Idea #15: Return of the Matchmaker


The greatest gift we can possibly bequeath to any Jewish generation is a deep love and abiding commitment for Jewish life. At its simplest, we are seeking to marry Jews to Jewish life. Our focus is not establishing monogamy between Jews and Jewish institutions or programs but rather deepening and enriching the relationship between Jews and Jewish life. Our next great creative endeavor is not a new mega-institution but instead a new platform upon which lifelong Jewish journeys can be matched and facilitated — customizing experiences to reach each Jew and deepening the impact for each individual, expanding the potential for Jewish growth over time, and dramatically enriching the Jewish future.


To achieve this grand vision, we need first to learn from the success for-profit companies have enjoyed through a strategy called individualized customization. Sophisticated recommender systems are designed to match each customer with the products that she will like and to filter out the products that she probably won’t like. These are the algorithms that run recommendations from and Netflix, among other e-commerce sites, enabling them to suggest products that are a perfect fit for each and every customer one-by-one. The idea is a game-changer, and we need a Jewish version.


We’ve had them before. Think of Fiddler on the Roof’s Yente the Matchmaker — she recommends the right match for each person because she’s a yente, a busybody that has a relationship with everyone and knows everybody’s business. Like recommender systems, she gets to know each person as an individual, and she knows every available product out there, enabling her to make the perfect match.

Recommender systems have all sorts of ways of learning about us — monitoring our purchases, web sites we visit, and offering us short questionnaires — and they often use the wisdom of crowds to make matches. If other people who purchased the "The Tipping Point" also love other books or movies, recommending the same books and movies to future "Tipping Point" buyers may be a perfect match.

In "The One to One Future," Don Peppers and Martha Rogers describe personalized marketing in four phases: 1) identifying potential customers; 2) determining their needs and potential interests; 3) interacting with customers to learn about them; 4) customizing products, services and communications to each customer. For businesses, it’s a return to the personal touch of the mom-and-pop store, but with the inventory of Wal-Mart.

As broadens its strategy from matching our interests in books and movies to electronics, jewelry, and even breakfast cereal — it continues to expand its customer share, increasing the type and amount of purchases each customer makes and ultimately driving additional sales and revenue. Amazon does not actually produce anything, for that matter, it does not even actually sell many of the items featured on its site — instead it specializes in relationship building and matching customers with the right products at the right time. Through a service called Fulfillment by Amazon, it connects a myriad of other merchants with Amazon customers utilizing its remarkable matching and logistics infrastructure to continue broadening its offerings and deepening its customer relationships.

Now, imagine the Jewish world with the addition of robust and personalized Jewish life matchmaking. Picture Jewish institutions focused on to building relationships rather than programs. Imagine measures of success focused on the depth of impact achieved in the multitude of Jewish lives we enrich rather than the number of people who participate in programs we facilitate. Though not far from our reach, but we could use a host of new tools to support this alternate reality:

* Savvy matchmaker/community organizers trained to interact with each and every Jew one-by-one, regardless of background, getting to know each of us and matching us to tailored Jewish offerings, experiences, and communications that fostered our Jewish growth.

*Sophisticated technology to support these matchmakers, or operate in parallel with them, matching individuals with potential Jewish offerings—providing a personalized experience while capturing reviews and feedback to inform future matching.

* Increased coordination among Jewish educators, experience providers, and content creators to specialize in more niche areas and communicate effectively about exactly what they offer. Learning from the success of Amazon, we will recognize that the brand of each Jewish provider is not as important as the quality of their offerings.

In such a world, we could view Jewish engagement as a deepening journey, not as a polar question of yes or no, in or out, member or non-member. Strategies could be designed to deepen Jewish engagement through personalized matching of each Jew with opportune next steps on her Jewish journey.

Of course, this new world will require not only talented matchmakers, but also algorithms of Jewish growth that help assess which experiences, people, and communities to link each person to at various points along her Jewish journey. This process will be facilitated by human-to-human contact, as well as other means of data collection that allow us to map a Jewish journey.

Contemporary Jewish life is, at its best, made up of a series of Jewish experiences or episodes strung together from a myriad of different resources rather than a life-long immersive commitment to a single Jewish institution which guides our Jewish journey. Our next great endeavor will be building the capacity to meet, build a relationship with, and get to know each and every Jew. Leveraging the best from enterprise and technology we will then develop the mechanisms to match each of us with Jewish offerings personalized to our interests and passions and tailored as appropriate to kick-start, invigorate, foster, or enhance our Jewish growth at each step in our Jewish journey.

Are you ready?

(Graham Hoffman is the associate vice president for strategy at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Dan Libenson is the executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center, University of Chicago. This post is part of the series 28 Days, 28 Ideas. Check out "Idea #14: Open source curriculum" over at And be sure to check out the next idea from You can also visit for the full list of ideas as they progress.)

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