Building Community and Matchmaking

by Maxyne Finkelstein

Recently, The New York Times featured the obituary of Irving Cohen who was known as King Cupid of the Catskills. Mr. Cohen ‘zl had passed at 95 leaving the legacy of his canny ability to seat the right nice Jewish boy and girl together during his 50 years of service as the maître d’ of the Concord Hotel. He retired from his profession in his 80s when the Concord Hotel closed.

From the obituary it is evident that Mr. Cohen saw his job as a calling well beyond his daily work and is credited for thousands of marriages resulting from his “sharp-dyed ministrations”. This is clearly the attitude of those who are most successful in building community. The work we do every day is best done when it is a reflection of passion, expertise and a dedication to professionalism. In Mr. Cohen’s situation he built a special pegboard with blue and pink pegs to arrange seating and maximize the potential for successful matches. Today we use technology and dashboards to measure how we can achieve success in continuing community.

While we can look with nostalgia at the simple yet critical task Irving Cohen carried out, we can also relate it to communal work. Much of what is done in organizations relates to matchmaking in its most basic sense. Whether it is connecting hearts and minds with Israel through programs designed to maximize passion or finding the right fit for a donor and their resources, we are making matches that we hope will endure. When we experience volunteers increasing connections to an organization or donors repeating gifts we feel we have added value. When we learn that organizations we support are carrying out critical tasks we feel we have matched our money with the right cause.

One of the greatest examples of matching today is through Taglit Birthright Israel. Through carefully designed approaches, first taking into account the interests and needs of the individual and then considering the long term potential of the relationship, the program has realized substantial dividends. While research shows the impact of the trip on the individual, there is no doubt that ongoing engagements in community or through returning to Israel will also deepen that relationship and enhance community.

Today, one could say that in many ways, that Taglit Birthright Israel has replaced the Catskills experience of the grandparents of Generation Y. While Irving Cohen created matches with his pegboard, the young person today flies to Israel to create a more multilayered match with the land and its complexity and perhaps a personal one as well… With that we must extend our thanks to the legacy of Mr. Cohen who brought together many couples who created the continued potential of the Jewish community. Through careful strategy and matching we now have the opportunity to match young people to the resources which will allow them to lead and build the community of the future.

Maxyne Finkelstein is COO of Birthright Israel Foundation.