ODESSA, Ukraine — When Vadim Epstein, a computer programmer from Ukraine, began looking for a wife five years ago, he turned to a Jewish matchmaker. But the matchmaker, he said, was disorganized. At first, she couldn’t find a girl’s photo in her computer. Then she had to look through her notebook for another girl’s phone number.
“I realized that all the information was in different places. It was a total mess,” Epstein said. “I understood that she needed to organize this stuff in a database.”
So he and his brother Yevgeny Yehudah Epstein created Shiduch.org, the first Russian-language Jewish dating site that uses the services of matchmakers. In addition to the regular questions about age and height, users also answer questions about whether both of their parents are Jewish, and if they keep kosher and Shabbat. People can register on the site by themselves, however, they can only be introduced to others by a matchmaker.
“It’s the classical Jewish approach,” Vadim Epstein said.
It’s become harder for Russian-speaking Jews from the former Soviet Union to meet due to immigration and assimilation, Epstein explained. Russian-speaking Jews are now spread around the world, including the United States, Israel, and other countries. The site helps to bring them together, he said.
Thousands of people use Shiduch.org daily and at least 70 couples have tied the knot since the site was launched five years ago, Epstein said, adding that he surely doesn’t know about all the weddings.
One of the matchmakers who regularly uses Shiduch.org to find matches for her clients is Aliza Bracha Mishilechis, a housewife from Odessa, Ukraine. Jews once made up nearly half of Odessa’s population, while today it is estimated that only 30,000 remain. Many of the love matches Mishilechis makes cross international borders — she has paired up Jews in France, Russia, Israel and the United States, she said.
While Shiduch.org is a nonprofit venture, Mishilechis makes it very clear from the start that her services are not free. She charges $100 for the first few matches, and also requests $1000 from the bride and the groom each when the couple gets engaged. The income helps her to support her family, she said.
“To pay a matchmaker is a mitzvah,” she said. “If you don’t pay the matchmaker, you might have bad luck in the family, like you might not have children.”
Mishilechis — who is now married with three children — said she spent nine years looking for her own husband. She was 32 years old and worried that she would stay single forever by the time she found him.
Looking for a husband was “like a job,” she said.
She made her first match even before she found her husband. On an online database, she met a French Orthodox Jew who was looking for a Ukrainian beauty who had to be a virgin and a Cohen. Mishilechis said she went to the synagogue and ran into just the right girl.
‘To pay a matchmaker is a mitzvah’
“They got married, she moved to Paris, now they have more than eight children, between six and eight children for sure,” she said. “She fit the description and I introduced her.”
Now Mishilechis works mostly online, using Facebook and Shiduch.org.
“It happens that I never meet my clients in person. It doesn’t affect my work at all,” she said. “According to the Jewish tradition, a matchmaker should be the one to introduce people. She is like a psychologist who checks up on the information, looks up who the person is. It’s more reliable than meeting someone online [without a matchmaker].”
Since she became a matchmaker three years ago, she said she helped 15 Jewish couples get married, although she has not been to a single wedding. Many of them took place outside of Ukraine.
“I often stay friends with my clients. They tell me when their kids are born,” she said. “I once had an idea to make an [online] album of the people who got married through me, but some people don’t want their photos published online. Some people are shy about that.”
About 80 matchmakers (many of whom do not charge for their services) in Ukraine, Israel, and the United States are now using Shiduch.org to find matches for Russian-speaking Jews — but the Epstein brothers, who now live in Israel, are both still looking.