They sit across from one another, a small table separating them, and nervously sip water out of plastic cups with red straws in the farthest corner of the lobby.
She looks about 20 and wears a modest gray dress. It’s clear she’s had her hair done for the occasion. Her dark-brown wavy tendrils hang down to her shoulders and frame her pretty face. She wears stylish gold heels and her left foot frantically bobs up and down.
The boy-man across from her looks a bit older. He is wearing a pale-blue yarmulke and a smart navy-blue suit that conveys confidence, yet his childlike giggling tells another story.
No wonder they’re nervous; this isn’t your ordinary blind date. This is an age-old tradition among many Orthodox Jews to find their bashert, the one with whom they are meant to be. A few more dates and these strangers may become husband and wife.
A quick glance around the lobby reveals more couples paired as in Noah’s ark, all performing the same dating ritual in secluded nooks.
For many Orthodox couples in the New York area, the road to marriage often begins at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
The biggest perk lies within the hotel’s name itself—proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge. On a nice night, a couple might take a stroll in the moonlight away from the hustle and bustle of the lobby.
Lobbies are ideal meeting places for shidduch, or matchmaking, because they are safe, neutral public places in attractive settings where you can sit for hours getting to know one another uninterrupted. They also adhere to the laws of yichud, prohibiting couples from being physically alone together until marriage.
One woman shared her story with New York Jewish Life: Devorah was 21 years old when, she says, “My really good friend got married, and she and her husband set me up with his first cousin Jacob. I was in New York because I had family there and had just been to a wedding. Jacob lived in Israel and he came to New York because I would be there.”
On a Friday afternoon, Jacob picked Devorah up in a taxi. They headed to the Waldorf Astoria since a friend had told him it had a beautiful lobby.
The following evening after Shabbos, Jacob returned to pick her up and suggested heading back there. According to Devorah, “I told him, ‘What are you wasting money on a taxi all the way out to Manhattan for? Why don’t we just go to the Brooklyn Marriott?’”
For years, many in the Orthodox community have flocked to the Brooklyn Marriott, making it more tradition than trend at this point. However, it can be a catch-22. “It’s a popular place for dating but the downside is it’s more likely to run into people you know,” Devorah explains. There’s an element of privacy in our community when it comes to dating. People don’t want to be seen with someone in case it doesn’t work out.”
Devorah continues, “So we were sitting in the lobby when all of a sudden I hear someone from another corner of the lounge say, ‘Is that Devorah?’ So I turn around and it was one of my friends from back home, which was really funny. I saw her a year later and we were both married. She didn’t end up marrying the guy I saw her with but I married Jacob.”
Devorah and Jacob got engaged three weeks after their first date and married soon after. They have returned to the hotel since then and “whenever I’m in New York and I pass it by, it brings back very fond memories,” Devorah says.
The couple has six children, four of whom are girls.
“Who knows? One day some boy might take them to the Waldorf or the Marriott on a date,” she says, happily thinking about the dates that lie in her daughters’ futures.