How to Score a Yiddish Date in 1940s NYC


Long before JDate parodies, Yiddish cinema was poking fun of Jewish assimilation, values both “traditional” and “American,” and the desire to settle down, or, at least, get a date.

Amerikaner Shadkhn (American Matchmaker), made in the Bronx in 1940, depicts the saga of Nat Silver, a wealthy businessman who has been engaged seven times. When his eighth engagement fails, he reinvents himself as a matchmaker, though he refuses to charge his clients money, angering the matchmakers’ union (yes, a real thing). Leo Fuchs, who played Silver, was known as the “Yiddish Fred Astaire,” so it’s a musical as well as a mad-cap love story.

As the last of director Edward G. Ulmer‘s Yiddish-language films (not speaking the language didn’t stop Ulmer—he made a version of the Ukrainian story Natalka Poltavka as well), American Matchmaker lets old-world methods prevail, in spite of Silver’s American business acumen, and looks ahead to the figure of the neurotic protagonist, a la Woody Allen.

The original New York Times review panned the film, calling the first hour “tiresome,” much like many dates today.


Watch a clip from American Matchmaker:

Watch a version of Natasha Poltavka:

Watch an awkward recap of a JDate:

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