A couple of months ago I submitted a short story to a short story contest organized by Hey Alma, a feminist, Jewish, American online media (hey, nobody’s perfect). It was supposed to be under a certain number of words and “Jewish, whatever that means”. Anyway I lost the contest, so I thought I would share the short story with you. Because it’s the first-ever work of fiction I’ve written, because I’m proud I wrote all those words in English and because I laugh at my own jokes when I reread it. Thank you Tejal and Jackie for your help and support on this one, I owe you one.
When you are thirty-something, single on a Thursday night, and tired from a full day of work, it is hard to be overjoyed with the wedding announcements piling up in your mailbox. But for Audrey, this one was particularly painful. The announcement was made in a proper French manner, that is, in the Amaze font on light-ivory cardboard: the grandparents and parents of her ex-boyfriend and his fiancée announced to her that the man who left her less than a year ago was getting married. She should have known, she thought as she was climbing the six flights of stairs of her building, that Matthias, the sweet, polite, respectful man she was with for six years would end up married to a woman who went to the same church as him. Hell, their parents knew each other! Each flight of stairs made her more judgemental and broody. She was just the exotic Jewish girl, a distraction before going back to his roots, like a catholic salmon. She should have known he was just here for the exotic trip when he told her on their first date: “I’m really into Kabbalah, I’ve read all there is to know on the subject.” Only for Matthias could she be exotic: the Shtetl and Odessa were exotic only to people who had country houses on the Atlantic coast but lived in Montreuil. She was out of breath and out of good thoughts after a long day at her consulting firm, thirty minutes of bicycle on a crowded boulevard in Paris, and — did I mention it already? — the six floors she had to climb every day. Matthias had left her quietly, respectfully, saying that their long hours at the office killed the spark between them. She should have known, men don’t break up like that, like a stroll in the park. She went on Instagram to check his profile, and his fiancée’s. Hortense, Marie-Sophie, whatever her name was. She heated some dumplings from Picard and scrolled. Louise or Anne-Fleur, whatever her name was, appeared in his profile just a month after their breakup: a picture during a long weekend in May. Of course, she had a house in Dinard. I am sorry, I should take a moment to orient my international readers. Dinard is like the French Hamptons, Montreuil is French Brooklyn, and Picard is Trader Joe’s. I hope you follow me so far. And a little bit than six months later they were engaged, the wedding announcement was in Audrey’s mailbox and the pictures of the ring (a family heirloom of course) were pinned on whatever-her-name-was’s profile.
Audrey chewed slowly, her bitterness and bad faith increasing with each piece of dumpling. “My family doesn’t have any heirlooms anyway; the Germans took everything in 1941!” Instagram felt her frustration, the anger behind each stroke of her thumb, and figured out the accounts under the scrutiny of Audrey fell into the category “ex-boyfriend” and “ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, oh my bad, this is a cute ring, she’s engaged to him, I’m sorry girl”, and decided to act accordingly, with the perfect ultra-personalized ad. The ad went something like this:
“Nice Jewish girl looking for a nice Jewish boy to marry? Get the help of our AI-powered matchmaking technology, boosted by your parents’ wisdom. Shiddou’h: stop dating, start courting.”
The whole ad screamed “Fiddlers on the roof” meets “startup nation”. Audrey was enraged: how did they know? When did she fall into the “desperate single thirty-something Jewish woman” category in the Instagram algorithm? What a dumb concept anyway, bringing the matchmaker from XIXth century Poland back with an app. Little did she know, the two founders of the app, Daniel “Dan” Saadoun and Stanislas du Buisson, just copied the most popular matchmaking app from India, even using the same developers to create all the features. They had the idea after their six months retreats in Goa after both had burnout from working in the same consulting firm as Audrey. But that’s another story.
That night, Audrey couldn’t sleep. Slowly, Shiddou’h became more and more enticing. She fell into a rabbit hole: Shiddou’h was actually the Hebrew word for matchmaking, she found out quickly. Her few years of Talmud Torah couldn’t have taught her that, but even the Wikipedia article said it was a mitzvah, a good deed, to help young people get married! If Matthias found his fiancée through his parents and his community, why shouldn’t she? Of course, it was easier for him, under the old stones of the Saint-Whatever church, and not after the bulletproof doors of her synagogue in an underground alley that smelled like exhaust pipe and piss. I mean, she tried to date Jewish guys without any family help. Her first serious boyfriend was Jewish, she even kept kosher for him, for he wouldn’t kiss her otherwise. He was too afraid the molecules of the ham and butter sandwiches she ate after class would contaminate his saliva. They broke up eventually when she left for her Erasmus semester in Spain, and the chorizo was too good anyway. But at her age, it was more difficult: she didn’t know a lot of Jewish men and she did not go to the synagogue that often, she found it boring and depressing, and every man only had eyes on the smart and charismatic woman rabbi anyway.
She spent all her days preparing outsourcing and automation strategies for her clients, she could use her own medicine: automate her love life and outsource it to her parents. Admittedly, they weren’t religious or even remotely traditional, barely Jewish at this point. But they had a great marriage. And her mother was a human resource director. Her father would be harder to convince, but his four grandparents went through a matchmaking process, so this wouldn’t be too unfamiliar for him.
She needed to find a good Jewish man to show off to Matthias and whatever-her-name-is. There was an app for that. And the first step was to convince her parents.
She waited for their weekly Sunday roast to ask her parents. “Where do you think we are? Back in Odessa?” Claude and Sophie were definitely disappointed by their daughter. They thought they raised her right, the values of the République, the public education from kindergarten to high school, the top engineering school… They compromised when she implored for a bat-mitsvah, but all she wanted was a big party and she used the money to fund a ski trip with her friends! She even got to spend time abroad in Spain and in China, the least Jewish countries they could think of! But instead, she wanted “to go back to her roots”? What would it be next? Asking if the pork roast is kosher?
“But there’s all kinds of Jewish men on the app, not just the bearded ones!”
“But why do you discriminate the goys?”
“I don’t discriminate the goys! But I’m looking for someone who’s serious and wants to settle down, and what better way to signal that than having parents involved?”
“But you are settled! You are independent! You just bought your apartment! You have a good job!”
“Exactly! This job doesn’t give me a lot of time to date!”
Time, Claude had too much of it: he was newly retired and quite frankly, he was bored. During the main course, the app started to sound like a good side project. After the desert, they reluctantly said yes.
The app asked many questions to Audrey and her parents. Audrey had her fair share of experience on regular dating apps, but that was next level. They asked about her height and weight, her diet (vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, or kosher, but surprisingly there were no boxes for her frozen dumpling diet), her exact salary, her origins (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi), then the name of her mother’s family shtetl in Poland, her medical family background (BRCA? IBS? Tay Sachs?), the name of her synagogue, the name of her rabbi,…
“It feels like a Ben Gurion security interview!”
“It feels like a KGB examination!”
“It feels like when your mother meets new people.”
Audrey undermined her salary and exaggerated her cooking skills. Then the app provided them with a “family success manager” who asked for documents to prove some information. She had to provide all her degrees and proof she actually had a bat mitzvah.
Then came the question of her criteria. The parents patiently listened to the list of her demands: 1m80 (that’s 6 feet for our American friends) minimum, not too orthodox, he needs to be active (she thought of her daily six flights of stairs), and a good sense of humor, but not too many dark jokes. Then they gave their own criteria.
“He needs to have a good education.”
“Sure, he needs to be well-behaved of course.”
“No, like, he needs to come from a good engineering school. Or medical school. A doctor would be nice, with all your mother’s issues, and my poor heart… But no small engineering schools, by the way, only the top five, Polytechnique, Central, Suppelec…”
“What about business schools?”
“It’s not very serious, they learn nothing there…”
“Only the Parisian ones at least.”
“Not even EDHEC or EM Lyon?”
And it went on and on. If you are not French, it sounds very boring, and if you are French like Audrey, it is also rather pathetic. But the HR director and her husband loved the app more and more.
Their family success manager explained the course of action. They will put her CV, sorry, biodata, on the app and the men’s families will reach out directly to Audrey’s parents, asking for a meeting with their daughter. If they thought the suitor was good enough for their daughter, and if Audrey liked the profile as well, they could arrange a meeting. The two singles would meet for one or two dates, then the two families should meet right away. “The idea is not for Audrey to go on many dates, she has to be determined.”
Shiddou’h didn’t find a lot of matches for Audrey, obviously. Most of the profiles were too traditional or too “uneducated” for the family. Audrey was losing hope when a family finally reached out to Claude and formally asked for a date for their son. His name was Jonathan, he was Sefaradi but Italian-Sefaradi, which was rare and interesting, and most importantly, he was a doctor, and not any kind of doctor, a cardiologist. Claude’s shaky heart loved him instantly, and Audrey’s too.
The first two dates felt very formal, but good. Jonathan pretended he didn’t know half of the information Audrey put in her profile, asked if she spoke Yiddish “Oh no my grandmother never taught me, but I know a few words”. In return Audrey enquired about his diet “Oh no I don’t eat kosher but I’m more of a chicken-vegetarian kind of guy… And I eat pork if I’m in a good restaurant. Or if you don’t tell me what’s in my dish.” She sighed with relief. Of course, they had friends in common from her engineering school, yes he had siblings but they emigrated to Israel in 2016. He had a beard, but the close-shaved kind of beard. But most importantly he was charming, good-looking, and still on the market only because he was too busy with work. “That’s why I decided to use Shiddou’h, I am too busy for dates.” “Same, same…” Another sigh of relief. And after a few glasses of wine, they decided their parents should meet.
“What do you think about what’s going on in Israel?”
Audrey believed no meeting could be worse than when her father asked her ex-boyfriend and family what their grandparents did during the second world war. But she was obviously wrong because her father was no match for Jonathan’s father. Claude muttered a few words about illegal settlements and anti-constitutional reforms. Audrey’s mother tried to calm the situation by passing meatballs around the table, with an awkward smile. “Of course, they are not as good as yours Rachel, your polpette must be amazing. Oh, you don’t cook meatballs? I assumed you did. Well, they are kosher, I bought the meat at Jojo. You don’t eat kosher? You said in the profile you did? Oh, I get it, it’s easier that way!” The fathers stayed quiet, slowly eating their meatballs. The women around the table continued to small chat their way out of the thick silence. “What do you do? Doctors as well? So nice! Do you go to Italy a lot? We only went to Rome once, of course, we visited the ghetto. Have you been there? So great to visit the country where ghettos were invented. Of course, of course. Terrible history. I mean it’s not Auschwitz but still, you’re right, it’s terrible.”
“So… You are self-hating Jews? Antisemitic Jews?” Claude raised his fork, half a polpette still on it. “Who do you…” “Please Claude he is a Jewish doctor from Italy, can you behave for once?” Audrey’s mother’s heart was pounding at the idea it will not have such a good practitioner to take care of it. “Do you want more meatballs? Or more caponata? You know I have terrible palpitations sometimes, and Claude too, so much blood pressure all the time… And no sport, he just won’t go to the gym…” Audrey was silent, contemplating the string of bad decisions that ended up in this dinner. “No, I am not a self-hating Jew, but I don’t believe Jews should be blindly loyal to Israel and men like Netanyahu.”
The ensuing chaos was two hours of heated arguments between two men who had no consideration for their blood pressure, hearts, or their children’s hearts as well. Gradually the mothers and children lost hope and sat back in silence as words like “Kippur war”, “1967 borders” and “condemning terrorist attacks” were thrown around the table, when it was not meatballs. “You know what, doctor, you should stick to medicine, because quite obviously you don’t seem to grasp the complexity of Israeli politics.” Once the dinner was over, as the fathers continued to argue on the doorstep and as the mothers were physically trying to keep them apart, Audrey and Jonathan couldn’t look each other in the eyes. “I think we should see other people.”
Audrey was so mortified after this awful dinner she swiftly ghosted Jonathan, deleted her profile from Shiddou’h, and even sent a formal request for the app to delete her personal information, following European laws. She didn’t want her undermined salary to end up on the dark web. But don’t worry, as this failed Camp David negotiation of a date was a blessing in disguise: horrified by the small eventuality she will meet again the Sefaradi cardiologist, she started training for the Paris marathon: with a healthy, trained heart she wouldn’t have to meet any cardiologist in the future, Jewish or otherwise. All sweaty and out of breath in the Luxembourg garden, she bumped into her future husband. Was he Jewish you ask? Why do you talk like my mother all of a sudden? All I can say is that he knew nothing about the Kabbalah.
Shiddou’h didn’t have such a lucky fate. After a couple of rounds of funding, the app tried to diversify to other French communities: Indian, Muslim, South-West African singles… A journalist from Cnews (it’s the French Fox News if you were asking) picked up on the news, ran the story that dating apps were destroying the French ideal of secularism, were causing more communitarianism in France and overall were pushing the woke agenda to young desperate single people. This discourse of the day had medium success on Twitter, but even Le Figaro decided to write on it, with an article titled “Are dating apps a danger to democracy?” But that was not the cause of the end for Shiddou’h. One day, a young developer interning at the company made a rookie mistake and merged all the databases. No one noticed until the family success department received an avalanche of angry emails from unhappy parents saying their children were dating out of their community. This was the last straw, but the founding teams were already planning their next venture: a gefilte fish bar in SoPi (it’s like Soho, but for “South of Pigalle”), branding it “the next superfood full of omega 3” and “the new bone broth”. Even Goop wrote an article about it. Audrey went there once with her new husband; she found out, for the second time, that certain traditions don’t need to be kept up, or even modernized.