This New York-based dating coach has sage advice for Jewish singles


(New York Jewish Week) — On the Netflix reality show “Jewish Matchmaking,” matchmaker and star Aleeza Ben Shalom jet-sets around the world, meets her clients one-on-one, and dives deep into her little black book in order to make connections based on what attributes people seek in a partner and what sort of values they have.

Jewish Matchmaking” may be entertaining, but it’s not exactly representative of how most Jews meet their romantic partners today. As anyone who’s been on a date in the past 10 or 20 years knows, outside the Orthodox community, the primary way people get together is via online dating apps. This cultural shift has paved the way for new types of matchmakers, like Jewish “online dating coach” Erika Ettin. Her process may be different than it was back in the day, but the goal remains the same: to find finds and catch catches.

Ettin, who finesses her clients’ online dating profiles and helps them establish their dating priorities, has a pragmatic approach to modern dating. “I don’t believe in bashert,” she told the New York Jewish Week, using the Yiddish word for “preordained” that is colloquially used to mean “soulmate.” “I don’t believe in one person for everyone. I think many people can make you happy for different reasons.”

Ettin, 42, founded her modern-day matchmaking business, A Little Nudge, in 2011. The name, Ettin clarifies, is pronounced “nuhdge” — as in gentle encouragement — and not the Yiddish “noodge,” meaning to annoy or pester. “Only my mom is allowed to call me that,” Ettin quips. “But I’m giving people a push. I’m giving them the tools they need to get out there.”

Though Ettin’s clients are not exclusively Jewish, she estimates that some 15 percent of them are — “which is a lot more than the national average!” Ettin joked. (A recent Pew study found that Jews make up about 2.4% of the U.S. population.)

Through her business, Ettin offers three levels of service, with pricing from $500: The standard “little nudge” includes a Zoom consultation, after which Ettin will write a client’s online dating profile and select their pictures. Her aim, she said, is to help people put their best proverbial foot forward while simultaneously ensuring that they don’t represent themselves inaccurately.

“Anything that lets your personality shine, shows your quirks and stays positive,” she advises. “But it’s more than a profile. It’s being proactive on the sites that makes you successful.”

The next tier is A Little Nudge Plus, in which Ettin also presents her clients with some handpicked matches and helps draft those initial, particularly anxiety-inducing messages. Finally, there’s “A Little Nudge Platinum,” the whole enchilada of Ettin’s services, in which clients hand over their dating reins: Ettin will swipe and message on her client’s behalf —  but only to the point of setting up the first meeting. “Ultimately, they’re the ones going on the date,” she said.

Ettin’s approach to dating is born out of first-hand experience: Formerly an economist at Fannie Mae in Washington, D.C., Ettin was an early adopter of online dating in 2001. Using the Jewish dating site JDate, she relied on her savvy with statistics to usher her through the complicated process, from talking online (and later, via app) to meeting in real life.

“I put two things I really liked together: online dating and spreadsheets,” Ettin said, explaining that she initially created the spreadsheet to ensure she didn’t write to the same person twice. Soon, however, she realized she could employ this tracking system to ask questions like, “What’s my response rate if I write to somebody? If I make little tweaks, is the probability of getting a response higher? What’s my conversion rate if this person writes back? Do we go on a date?”

Eventually, friends started to notice how successful she was at garnering online dates and requested her assistance with their profiles, inspiring Ettin to quit her job at Fannie Mae and make the jump to full-time date doctoring. “Best decision I ever made,” she declared.

Recently, Ettin made another big, long-awaited jump: After 19 years in Washington, she moved to Brooklyn Heights in December 2022. Ettin had found she was making frequent trips to New York, both to meet with clients and — “here’s where it gets fun,” she said — to compete in the live pun competition Punderdome (she even won the show’s last outing in June).

“I finally decided, if not now, then when?” she said, quoting Jewish sage Hillel. “There’s usually something holding you back — either you’re taking a class, or you’re in a relationship, or you’re… something. It was the first time in a long time where nothing was keeping me anymore.”

So far, Ettin is adjusting to her new scene in Brooklyn Heights nicely, calling it the perfect mix of “quiet and quaint,” perfect for walking her dog, Scruffy, a mutt she suspects is a terrier dachshund mix. She often heads to Times Square to “feed my Broadway addiction,” she said.

“Everything about me makes sense here,” said Ettin, who declined to share her relationship status. (“I generally try not to mix personal and professional,” she said.)

Of course, the same issues that plague any New Yorker plague her as well, like attempting to cook a seven-pound brisket for Passover in her New York-sized oven. (Per Ettin’s review, it was “a mess, but delicious.”) For 20 years, Ettin has hosted a Passover seder in her home; it’s one of many ways she celebrates her cultural Judaism.

Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Ettin was raised Jewish and had a bat mitzvah. It wasn’t until she was a student at Cornell University that she began to connect with her culture on a deeper level. That’s mainly because she missed the taste of matzah ball soup — a powerful motivator for an 18-year-old living away from home for the first time. Ettin attended Reform synagogue in college, and upon relocating to Washington, helped to lead services for young professionals at the historic Sixth & I synagogue alongside Jewish rocker Rick Recht.

Despite what “Sex and the City” and Instagram meme accounts have led many to believe, Ettin doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that dating is harder in New York City than other locales. “Every city has its quirks,” she said. “And there are so many options, and I know that does frustrate people. The paradox of choice, right? When you have so many things to choose from, you’re not actually happy with your choice. There’s always another person a swipe away.”

“But I think dating in New York can be great,” she added. “Most people complain about their own city, but every city can’t be the worst, you know? Are you going to come across every stereotype you think you’re going to come across in New York City? Absolutely, but are you also going to come across amazing people who are looking for what you’re looking for? Yeah, but it takes digging.”

One trend Ettin has noticed among her Jewish clients: Many of them want to meet someone who is also Jewish, even if they’re not particularly observant. That’s good news for any Jewish single looking for a partner — and maybe even better news for any bubbe-figure who wants a loved one to be searching for a Jewish partner.

Ettin’s advice for meeting another Jewish New Yorker is simple: “Pay for the filters on the dating apps so they can filter religion,” she said. “Because it cracks me up when they say ‘This is a dealbreaker’ and then they refuse to pay the $20 to actually use the filter to filter for religion.”

This advice holds true for whatever your dealbreakers are, Ettin advises. “If those checkboxes are there on the dating sites, use those to your advantage,” she said. “On the flip side, just because the option is there doesn’t mean you have to use it. Just because you can search by every inch of height, does not mean you need to.”

While her speciality may be online dating, Ettin believes it’s still possible for people to connect and fall in love IRL in NYC. “Put yourself in places where you want to be, anyway, and then if you meet someone it’s an added bonus,” she advises. “If going to synagogue is important to you, find one that you really like and then you’re already in your element. If you meet someone there, it’s an added bonus. If you want to take some kind of Israeli cooking class, you’re already enjoying yourself because it’s something you want to be doing. If you meet someone it’s an added bonus.”

No matter your situation, or what you’re seeking in a partner, central to much of Ettin’s advice is asking for the things you want. “I think it’s not only OK but encouraged to tell people exactly the types of behaviors you want,” she said. “If you are in a relationship and you want flowers three times a year, tell your partner, ‘I want flowers three times a year.’ You’re not going to be upset when they then give you flowers because you told them — you’ll be happy.”

These types of communication tools were invaluable to Elizabeth Cutler, a former client who recently moved from a career in government “into the creating writing chapter” of her life. She said Ettin “really helped me refresh myself and to present the best version of myself” and to “really listen to my instincts.”

“Everyone is trying to do what they think they’re supposed to do in dating, and sometimes that gets a little mixed up with putting forward authentic selves,” Cutler, 35, said of the wisdom she learned. “It’s good to give people grace around that.”

On “Jewish Matchmaking,” Ben Shalom famously says she has “the hardest job in the world.” Ettin’s approach, meanwhile, is a bit more practical. “The desire to meet someone or find a partner is never going to go away,”she said. “If the economy changes, or anything changes, people will still have the desire to meet a partner. I think I will always have work to do.”

Ultimately, when it comes to love, Ettin doesn’t believe in luck. “I believe in hard work,” she said.