts of the prayer services, Torah reading and Jewish learning tailored to each student’s needs and wishes.
But one of the areas of her rabbinic portfolio that Miller loves most is matchmaking. “There is no reward like the reward of seeing two people in love and happy together,” she said recently. “My purpose is to make Jewish families intentionally. I think it should start with rabbis and with synagogues and with community members. It’s one of the biggest mitzvahs – to bring together two people who will create a good marriage, have a good Jewish family and celebrate Chanukah, Passover and Shabbat together. That’s now my purpose in my golden years.”
As a matchmaker – Miller prefers the modern Hebrew term shadchanit – she draws on her pastoral skills, including deep listening.
“I’ve been a chaplain for decades,” she noted. “I was the director of spiritual care at George Washington University Hospital. I have those skills – the listening skills, the empathic skills.”
And those skills are integral to her close work with Jewish singles who seriously seek a long-term life partner.
And, like any good rabbi, she has a midrash – a story – about the difficulties of making perfect matches.
“They say,” Miller says in her rabbinic voice, “that God is the ultimate matchmaker, and [matchmaking] is also the most difficult job that God has ever had – even more difficult than creating the world. So, even today, God is still in the background helping people find their bashert – the word for soulmate – the one you connect with soul to soul.”
She continued, “So we [matchmakers] try to be Godlike in that way and bring Adams and Eves together.” But why matchmaking at all, with the many other tasks that Miller, like any rabbi, has to do? She explains: “When I became a rabbi, people would come to my office or call me or meet me, and say, ‘Rabbi, I’m looking for my bashert.’”
Miller, 76, who lives near Dupont Circle, noted that she was fortunate to marry young and have four children. Now divorced and with her children being independent adults, she has time to help singles, adding, “I feel empathy for the single people in the communities I serve … So, I was more conscious of the people who came to me for help in meeting someone. I, myself, went to a matchmaker, so I know that experience.”
In fact, she sought out a matchmaker via the Internet who teaches and trains others in this ancient profession. The pandemic shutdowns became the perfect time for Miller to take the training via Zoom. “I did one-on-one sessions,” she said. “That’s where I got the idea to be the ‘Matchmaking Rabbi.’ I thought that was clever … and my business has evolved.”
While Miller continues to fulfill her more traditional duties leading lifecycle events and teaching, she enjoys her matchmaking clients.
“I’m more of a traditional type of matchmaker,” she explains. “The big companies are big because they have a large database, so it’s a numbers game. That’s the same on the apps. You’re paying for the numbers that are in the database, and that’s how they match you up.”
Miller eschews the big databases for more personalized set ups, although she doesn’t avoid certain dating sites, depending on who she works with.
Primarily women in their 30s and 40s seeking a marriage-ready partner hire her, though she also takes male clients. “I usually meet with a client three times to get to know their history, their relationship history, and I have them write up some thoughts about these relationships to see if there are things that are in common, what has worked, what hasn’t worked and why.”
Miller calls it an analysis of the past, so the client is able to look clearly at the present and consider the future. These days, she says, “There’s a lot of trauma going on in dating: rejection, ghosting, self-doubt …. While I’m not a therapist, I may suggest therapy to understand [how] we bring ourselves to every situation, every relationship.”
She continues, “Especially women in their 30s, who want to have a family, they feel rushed.” The matchmaker will advise women in their mid- and late 30s to freeze their eggs, if fertility is a concern.
Miller began her matchmaking business before the popularity of the Netflix show “Jewish Matchmaking,” featuring popular Orthodox Jewish matchmaker Aleeza Ben Shalom. Miller has found that the program helped demystify what she does.
That said, the rabbi adds, “I think that now there are so many choices and options. A hundred years ago, you didn’t have the world at your disposal with online [dating] sites, and we can fly to other places to meet people. But it still feels more difficult today because there’s more choice and people have higher expectations.”
Rabbi Miller returns to midrash, intoning: “What did God do after he/she created the world? God looked around and said, ‘I am I need to be in relationship with the people and the things I created.’ And so, God is the ultimate matchmaker … in the background, helping people find each other’s bashert, finding your mate who you connect with soul to soul.”
“I care about this a lot,” Miller says. “There is no reward like the reward of seeing two people in love and happy together.”
Lisa Traiger is Washington Jewish Week’s arts correspondent.