The Matchmaker’s Gift Book Review
Lynda Cohen Loigman believes in soul mates. “I don’t think everyone has just one. I think there are some people in this world that you really connect with,” she tells POPSUGAR. “It doesn’t even have to be romantic. If you’re lucky in life, you’ll have a few different soulmates, whether they’re romantic or platonic.”
In her novel The Matchmaker’s Gift, published September 20, one of the main character Abby’s platonic soul mates is her grandmother Sara Glikman, who dies early in the book, leaving her with a collection of diaries and many unanswered questions. The couple share a deep bond — and an uncanny ability to identify strangers who are perfect matches.
Sara, the other central character in Loigman’s sweet marvel of a generational tale, makes her first match at age 12 and introduces her sister to her future husband while they are on a boat emigrating to the United States. For Sara, matches are recognizable by thin golden lines connecting one soulmate to the other.
Her granddaughter Abby inherits that gift — though Abby, a jaded divorce lawyer with little faith in enduring romance, is trying to fight it. But as the story progresses, Abby learns a lot about how hard her grandmother had to fight against people who couldn’t stand it when a young woman was founded on something as intangible as pure faith and instinct.
Loigman was inspired to write “The Matchmaker’s Gift” in the depths of a COVID-19 quarantine binge watch. Her daughter and her daughter’s roommate came home with her to self-quarantine, and like many of us, they devoured Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking” together. After watching the show, Loigman’s daughter’s friend showed her an article in the New York Times about her grandmother, who had been an Orthodox matchmaker in Brooklyn in the 1970s.
The spark jumped over immediately. Loigman decided to ditch the book she was working on and instead delve into the world of matchmaking. “I feel like everyone in that moment just wanted to read a happy story, a story that brings joy,” says Loigman. “We were in such a disconnected time, we were all so isolated, and a matchmaker story is, by definition, just a story about connections because that’s what they do. They make connections.”
Matchmaking is a long-standing part of Jewish tradition. According to the Torah, the very first matchmaker – or to use the Yiddish word, shadkhan – was God himself who brought Adam and Eve together. In many Orthodox Jewish communities, matchmakers still play a crucial role; Since tradition forbids males and females to interact with each other, the shadkhan can be entirely responsible for bringing community members together. Traditionally, matches were made primarily for economic reasons, but over the years that began to shift as communities began allowing men and women to court.
Loigman, an author of historical fiction, wanted to tell her story in a specific time and place, so she chose the 1910s and 1920s and focused on early Jewish immigrant communities in New York City’s Lower East Side. A certain line from a New York Times article solidified her vision for the story. “The article had this line that said, ‘At this wedding, the scent of roses and orange blossoms mingled with the smell of dried herring and cucumbers,'” she says. “I sent it to my editor and just said, ‘This is how my book should be. I want it to be roses and cucumbers. I want it to have the uplifting, happy, romantic parts, but I want it to be that way. I want all of the history and grit of the Lower East Side to be represented too.'”
Her research also led her to some surprises. “In 1910 there were over 5,000 professional matchmakers in New York City,” she says. Of course, “most of them were men. They weren’t all men by any means, but it was a deal. There was a lot of money at stake.” She chose to base her book on Sara, a young woman who has had several hits on her while pursuing her calling as a matchmaker, and not just because of her gender. “If you were an unmarried woman, you shouldn’t be alone with an unmarried man trying to find him a mate,” says Loigman. Single and young, Sara faces legal threats from men who see her as a threat to her livelihood.
Still, Sara pushes through – as does her granddaughter Abby, who is facing more modern pressures that tell her to put reason and logic ahead of love and emotion.
Loigman’s research also led her to interview some contemporary Orthodox matchmakers who are still very active today. “Did you see it as a calling? Did you feel that compulsion to do it?” She says. “I think in general, yes. I think people feel like they have a sense of it.” Today she says, “I think the role of the matchmaker has changed compared to before. I think it’s become more of a life coaching role these days where people want to talk to young single people about being more open to different types of people. It’s not as transactional as it was. As matchmaking is alive and well in many modern Jewish communities, Netflix is taking note. In March it announced that it was producing a series called Jewish Matchmaking. “Will traditional Shidduch practice help them find their soulmate in today’s world?” is the show’s slogan. The word shidduch refers to a matchstick or spouse, but also means “to rest” or “to experience tranquility,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
In fact, for Loigman, The Matchmaker’s Gift was intended to offer readers some calm and connection in times of need. She also wanted it to present a warmer flavor of Jewish history at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. “I feel obliged to tell Jewish stories,” she says. “When I wrote my first book, I just told a story, and it happened to be a Jewish story because that was the story I knew how to tell. After that, the reaction I got was such that I felt like it. It was important to tell Jewish stories that aren’t Holocaust stories and aren’t war stories and aren’t stories about us being murdered and being trapped and all those things.”
Ultimately, Loigman hopes her work fosters connections across barriers, just like Sara and Abby do in the book. “What makes me happiest is when people write to me and say, ‘That reminded me of my grandmother. That brought me so much happiness.’ And they’re not Jews, and they read it and they connect with it,” she says. “We need that connection between people.”