When Jewish Life Television (JLTV) brainstormed a new matchmaking show where the matchmakers are Jewish grandmother-types, it didn’t take long to find the right personalities to transform into stars. After an initial call for submissions, and a subsequent request to send videos, the network called in three women — Bunny Gibson, 73, Linda Rich, 73, and S.J. Mendelson, 72 — for a joint audition.
“There was just something magical about their interaction after a mere 15 minutes,” executive producer Brad Pomerance told the Journal. “We made them their offers on the spot. And truly, it was the best decision we ever made.”
The show, “Bubbies Know Best,” debuted in February and begins with the bubbies meeting a suitor eager to find love. The ladies then grill three potential matches. Next, they deliberate and decide who lands the date with the suitor and ultimately reveal the winner to the contestants. When JLTV films the couple on a date, the bubbies observe snippets of the dates and weigh in with commentary on how they think the date is progressing. Lastly, the couple reflects on the experience.
While the three bubbies have different matchmaking styles, they work well together. “Bubbie Bunny has become known as the sweet one,” Pomerance said. “Bubbie Linda [is] the smart one. Bubbie S.J. is known as the sassy one. Sure, they pepper the program with their brilliant bubbie humor, throwing in a few playful digs here and there. But in the end, our bubbies are incredibly kind, loving and supportive of each other, as well as the dates and suitors who open their hearts to participate on the program.”
“I believe that with age comes wisdom, hopefully,” said Rich, who was the first female cantor in the Conservative movement. Married for 30 years and with seven grandchildren, she said, “I have always had an innate sense of matchmaking. I think it’s in my veins. Being the yenta that I am, I’m always keeping my eyes open once I hear someone is single.”
“Meeting the other bubbies has been a wild ride,” Mendelson said. “They are like the sisters I never had.” Mendelson’s resume includes her shot on “America’s Got Talent,” where she appeared as her alter ego ‘Maw Kitty,’ a sexy, sassy, senior.
Married for 16 years and with three grandsons, Mendelson said she was given the Hebrew name Sima Yenta after her great grandmother. “I love matching people up and have been doing this on and off for many years, just like my grandmother,” she said. “She was a world-class matchmaker.”
Adopted and raised Catholic, Gibson recently found out she was 50 percent Ashkenazi Jewish when she took a DNA test. “Looking back, I was the only kid in Blessed Virgin Mary school who loved bagels and matzo ball soup,” she quipped. “That was life’s clue but I didn’t recognize that at the time.”
Previously, she worked as a professional matchmaker for the companies Great Expectations and Together.
“Hopefuls paid $5,000 for me to match them and, happy to say, I came through with wedding bells,” said Gibson, who married at 16. Her ex-husband Don Travarelli spotted her on the TV show “American Bandstand,” where she was one of the original dancers.
The bubbies shared some of their go-to suggestions for those looking for matches. Bubbie Linda recommends suitors take intimacy slowly, get to know a person’s neshamah (soul) and meet the friends early on. “Who a person hangs around with says a lot about who he or she is and his or her values,” she said.
For a lasting, enjoyable partnership, Bubbie S.J. suggests never going to bed angry. “Respect is the most important thing, and the man should love you more,” she said.
And Bubbie Bunny advises, “When you are fighting, take your partner’s hand and remember why you fell in love with them.” She also recommends putting a “deposit into the Bank of Love” each day for your partner.
Contestant Catherine Goldberg appeared on the show after a friend tagged her in a Facebook post about a Jewish reality show looking for lesbian applicants. “My bubbies passed away when I was a kid and it was so nice to just be around older Jewish women who felt like family,” Goldberg told the Journal. “I thought they all asked insightful questions and were genuinely excited to help me find love.”
Twenty-something Eli Wanounou, who also appeared on the show, told the Journal the bubbies taught him to consider the interests of his dates in order to have better conversations. “I realized not to just talk about motorcycles,” said Wanounou, who still is “casually dating till I find my Jewish girl to introduce to my parents.”
“I have always had an innate sense of matchmaking. I think it’s in my veins. Being the yenta that I am, I’m always keeping my eyes open once I hear someone is single.”-Linda Rich
The show welcomes contestants ages 18 to 88. “While most of our players are Jewish, we have dedicated episodes to non-Jews,” Pomerance said. “We welcome both members of the straight and gay communities. Given the very positive feedback that we have received, we believe the program will be on the air for a very long time.”
Indeed, despite the fact the show has been on the air less than three months, the bubbies have already appeared on many other programs, including “Access Hollywood Live” “Daily Blast Live” “The Steve Harvey Show” “The List” and “TMZ Live.”
“People oftentimes ask me where I get my wisdom from,” Rich said. “Along with the wisdom that comes with age, I have a mentor whom I have listened to for many, many years. I only recently found out that his wisdom came from the Torah.”
“Bubbies Know Best” airs on JLTV on Mondays at 8 p.m. In Los Angeles, JLTV is available on DirecTV Channel 366 and on Spectrum Channel 469.
Lisa Klug is a freelance journalist and the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.”