Meet Heather the Matchmaker
Arranged marriage is usual for ultra-orthodox Jews and parents are keen to check out prospective partners and their families. That’s where Heather Sirota comes in.
Heather Sirota is a loquacious Jewish grandmother of 14 living in the heart of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox community. In one hand she holds a filing card with a photograph stapled to it. In the other is her phone. She peers at the card and tells the rabbi on the end of the line: “She’s 20, 5ft 1in, from Philadelphia. Her parents are separated, not divorced. She’s the fourth child of five – two are married. She’s absolutely lovely – and I don’t often say that.”
Sirota flips the card over and reads out a couple of names and phone numbers: references provided by the young woman for community elders who will attest to her character. The rabbi, acting on behalf of a young man whose details are to be found on a similar card in Sirota’s possession, will call the numbers, ask pertinent questions and then convey his approval – or otherwise. All being well, a meeting between the pair will be arranged and then, Sirota hopes, an engagement.
Sirota, 67, is a shadchan, a traditional Jewish matchmaker. Beneath the vaulted ceilings of her house in Mea Shearim, one of the earliest settlements outside the Old City walls and home to the strictest adherents of the Jewish faith, a wicker basket of filing cards lies on a large cloth-covered dining table. Some are clipped together with laundry pegs: these are couples Sirota has introduced and who are now dating with a view to marriage.