Frank Talk with Veteran Shadchanim Lisa Elefant and Ruchie Giberstien
If anyone can tell us how things have changed in the shidduch world over the last fifteen years or so, it’s Lisa Elefant and Ruchie Giberstien. They are legends in the shidduch world, but you wouldn’t know it just by meeting them. Unassuming, easygoing, and unfazed by the sheer quantity of calls they get in a single day, the dynamic duo is always coming up with new ideas to help singles navigate the daunting world of matchmaking. When they launched Adopt a Shadchan just about three years ago, along with fellow shadchanim Shoshie Soibelman and Elisheva Tversky, their motto was “Where Me Becomes We.” COVID-19 threw their fledgling organization for a loop in some ways, but they emerged stronger with a solid and ever-growing team of support behind them. Their recent campaign made waves in the frum world when they announced their goal: to open a shidduch center, a haven of resources for singles, parents, and of course, shadchanim. Adopt a Shadchan opened its doors just a few weeks ago at a groundbreaking new center on Nostrand Avenue, marking a new era in world of shidduchim. Throughout the growth of their organization, the focus of Lisa, Ruchie, and their team has remained the same: to help as many people as they can to successfully navigate the journey towards finding their mate.
Rayle: Take me back to your early years as a shadchan. How did you get started?
Lisa: I have a sister who is still single. About 16 years ago, I said that’s it. This shidduch thing can’t be too hard. I’ll get involved and I’ll network and we’ll find him. At the time, some people in my husband’s office came up with an idea for a shidduch for people they knew, and they asked me to try redting it. It was my first try as a shadchan. I called both parties, and I was totally off with almost every piece of information. I didn’t know what I was doing. Bottom line is, they were my first shidduch. Today they’re happily married with children, they come to me every Purim, they call me after every birth, and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. And after I made their shidduch, I was hooked.
Rayle: And, suddenly, you were a shadchan.
Lisa: What happens in our universe is that someone hears you made one shidduch, and suddenly, you’re a shadchan. You’re going to get calls, and that’s the beauty of Am Yisrael. Word gets out in a second.
So I went to the local drugstore, and I bought two notebooks, one for girls and one for boys. I took the calls in as they came. There were no shidduch resumes back then, so I just wrote everything down. Baruch Hashem, I became very successful very quickly. I think I made 15 shidduchim my first year, which is very unusual.
Ruchie: When I was dating, I made the shidduchim of two of the boys I had dated. I met my husband’s chavrusah at our l’chaim and I made his shidduch too. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it was definitely easier in a lot of ways back then when I first started. In the old days, I didn’t redt as many shidduchim, but I think it was easier to come up with ideas that were on target.
Rayle: Why is that?
Ruchie: Back in the day, I wasn’t as busy as I am now. I didn’t have as many people on my list, so I could put in more phone time and more listening time. There were no resumes, so we just worked with a pencil and paper. Things were more personal because it took more time to meet people and redt a shidduch.
Lisa: There were very few of us doing it then, and we worked on our own. I didn’t go anywhere to meet people. For me, it was good that it started that way, because I was able to develop my path slowly at my own pace. Compare that to today, when you can get 400 resumes at once.
Rayle: Right, because you can send a resume in one second on WhatsApp nowadays.
Ruchie: Yes. It’s much harder nowadays to get a yes from a boy, because all the boys are flooded with resumes.
Lisa: Smart phones really changed everything.
Ruchie: WhatsApp is more efficient because I could have five conversations at once, but I do wish it could be a little more personal. I wish I could give everyone more time.
*We take a break because Ruchie gets a call from someone who’s about to propose.*
Ruchie: Sorry about that. Can’t let that wait!
Rayle: How many calls like that do you get in a day?
Ruchie: Besides for calls from people who are dating, I would say about 10 new people reach out to me every day. I have dates going out who need help planning or with other details. I get calls during suppertime when someone’s running late, and I get calls late at midnight from people who want to discuss their dates. I also get reminder texts from at least 20 people.
Rayle: Do you find the reminder texts annoying or do they help?
Ruchie: The reminders are helpful. They put you back on my radar. I would suggest that if you’re going to send follow up texts – and follow ups are best in a text – don’t sent them on Rosh Chodesh, because that’s when everyone sends them. Choose a different day! I always try to answer but when I get that volume at once it’s impossible.
Lisa: Try to stay positive when you send those reminders. Sometimes, as hard as it is, you have to let the system play out a little. There will be months when you’re not going to get any yesses and months when you get a few at once. We shadchanim can’t call you up and tell you exactly what we did for your child that day, but if you sent your child in to meet with us we’re definitely going to try our best. A shadchan will react to a parent who’s positive and says I know you have a lot going on, and I know you’re trying – I’m just checking in.
Ruchie: We’re constantly meeting people and thinking, thinking, thinking. I wish there were more hours in the day!
Rayle: You’ve both told me that you left your other jobs to become a shadchan.
Lisa: Yes. I worked as an office manager in a medical office until very recently. I left my job to focus on Adopt a Shadchan. I used to go to work all day, come home, make supper, and the rest of the night be on the phone with shidduchim.
Ruchie: I worked as a paralegal in the city for 10 years. After my fourth child was born, I wanted to stay closer to home. It was getting to be too much. As you make more shidduchim, more people reach out, and it just becomes a full-time job. I don’t know how anyone could possibly balance another job with being a shadchan, especially if you’re raising kids.
Rayle: How does your family deal with your job?
Lisa: When my kids were young, a very smart shadchan, Chana Rose, advised me to go to the toy store and buy them whatever they wanted every time I made a shidduch. It was like party time in my house. So even if there was some resentment, my kids were excited about it.
Ruchie: Chana Rose gave me that advice, too! Another way they feel involved is when people send over small gifts, like food they can enjoy. It makes them excited and they feel proud.
Lisa: That’s another thing that’s changed over the years. People show their appreciation more than they used to, and it’s really nice.
Rayle: Everyone shows their appreciation to everyone. The bus driver, the delivery guy. And there’s that whole movement to change things for the teachers.
Lisa: We’ve come a long way, but I think we have still do have our priorities mixed up sometimes. Who is more important in your child’s early years? No one more important than the teachers and rebbeim.
Rayle: When it comes to shadchanim, I think a lot of people feel that that’s what shadchanus is for. And also, if you’ve met them and haven’t set them up, the mentality is why should I pay you?
Ruchie: Getting people on dates is so much of the work. I’d guess that for every 100 shidduchim that are redt, maybe five or six of them go out on a date. There are so many reasons for that, but people don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes that they’ll never know about. A mother who thinks I haven’t set her daughter up won’t know how many times I tried and got a no.
Lisa: If you work at something, that person still has a huge impact on your child’s life. You don’t know how many dates your child has got to get through until she finds the right one. You don’t know how many times that child has reached out to the shadchan for advice, to vent, or to remind the shadchan that she’s still single. Maybe you reached out to the shadchan and the shadchan gave you her time. Everyone’s time is precious. People have illusions that shadchanim get a lot of shadchanus, but that’s not how it works. No one is in it for the money.
Rayle: People think that if there’s monetary incentive, it won’t be l’shem Shamayim.
Lisa: People give money to Tomchei Shabbos and Hatzalah every month. Shadchanim have to live in a house, they have to pay tuition, they have to marry off their children, and they have bills to pay. And if they’re talking to you and working on shidduchim for your kids, their time is money.
Rayle: Do you see this as a solvable problem?
Lisa: At Adopt a Shadchan, we want to hire people so that this is their job. We want a shadchan to be a profession. So, when girls are deciding on a career path, one can choose to be a teacher, one a therapist, and one a shadchan. Shidduchim have gotten much more complicated because it’s a different world, and I’m afraid that in the next generation who’s going to want to do what we’re doing? It’s very hard and very time consuming, and realistically with expenses, women are breadwinners, too. If you have the capabilities, we want you to even be trained for it so we can create the next generation of shadchanim.
In shul on Yom Kippur, I couldn’t stop crying because I haven’t seen so many single girls in one room. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re all normal, regular girls, but shidduchim have become very difficult. It’s definitely one of our tests. And I feel that if we had more shadchanim working in a more focused way, we could change that.
Rayle: Is that something you want to do in your new center?
Rayle: Ok, before we talk more about the center, walk me through your journey. How did you go from working alone to Binyan Adei Ad and finally, to Adopt a Shadchan?
Lisa: About five years after I made my first shidduch, Fruma Schiffenbauer invited me to run the new junior division of her organization, Binyan Adei Ad. I brought in Shoshie Soibelman and soon after, Ruchie, who pulled in Elisheva Tversky.
It was a great experience, and it taught me a little bit about how to run an organization, although I had no such plans at the time. After a few years, we decided to go back to the way we used to do things. Other women in Flatbush became involved with shidduchim, so we used to meet with them. Slowly, we started forming groups. Shoshie, Ruchie, and I decided to go to yeshivos. Baby steps.
Ruchie: We started getting really busy. I was in the bungalow colony with my friend Daniella Feldman, and she got pretty frustrated watching me. She said, “You’re on the phone all day, and you don’t even get paid for what you do. We need to do something about it.” So, we called Lisa.
Lisa: We brainstormed and we came up with the concept of shuls hiring shadchanim to focus on their singles. And we came up with the name Adopt a Shadchan. My friend Devorah Adler got us into shuls in Monsey, and we were very successful. We created a very targeted database accessed by shadchanim from all over the world where people could upload their resumes. We also started our AAS WhatsApp chat that now has 250 shadchanim on it. We use that chat to make shidduchim, lean on each other for support, and ask questions like, “I have a date going out in 30 minutes. Anyone know a good coffee place in Monsey?” We’ve been making great strides because we’re working as a group to help give ideas.
Ruchie: The database and chat are going strong, but COVID-19 kind of halted our shul project.
Lisa: We’re planning to continue the shul program, be’ezras Hashem, with a few tweaks, as part of what we do at Adopt a Shadchan.
Rayle: COVID-19 was a crazy time for shidduchim.
Lisa: Everything got shut down. I got a call from someone who is passionate about shidduchim, and he said, “Lisa, I heard about your chat. I hope you are going to be shutting it down. You can’t be redting any shidduchim anymore until we figure out what’s going on. I told him, “Well, I didn’t get the memo that shidduchim were over. There’s no way I’m shutting this chat down, and we’re going to be redting shidduchim and we’ll figure out how it’s going to happen.”
A week into COVID-19, I got a call from a couple of single girls I know in their 20s. They were crying, very depressed, and they wanted chizuk because Pesach was coming and there were no dates in sight. I had no idea what to say, but I told them to give me a few minutes. I called a couple of guys in the same age group and they felt pretty much the same way as the girls. I looked at my kids on Zoom and I said, “Why don’t we try some kind of dating via Zoom?” I had no idea how to even set up a Zoom room, but that’s what we did. That evolved into speed dating which evolved into actual dates once we were allowed to do that. We ended up with at least five engagements and all the girls came out with new friends.
Ruchie: Very often for girls in their mid- to upper-20s most of their friends are married, and it’s hard to make new friends. Zoom was a great way for them to not only work on shidduchim but also connect with other girls and form lasting friendships.
Lisa: COVID-19 was horrible, but in terms of what it did for us with shidduchim, it was a game changer. Singles got to meet shadchanim they never would have been heard of without Zoom. We had roundtable discussions. They had a platform to raise their concerns and be seen and heard. We came out with a network of hundreds of singles who had dated and learned new things and wanted to set each other up. That’s how we came up with “fredting.” If someone has an idea, they can call me and I’ll redt it unless it’s totally bizarre.
I realized that with our network of and singles we could come up with an idea and really get people to take notice. We suddenly had a real voice to effect change.
Rayle: Your recent fundraiser for the center emblemized that. So many singles were involved with that.
Lisa: That fundraiser was incredible. Rivky Grossman, a very talented graphics artist, came up with our tagline: Single, Not Solo. Our original goal was $250,000 but we raised it to $500,000 and met that goal thanks to our singles. I’ve never seen so much creative energy. We had contests and brainstorming sessions in my house. It’s beautiful to me that we’re able to open this center not just thanks to shadchanim and parents but also the singles who really put themselves out there.
Rayle: Singles are not always known for loving shadchanim.
Lisa: I just saw on someone’s status that they were doing a podcast about shidduchim and they wanted everyone to send in their worst experience with a shadchan. It hurt me. I thought, why can’t you talk about your best experience or even your best and worst? We are just trying to help. There has to be a relationship between the shadchanim and singles.
Rayle: You have a lot of projects going on to develop that relationship. Can you tell me some of what’s been going on?
Lisa: “Nix the Pix” was one project we did. Everyone feels really pressured with pictures. So, we said that for 60 days we wouldn’t send pictures, and we were able to do it because there are 250 of us. We also started “Wedding Redting” which has also become very successful. We have shadchanim meeting singles and redting shidduchim during the down time between the chuppah and dancing.
We have the Prayer Pact, where singles daven for each other or parents daven for each other’s children. This month, we introduced something called Prayer Pact Lishmah, where anyone can daven for a single, and it creates this feeling of unity. We’re in it together.
“Be My Guest” is another project where we place singles with families for Shabbos meals. Singles tell me that the loneliest day of the week is Shabbos. It’s unsettling to have to make plans every week, and they love the idea of being able to go to people for meals.
We’re just trying to open different avenues, creative kosher ways, for shadchanim to meet singles and for singles to meet other singles. Not everything is for everyone, but everyone has different options.
Ruchie: Lisa is constantly thinking of new projects. For me, my passion is making shidduchim. That’s what I’m good at. I love to meet people and think of ideas, to go to yeshivos and help other shadchanim. That said, we work together. Our goal is the same: to do the most we can for singles.
Rayle: What are some things you would want to change in the shidduch system?
Ruchie: I wish we could go back to the times when the boy called the girls to set up the date. It would remove so much miscommunication that happens when it goes through a third party. I once had a boy say he’d change a date from two to four. He meant that the duration of the date was going to be from 2:00 to 4:00; I took it to mean that he’d be there at 4:00. He showed up at 2 o clock and the girl was in a sweatshirt and no makeup, studying for a test.
The biggest thing I’d want to change is the way shidduchim are redt, that it gets redt to the boy first and he gets backed up with a pile of names. I wish we could redt to both sides together. I don’t know if that will be possible. Now the boy has upper hand – which I understand because they have piles of resumes and it’s overwhelming – and it’s so painful to girls. Maybe we could work out some kind if system where it gets redt to both sides at the same time and they commit to looking into each other together.
It’s becoming more common for the girl to meet the boy’s parents after the third or fourth date, and I would love for that to become standard. It helps the boy’s parents feel more at ease and the girl can see where the boy is coming from.
Rayle: Overall, are you happy with the way things are?
Lisa: We spoke earlier about the differences between making shidduchim a decade ago versus now. One thing that was different years ago was that we didn’t have coaches and mentors. They were probably needed back then, too, but because of smartphones, there’s so much more awareness today of what goes out there in the world, even among the most yeshivish boys and girls. Most of the time, it’s hurting us because they’re approaching dating and marriage with expectations that are not realistic and not connected to Jewish life.
Ruchie: A lot of times, girls are looking for a learning boy but they don’t realize they’re not marrying the Gadol hador. They’re marrying a regular boy. The boys see their friends marrying a pretty girl and having a vort and wedding that’s the talk of the town. They also want that. And you’d be surprised at how many singles are worried about how that engagement picture will look when it gets passed around. They all want to be that “cute couple.”
Ruchie: As a shadchan, you are never just sending someone out on a date. There’s coaching involved, for parents and daters. There’s a lot of support involved, and the more we open channels for communication, the better off everyone will be.
Lisa: Everyone needs support: the singles, their parents, and the shadchanim themselves.
Rayle: How will your center address issues like this?
Ruchie: One of the things we plan to do in our center is offer classes to daters to help them know what they’re looking for, what to be aware of, and to help them set reasonable expectations. We want to create a new generation of daters who know how to date and know how to spot potential issues. We want them to know when it’s just nerves and when to just go for it.
Lisa: We’re having mentors and coaches on staff at the center who are AAS approved. If singles who have been dating come in for a few years, they’ll be assigned a coach or mentor and if they go out through us, they’ll keep the mentor clued as to what’s going on. That way, if things get complicated, they’ll already have a relationship so they can deal with the situation. Very often, coaches and shadchanim are called in to a full-blown situation.
Ruchie: We plan on offering classes to parents as well. Basically, we want to address all the things that people are thinking but are afraid to say.
Rayle: Who is overseeing this entire project? Are there Rabbanim involved?
Ruchie: It’s all being done under rabbinical supervision. Rav Elya Brudny, Rav Yisroel Reisman, Rav Bentzion Schiffenbauer – they’re all very excited about it.
Lisa: I’m very excited about it. We have been working over the past few years to build up our database. It’s only open to shadchanim and we can do very advanced, targeted searches. One of the biggest complaints of every shadchan is that we can’t get organized. Here you can come into the office and have access to a lot of information in an organized way. It’s a very sophisticated database.
Ruchie: We are hiring part-time shadchanim and a few part time secretaries that can make appointments. We’ll have a rotating system of different shadchanim and we’ll network to share information and resources to help set up as many people as possible. It’s a place where we can work and stay focused.
This will be a great resource for people who come in from out of town. Instead of trying to figure out which shadchan to call and not reaching anyone, they can call the center and make an appointment with whoever will be there when they visit.
Rayle: What would you say is your number one mission?
Lisa: To redt shidduchim. That’s always been our goal. We just want them to be as successful as possible and not have problems afterward.
Ruchie: We want to make this journey as pressure-free and easy as possible. We’re just shluchim. It’s a work in progress, and we’re always open to suggestions and criticism – healthy criticism. We want to work together with the community to make this the best possible resource for everyone.
Lisa: Anyone who’s involved in shidduchim can tell you that being a shadchan is about helping people on their journey. It’s about being a part of it, whether it’s setting up a date, talking to them, giving advice, or being there for them. Being the shadchan is the icing on the cake.