Sunday, September 30, 2007
There are groups in Klal Yisroel who believe that the best way for a new couple to start out married life is with the husband sitting and learning. The figure tossed around is the first five years. Okay, so who is supposed to keep that couple from starving to death during that time period? Answer: the girl's parents.
Why? Why should the girl's parents be the ones to provide this support? Read the kesubah. In it a man promises to provide for the woman he is marrying. I listen at every chasoneh I go to and it is basically the same kesubah being read aloud at every one of them. How did we get from the man making a promise to his new wife to his in laws supporting them both?
Yes, in Europe there were also some couples who were being supported. But the support system was waaaay different then the one we have today. The European idea was "halten a yingle of cost(kest)." The couple got married and then moved into the girl's house and lived with the family. If they were lucky they got their own room; if not, a room was divided to give the couple a separate sleeping area. "Cost" was for a year or two, not five years. The boys were expected to have a way to make parnoseh. An "illui" might get some support while learning, but it was expected that he would become a Rav or a melamed and then take over supporting his own family. And if a girl's family just couldn't afford the expense and the boy's family could? The boy's family paid.
I once commented to my students that they must hate their sisters. The boys were shocked and said so. I "reasonably" pointed out that if they were looking for girls with "money" behind them then so would the boys who were going to date their sisters. Did their parents have the kind of money to spend on their sisters that they were asking for from someone else?
There is an old Yiddish saying that applies here as well: "Es ist nisht du kein meeseh techter ba rache tates"--there are no ugly daughters with rich fathers. Is the amount of money that a girl's parents have really the best basis on which to get married? And if the money dries up, what then?
Back in the "dark ages" when I was still single, a newly married young woman came to complain to my mother. She and her husband both came from well off homes. Her husband was not sitting and learning but was beginning law school, and they were being supported by both sets of parents. They had a beautiful apartment that was being fully furnished by the parents, something that was unusual at that time. What was the wife's complaint? Her mother had taken her shopping for fixtures for the apartment and the mother had vetoed the young woman's choice for a chandelier and had purchased what she wanted. My mother reasonably pointed out that since the mother was paying for the chandelier she believed she had a right to decide what was appropriate. I vowed then and there that I would never put myself in the position of being married but not being married--"real" married people got to make the decisions about what they purchased and what they didn't purchase. Anything else was just "playing house."
And are all those being supported any more grateful then the young wife in this story? Far too many aren't. A year ago I found myself giving mussar to one of my classes. A student in that class came in and announced that he had a "mazel tov" coming--he and his wife had just become parents for the first time. Had he stopped there I would have said nothing but "mazel tov." The young husband continued however. He was complaining that he and his wife "had had to move in with his in laws" when his wife came home from the hospital. He was wrinkling his nose when he said it. Now it happens that I knew that his in laws were supporting this couple. And I also happened to know that the mother of the young wife had taken off from work to care for her daughter and her new grandson. And I saw red.
The English saying that applies is about "biting the hand that feeds you." How dare this young man complain. He owed the very bread he ate to his in laws. He also owed the car he was driving and the apartment he was living in to these people. And was he the one staying up all night with a newborn? Nope. What he owed his in laws was to "kiss their feet."
But hey, what can you expect from someone who has been taught to expect that others will do for him?
My husband and I are friends with a couple, both of whom are above retirement age. They, however, can't retire. If they do, 4 couples are going to be in deep trouble. Fifteen years ago when they started out the whole support thing and when some of us commented that they were going to be in it for the long haul they pooh-poohed us. Now they can't see how to extricate themselves. And yes, in addition there is an elderly parent that needs to be cared for.
It is one thing to help out your children here and there--it is quite another to be the sole support. My personal opinion, and feel free to disagree if you would like, is that the present generation of 20-year-olds is the last generation for quite some time that will have this "support for five year" privelege. Why? They will not be able to afford to do for their children what their working parents did for them, and what their grandparents did for them. There just plain will not be the money available.
Just as an aside, and to lighten the mood a bit, I had a student many years ago who had worked out with her choson that she would support them until she had three children. At that point he would have to go out to work. Her parents simply could not support them. The boy agreed. Slightly less than one year after they were married she had triplets. End of support. The husband walked around shell shocked for months. And yes, he thought it wasn't "fair." Tough.
This story also reminds me of a totally different option that young married kollel couples have; they can decide to support themselves. The wife may be the sole support or the husband may also have some part time income. Either way, they would be living on whatever they earned. If kollel is so important to them, let them invest "themselves."
As I started out, has anyone read their kesubah lately? In American law swearing falsely in a legal document is perjury. What should we call it when a young man publicly swears to support his wife fully well knowing that he expects his in laws to do the supporting?
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Part #1 I believe showed that keeping a kosher house is expensive--more expensive then for those who are not kosher. But there is lots more to the expenses of living then food alone.
"I wear clothes, therefore I am" seems to be a lot of Klal's motto today. And whose clothes? Pick your label. I'll admit to a bias here: I can see absolutely no reason for spending more if I can spend less. And I care not a whit about whose label is in the clothes I buy. Yes, I like "pretty" things, but part of the "prettiness" of any outfit is the reasonableness of the price of that outfit. And I truly don't care if my clothes are this season's or last season's. And yes, I know I am out of step with a lot of people.
New York City is in close proximity to numerous outlet malls and discount stores. The large malls and the major retailers do surprisingly produce some real bargains on occasion. You have to be willing to wait for the good sales and to shop smart. Yes, there is convenience in shopping locally and there is also the idea of supporting Jewish-owned stores, but at what cost?
One of my daughters won a shopping package at one of the tzedaka auctions. It was to a very well known store in Borough Park. The amount of the package seemed to be obscenely large, until she actually had to use the package to buy something. A denim skirt for summer wear was "bargain" priced at $135.00. A "simple" Shabbos afternoon skirt was selling for $168.00. Suits were in the $350 plus range. In short, a $1000.00 shopping package bought only seven items, and four trips to find them on sale.
Yes, there are other stores catering to a frum crowd whose prices are less, but not by much. These stores get their customers because what they sell is tsniusdik, and very much on the cutting edge of fashion. The rationale seems to be "why should frum girls have to look different from all the other women out there?" Do we really need to ask that question?
As mentioned above, the "frummy" stores are not the only ones that sell clothes that are tsniusdik. Sure, the malls do not have the same selection, but the clothes are there. Can anyone explain to me why Brendas should be more "choshuv" then JC Penneys? Then Sears? Then Macys on sale?
A while back I needed a suit suitable for a Bar Mitzvah seudah. I shopped around and found one I liked. I wasn't looking for it, but the suit did have a "label." It also had a greatly reduced sale tag. As luck would have it, at the seudah another woman arrived wearing the exact same suit but in a different color combination. Naturally she asked me where I had purchased it, as the store in Brooklyn where she had purchased hers said that the suit was "exclusive" to Brooklyn and some "upper class" stores in Manhattan. I told her the truth--a discount store based here in Staten Island. She was in shock. She was more in shock when I told her the price. She immediately checked the label in the jacket, and yes, my suit was "legitimate." She paid almost 4 times what I paid--and both of our suits were "on sale."
Let's admit that shopping in the stores in the frum areas has nothing to do with tsnius and everything to do with fashion and style. And when a girl gets married, and is the sole support of her new family or is being supported by someone else, is she going to forgo the style and fashion? And is the boy, who also has been accustomed to "name brand" suits, shirts, ties and hats going to forgo that because he can't afford it?
Years ago the New York Times did a huge two page spread on cutting edge fashion. It was liberally illustrated with what designers and labeled clothing those in the know were wearing. Know where they got the pictures to illustrate the articles? They sent a photographer to Brooklyn when people were going to Tashlich and snapped photos of the frum women.
Ever had to shop for a clothing baby present in the frum areas? Or for an outfit for a toddler or three year old? The prices are obscene. And everything is the "top of the line" as far as the designers name goes. And I really love the outfits that are "dry clean only." Is there a rational adult anywhere who can honestly state that a newborn cares which labeled outfit they spit up on?
And let's not leave the men out of this discussion. Priced a Borsolino lately? Weekday hats, Shabbos hats, weekday suits, Shabbos suits, weekday shirts, Shabbos shirts, casual wear, "formal" wear.
A young man I knew had a great solution to his budget dilemma. He couldn't afford all the "right" clothes. He shopped in a much cheaper store, removed the labels from the cheaper clothes he purchased and took the labels from a more expensive suit and hat he had once owned and placed those labels in the new clothing. Anyone surreptitiously checking his clothing would find him wearing the "right" clothes. People see what they want to see.
An acquaintance who does marriage counseling for the frum community told me that spending habits show up a lot in the couples he sees. Clothing is often brought up. The boys who insist on the girls who look "really put together" aren't as enthusiastic when they have to pay for that look. And the girls see no reason why they should not wear what everyone else is wearing. And when there is simply no money to pay for the clothes a couple has been accustomed to wearing? Shalom Bais issues pop up.
So, let's now add a larger then the general public allowance for clothing and accessories to the budget for that couple who is going to be supported by someone else. And then let's apply that amount to a family of six. You want a figure for the clothing? Take a look at absolutely everything you purchased from last Rosh Hashana to this Rosh Hashana. Look at everyday clothes and special occasion clothing. Don't forget the staples like underwear and stockings and shoes and sleepwear and robes and purses and wallets and headbands and hats and ties. Then add in the extras that a married woman will "need" like hair coverings of all types. Now add up the prices. Then multiply by six. Scary isn't it? Now imagine that you are either being supported or doing the supporting and look at that figure. More than scary.
As I started out by saying, clothes are just not all that important to me, and I recognize that they have more importance to other people. Fine. But what, if anything, are people willing to give up if clothes are that important? A budget only goes so far.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Many years ago the Rav of our shule called my husband up one night and asked if he could come to shule in about half an hour--they were going to be "shtelling a chupah" (holding a wedding) and a minyan was needed.
My curiosity was killing me and I couldn't wait until my husband came home. What kind of a wedding gets put together in half an hour?
The choson was a widower of about 75 years of age. The kallah was a woman who had never been married before and was 71. They had met, had held many conversations with each other and believed that they still had some "time left" in which they could make each other happy. They were not looking for a ten-course meal and a 5 month waiting period. They just wanted to get married and get on with their life together. The man's kids couldn't conceive of why a man of 75 would "need" to get married again but basically said "do what you want." The couple did--they got married.
The choson and kallah were not members of our shule but our Rav was the 9th person they called to be mesader kedushin--the others had refused. Our Rav would later tell us that if a 75-year-old and a 71-year-old couldn't be trusted to know when a shidduch was the right one, then who could know?
The kallah walked herself down the aisle--she had no parents or siblings living. When she was about half way down, her choson came out from under the chupah, walked up the aisle to where she was, turned around and walked down with her the rest of the way.
My husband, who is not a flaming sentimentalist, said it was so beautiful to watch the faces of this couple as they got married. He said "It was just like a real wedding." That's because it was.
I certainly had this story in mind when I mentioned in the posting on stages of life that one should never give up hope, that there is always a chance.
When scientists are attempting to match one DNA sample to DNA taken from a different sample they do not expect to get 100% correlation. 100% is the exception, not the rule. There are some 15 points that could be matched. If only 8 of these points match the scientist can posit that the two samples are likely to have come from the same person. If 10 match, the scientist is "sure" that they came from the same person.
Person "A" has 15 must have qualities for anyone they are going to date, otherwise how could that person be a match for them? Person "B" has 8 or 9 or 10 of those qualities. For a scientist, concerned with identifying a "true" match, those numbers would be enough to go on. If all the questions we ask are for the purpose of "scientifically"--read rationally and logically--finding a shidduch, then we also need to understand that scientists aren't using 100% as their number, and we don't need to either.
Perhaps we need to establish a smaller base of "must have" qualifications or be satisfied if fewer of our "must haves" are present, as long as a sufficient number of them are met. "Alles in einem is nisht du ba keinem."---No one has everything all together in one place at one time.
Let me illustrate with the story of the strangest shidduch I ever red. I was the shadchan for both the boy and the girl. Both families had a shopping list a mile long. Questions? Millions. And then the weird thing happened. I looked at the boy's list of requirements and I looked at the girl's list of requirements and they matched, 100%. I called both families and they did all the checking so beloved by Klal, and they both called back super excited. This was it--the perfect shidduch.
The boy and the girl spoke to each other on the phone and each reported back to me that they could not believe such "perfect" people existed, and they were so excited to be going out with each other.
The families were really excited too. On the night of the first date the boy's parents and the girl's parents got together to meet each other. The parents loved each other. Everyone concerned was sure that a mazel tov was in the very near future.
And then the girl came home--and then the girl stormed into the house, yelled at her father that if he ever fixed her up with someone like this again she would never speak to her father for the rest of her life, ran up the stairs and locked herself in her bedroom. The parents could not understand what could have happened. The boy would later replay the girl's scenario for his parents.
Whatever seemed so perfect when on paper did not play out that way in real life. The actual meeting of this couple brought out things that simply could not be anticipated on paper. There is simply no substitute for actually meeting and talking to someone.
I said this was the strangest shidduch I ever red--the parents became "best friends." They vacation together, speak every day, share yom tov meals together and in general are the best "couple" I have ever set up. The boy and the girl, now very happily married to other people, once quipped to me that it was bashert that their parents meet, and I really should ask for "shadchanus gelt" for having facilitated their finding each other.
How does this story illustrate the point I am trying to make? Even on the rare occasion that 100% of what you are looking for should seem to be there, that doesn't make it any better than if only 65% had been there, or 78%. The boy and the girl above did not get 100% of every quality they were looking for in the people they would actually marry--but they did get the 75% that turned out to be the important things. Their experience with each other proved what I said above: no one has everything.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I think I could safely say that we all agree that it costs more, in dollars, to be frum than to be not frum.
According to the USDA, the following are the costs for feeding a family in the US, on average. I'm going to use the figures for a family of six--mother, father, and 4 children under eight.
Eating thriftily: $679.40 per month (you're staying alive but that is about it)
Low-cost eating: $816.10 per month
Moderate-cost eating: $1007.10 per month
Liberal cost eating: $1296.50 per month
The figures assume that ingredients for all meals are purchased in a store and then cooked at home. No restaurant or fast food items are included. No ready made purchased snack items are included. Soft drinks are not included. Nor do the figures included special occasion meals and holiday meals. And they sure do not include feeding company. Also not included are the numerous items that get purchased in grocery stores and supermarkets that are non-food items: paper goods, plastic bags, garbage bags, laundry detergent, cleaners, over the counter medications, foil pans etc.
I'm going to put the general run of the mill member of Klal into the liberal cost eating category. Judging by the type of foods that jump off the shelves in butcher shops and kosher grocery stores I believe I am justified. And I am also going to say that frum families spend more then the $1296.50 per month on food.
The same USDA site where I got the spending figures also had an article that stated that "chuck roast is expensive this month at $1.69 a pound. Chicken remains steady at .89 cents per pound for whole roasters." I'm not all that young and I can't remember when kosher chuck roast was $1.69 a pound, nor do I remember when last I could pay .89 for a pound of whole chicken. The USDA figures are not based on buying kosher products, which cost more than non-kosher products. At a minimum I would say that being kosher adds another $200 to $300 a month to the bill.
New York abounds with kosher restaurants and "fast food joints," and I have never seen one stay empty. Average cost of a meal for the family above in one of these restaurants is $50 plus. If this family eats out only once a month, that adds $600 plus to the yearly total. And let's be conservative and add in company only once a month--that adds another $1000 to the total for the year. And please note that hand shmura matza and wine and liquor are not included in this total. Neither is candy and nuts and other packaged snacks and neither is soda. Neither is buying ready made meals from a take out store. Let's add in another $1500 to $2000 to the yearly total.
Our grand total is approximately $22,500.00 And that is with little children. If your children are in their teens the amount spent on them is one and a half times as much as for a young child.
Now, a smart, experienced balabusta who is a savvy shopper and who watches out for sales and is willing and able to take the time to shop at from 3 to 6 different stores can cut this figure down. She might be able to get the figure to cover the non-food items that we also buy in the grocery store. But she is not going to get the figure down to below about $17,000. And no, I haven't figured in WIC checks and food stamps--please don't open that can of worms with me.
Stare at that figure for a few moments. Ask yourself, "How much do I have to earn to cover $17,000 to $22,500 in food expenses?" And if you are a parent supporting a kolel couple, ask yourself where you are getting the money from. And if you are supporting more than one young couple, where are you going to get the money from? Everyone talks about supporting young couples for an average of five years. What they don't seem to know is what that will actually cost. And neither do the young couples.
It is easy enough to talk about support in a general way when you don't have the figures in front of you. When the figures are staring you in the face, the reality is different. And please keep in mind that food and some non-food items are only a part of what a couple needs to live. Maybe if more people looked at the numbers rather than the theory, decision making about finances would make some sense. And so would the whole issue of supporting young kolel couples for some undetermined amount of time.Note: One parent to whom I mentioned these figures said to me: "So the kids won't eat out and buy ready made, no candy and soda and snacks, which aren't good for you anyway, and they won't be able to afford company. They'll use a pot instead of foil pans. They can make it on less." He's dreaming. And his dream is going to turn into a nightmare very fast.
And keep in mind that food is only ONE of the items that costs frum consumers more. Is support getting out of hand? Let's hear from you.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Titles are supposed to give readers some type of hint as to what is coming. If you are scratching your head and wondering what this post is really going to be about, you will need to wait just a bit longer as I have a story to tell you first.
When I moved to Staten Island I was fortunate to have the most wonderful neighbor imaginable. She heard we had moved in and an invitation for a Shabbos meal was immediately forthcoming. She and her husband arranged for my husband to find a carpool, and she took me shopping and introduced me to all the "vital" stores I would need. And yes, her children, older then mine, became my babysitters when needed.
She was not only concerned about me and my family but about everyone and their families. She was a pediatric nurse by profession and all children were precious to her. She and her husband were foster parents for Ohel for long term placements and were also an "emergency" home when a child needed to be placed somewhere immediately.
She got one of those emergency placements one time and asked me if I could do her a favor. She needed to rearrange her work schedule to accommodate taking care of the newborn but she was stuck for coverage for a few hours. Would I babysit the baby? I was scared because the baby was "special needs"--he was born with spina bifida-- and I didn't want to do anything wrong, but my neighbor showed me what to do and I cared for this infant for a few hours.
What an absolutely beautiful baby this was. I spent the few hours holding him and rocking him and singing to him and really didn't want to "give him back" when my neighbor arrived. What I couldn't understand was what circumstances could be so dire that his birth parents would have given him up and put him in foster care. Back then I could not conceive of a parent who would "throw away" a special needs child--we certainly pray for healthy children, but we surely know that Hashem doesn't guarantee that. I was obviously young and naive. My neighbor told me why the child was given up, and the memory of her story has never left me.
The frum parents of this baby had two other young children, two girls, and were hopeful to have many more. They, with advice from their families and their own thinking, had come to the conclusion that "keeping" their child was not going to be good for their other children--"Es vet shatten tzum shidduch"--it would hurt the possibilities for shidduchim for their other children later on if it were known that the children had a brother with a "genetic" disease. I don't say the decision was easy for them, but it was made. They made a bris for this little boy in the hospital, gave him the name Rafael and gave up their parental rights and put him up for adoption.
Now at this point you may be saying to yourself "this craziness was specific to just one family. It's not indicative of anything else." I disagree.
"Es vet shatten tzum shidduch" is a philosophy shared by too many people across Klal Yisroel. Keep a little boy home from "real" school until he is four or maybe even five and better able to cope with the hours? Nope, "shatten tzum shidduch." Choose this yeshiva ketana over that yeshiva ketana? "Shatten tzum shidduch." Seminary or no seminary? "Shatten tzum shidduch." College or no college? "Shatten tzum shidduch." Kipoh or black hat? "Shatten tzum shidduch." Dressing this way or that, saying this or that, doing this or that, thinking this or that--"Shatten tzum shidduch." It's a type of philosophy that says that preparation for marriage and for the "right" shidduchim begins early, really early. and that every single thing you do can affect a shidduch later on. Even the things you don't do or say, but that your family does or says or that your friends do or say can "shatten tzum shidduch."
Parents have become so obsessed with the future shidduchim of their children that some actions border on the irrational, like the family that gave up Rafael. Some people are so concerned about the future that they forget to actual live their present.
Parents would love to safeguard their children; it's in the nature of being a parent. But there are some things that no matter what you do you will not be able to safeguard against. Treating our little children as if they are "in the shidduch parsha" now because you have worries about their future is basically getting them married off at three years of age--the only thing missing is the actual choson or kallah.
If something that you want to do or that you may say will "shat tzum shidduch" ask yourself if you truly want a shidduch where doing that thing could be the key factor in whether the shidduch actually becomes a shidduch.
I'm not sure what the Hebrew word for "obsession" is and if the topic has already been addressed by past gedolim, but I sure wish a present day godol would say something about it, something that makes sense out of the nonsense that is residing in too many people's heads. Fortunately I am already married. Otherwise I am sure that the words I have penned here would be looked at askance by some, and some would mutter "Es veht shatten tzum shidduch." And Heaven help anyone who will take a look at the words I have penned here and mutter that nonsense in reference to my own children.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
There are those who are "professional shadchanim." Shadchanus is their only occupation. They charge money for their services. This occupation is not a new one--matchmakers have been around for centuries. What should be understood, however, is that these shadchanim, up until the last decade or so, had no training for their profession--and most still do not --they weren't "state licenced" or anything even approaching it. They had no training in psychology or social work or counseling. Any training they had was strictly "on the job." And yet, they somehow made a go of their profession. The "better" shadchanim stayed in business and were sought out. No one asked to see their credentials--what possible credentials could they have?
Today we live in an era of "experts." For every single human endeavor there is going to be an expert somewhere. For every expert who says you are doing everything right, there will be an expert who says you are doing things all wrong. Lately I visited a number of other blogs to see what other people use their blogs to discuss. I'll admit that I was interested in seeing how others handled the issues confronting getting married today. I ran across more than a few blogs whose authors were "experts"--people credentialed in psychology, sociology, counseling and the various "helping" fields, and virtually without exception I was shocked at what I found. While a few of these blogs complained about the "expertise" of paid professional shadchanim, most of the blogs had a very negative view of those who are "volunteer" shadchanim, who are involved because of the mitzvah.
The gist of their complaints is that the untrained shadchanim had no business redding shidduchim because of the possible harm they could do. They make themselves out to be "experts" and they are not. They cannot possibly deal with the possible mental and health issues that could arise in people they are trying to marry off. They cannot possibly know and understand the intricacies of personality involved in making a match. In short, volunteer shadchanim are a disaster waiting to happen. And more than a few scoffed at the idea of the "mitzvah" as a justification for what they consider good old fashioned meddling in the lives of others.
Frankly, I am floored. If I read the comments correctly the millions of shidduchim made by volunteer shadchanim and by those for whom shadchanus is a profession are just sheer dumb "luck." I am not going to take their comments too personally. On the twenty-two occasions that I have been blessed to be a part of making a shidduch, I am also fully aware that there was an other hand then mine "directing traffic" so to speak--The Ribboneh Shel Olam. I was not "mezaveg zivugim"--He was.
When we study expertise in class I always tell my students that you need to look at an expert's credentials, and you also need to look at any personal bias on the part of the expert, any "ax" they may have to grind.
So, do we take the experts' evaluations of volunteer shadchanim as "the truth" or is there something else going on here? My personal experience with the shidduch group that I am a part of is that all the women work conscientiously in setting up shidduchim, they devote hours of time and effort and they sincerely try to be aware of any problems that might exist. We are none of us perfect but we certainly try our best.
How do you feel about volunteer shadchanim? Is there some area that needs drastic improvement that I am just not seeing? Please respond.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
As we go through life we go through many stages. This is a normal part of living. As we enter into each stage and proceed through it we may find ourselves changing in some ways. Experience will teach us that certain views we had in another stage don't "fit" in the stage we are in or may be proven to have been "wrong" all along.
I was once at a lecture and heard the Rav say that we mistake the idea of there being "one" zivug for each of us. He said that we should rather think that there are many zivugim that have been prepared for us, one for each stage of life we go through. If we "miss" the zivug for our first stage we still have a chance with the one prepared for us in our second stage and so on. He pointed out that those who are widowed may still find someone "right" and get married again, because they are marrying this zivug for the stage they are now in. Those who are divorced may find their "real" zivug also. And certainly those who have never married still have a chance at every point in their lives.
Part of what I took away from this lecture was that people need to be open to change--in their lives and in their thinking. What suited someone when they were 19 may not suit them when they are 29 or 39. People who are too rigid in their thinking, who do not mature and change, may still be looking for the exact same type of person at 34 that they were looking for at 20, and the requirements don't fit the stage.
Some people go from stage to stage in a shorter amount of time then others do. Some find the process easier then others do. Some fight the changes with all their might and thus thwart the natural process of maturing.
Perhaps the shidduch process would be easier for all members of Klal if they would be honest and recognize that the "indelible" requirements they have now for a life partner may not be what is really going to suit them. If they would recognize that they will change in the future, they might be able to bring that change on earlier, particularly if things don't seem to be going the way they want in this stage of life.
But a word of caution. Sitting back and doing nothing now on the grounds that you can always find someone later is also not the answer. We have no knowledge beforehand about in which stage we will find our zivug. It is our job to try sincerely to find our zivug in each stage, but not to lose hope if a particular stage doesn't bring us the results wanted.
It is an open secret that if someone had introduced me to my husband when I was 18 I would not have been interested. At 24 he was clearly what I wanted and needed. I am thankful to Hashem that I was able to see with the right eyes at that time.
I hope for all who are looking for their zivug that they should be zocheh to the "seichel" to know that zivug when they find him or her, and that they should see with "clear" eyes, no matter which stage in their life they find their zivug.
Let me start out by saying I have come to loathe, abhor and just plain hate the term "older single." The phrase irks me both in its denotation and its connotation. Its denotation--its definition--is murky and depends far too much on who is using it and when. Its connotation--the way we use it and the emotional meaning attached to it--is decidedly negative. And yet there it sits, a grotesque construction that "trips not lightly off the tongue." I so wish that my creative muse would strike me with a moment of genius and let me coin a term I could use without cringing.
The fairly simple words we use in speaking and writing can get us in enough trouble (see the comments on the name of this blog if you don't think so) without our tossing around a term that has trouble as its middle name.
Go ahead, I dare you, define "older single." Better yet, define "older." Older is a comparative form of "old." Comparatives are used in opposition--"higher" and "lower" for instance--or in a series--"first," "second" etc. So older is in opposition to younger--there, it's all perfectly clear to you now, right? Wrong! And someone who is older than someone else is comparatively older--if you are 16 and I am 17 then I am older. But if my brother is 18 then I am younger. For clarity, older needs a number attached to it, and that is where the problem begins.
Every group in Klal Yisroel has its own blurry definition of what age confers being "older" on someone. And each of these numbers is relative to other numbers which are relative to other numbers. Einstein had it a lot easier in developing his Theory of Relativity then we have it in trying to define "older." For chasidim, an "older" girl could be all of twenty. So could an "older" boy be. Among the non-chasdishe groups "older" can begin as early as 21 and go up from there. One "frum" organization held a symposium on the problems of older singles--older started at 24. One shidduch group puts all its "older singles" into a single category so shadchanim can easily find them. Singles from 24 to death all in the same category. Still other groups define "older" as beginning with 30.
In some cases there are "clue" words that are used. If someone says "I have a boy for you" that age may go up to the mid-thirties. If someone says "I have a girl for you" she is still in her twenties. If someone says "I know of a man for you" think 30's or maybe 40's and up. If someone says "I know of a woman for you" also think 30's and up. I admit I find myself floundering when trying to figure out when to call someone a "boy," a "girl," a "young man," a "young lady," a "woman" and a "man." Who qualifies for being a "bochur"? And yet, I don't feel comfortable in simply saying "I have a male/female I'd like to introduce you to."
And just what are you supposed to think when an "older" male says that he is looking for a "younger" woman? How young is young?
Our government uses certain ages to indicate when particular activities become legal for a person. You cannot vote before you are 18; you cannot drink before you are 21. You cannot get Social Security payments until you are 67 or older. There seems to be some practical reason behind the ages used, although there is some debate about the numbers. If you are old enough to fight and die for your country at 18 why aren't you old enough to have a drink and toast that same country? The various States set their own minimum ages for marriage, both for men and for women. The youngest age is 14--I'd like to know what possible logical reasoning was used in setting this age.
So there you have it. The definition of "older" cannot be pinned down. We talk about "older singles" as if the phrase actually meant something specific, something vital, something logical. No one can seem to agree on what "older" actually means or on what numbers apply to "older." No one is quite sure who qualifies for being an "older" single. But there is one thing that everyone agrees on and everyone believes--there are definitely older singles, and they aren't young.
Next up--what are the connotations attached to being an "older single."
I wasn't necessarily planning on broaching the topic that follows now, if a blog can be considered "planned," but a comment from a reader moved the topic up. Don't consider this as the "last word" on the topic.
The reality is that not all of Klal Yisroel shares the same dating and shidduch practices, and many times members of one "klal" in Klal Yisroel look at another "klal" and say: "They have it easier then I do." If that were truly the case then the group that "has it easier" should have virtually no singles of marriageable age "left" in their group. This is not the reality.
We have, today, a large number of single people across the whole spectrum of Klal Yisroel. The more "liberal" or "modern" members of Klal Yisroel aren't doing any better then the members more to the right. In fact, in many cases and areas, they are doing worse. Why?
Those more to the right, the "frummies" if you will, are being suffocated by a shidduch process that has gotten too institutionalized, too rigid, too out of touch with reality, too demanding and too full of "chumras." The process has become more important than the participants. Furthermore, this group has no idea what to do with its "older" singles except to keep repeating what it said to them when they were younger. I guess they believe that "practice makes perfect" and if you do something long enough you will eventually "get it." Of course, teaching them how to play the piano when what they have is a violin just might be counterproductive.
What about those more towards the "center"? Their shidduch process is not as institutionalized as that more to the right but it is there nonetheless. Maybe they do not have "official" shadchanim, but they have lots of "unofficial" ones--their friends, family and the lady who works behind the counter at the corner grocery store. A "fix up" is the same as being "red a shidduch." The term "blind date" originated outside of Klal Yisroel and means "two strangers who are introduced to each other by a third party." Sounds like a shidduch to me. What they have that the more right-leaning groups don't have is more opportunities to find themselves in groups of singles.
Countless organizations and shules have "singles events." This may be a lecture given in a shule. This may be a dinner at a restaurant. This may be a visit to a museum. This may be a weekend or holiday in a hotel. This may be a "speed dating" event (and in my personal opinion, a pox on whoever thought up this "mishigas"), where you sit and talk to someone for 10 minutes and then move on to someone else and then someone else. Sometimes there are people at these events whom you can speak to to facilitate getting "set up" with someone you have met at the event. Other times the singles themselves are expected to approach someone who interests them, find out whatever they need to find out, and ask the person out on a date. In the less "frummie" circles, even when there has been a "shadchan" of some sort, the shadchan is not involved in the dating process beyond the first date. After that, the people involved have to talk to each other. The boy either does call the girl again or he doesn't. The girl either says yes to another date or she doesn't. There is no middle man.
Sometimes singles in this group will see someone in shule who interests them and ask around until they get an introduction to the person. Sometimes singles become involved in Jewish organizations and committees and meet someone at one of the meetings who interests them. Mostly these groups are not segregated--only females or only males. And yes, sometimes you may meet someone who works in the same place you do. You speak, you like what you hear, you go out on a date. Sometimes singles will meet on a college campus.
In one community in particular, in New York, singles provide their own "meet and greet" opportunities by inviting a large group of other singles to a meal on Shabbos. Presumably, over the course of a few weeks or months, singles will have met dozens if not hundreds of other singles, one of whom just might be their bashert. I am not the only observer of this process who comments that a lot of new "best friends" are formed in this way, and very few shidduchim.
So why does this more "relaxed" method not work better than the "stricter" method? One reason might be this--no matter where you are in the religious spectrum you want to marry something more than a "face." When singles are put into a room together and left to choose on their own, their first tool in winnowing down the field to one specific person is looks. After all, they know nothing else about the person. They are not "predisposed" to think well of a person, having heard no wonderful things about them, so all they have to go on is the physical. He asks, she says yes and the dating process has begun. One to six dates later they discover they have absolutely nothing in common with each other, don't share the same lifetime goals and that ends the "shidduch process" and they can start all over again. This is one area where a good shadchan could have saved them time, money and aggravation.
Please don't misunderstand me--looks play an all too important role in the frummer circles as well. But when a shadchan reds a shidduch and neither party has seen the other, the decision to go out on a date is based on something more than "chemistry" alone.
There is also this: when a single has to do all the "work" alone, weariness and disillusionment set in faster. There is no one to give the single chizuk, to cheer them on.
Another problem is the "let me check with my friends" scenario. A single sees someone that appeals, finds out a name and then does want some information about the person. Who do they ask? Their friends. "Chaim, did you ever hear the name Malka_______?" "Oy, avoid that one. I hear she is looking for serious money." Or maybe "Yaakov went out with her a few times and he wasn't enthused." And if the friends should happen not to know the name, the single may find himself at a dead end and the shidduch is never born. This happens to a more limited extent in the circles to the "right," but it does happen.
I am not going to discuss the dating practices that occur when you go far to the left except to say that picking up someone at a bar or a gym or at a cocktail party or on the subway can bring someone a whole lot of grief and frankly, my experience of this kind of dating is zero.
There are pluses and minuses to the dating practices and the shidduch practices of all the various groups in Klal Yisroel. On one end of the spectrum the process is too rigid; on the other end of the spectrum the process is too relaxed. Instead of saying "they have it so easy" and leaving it at that we need to see where we might borrow elements of each others practices, where we need to get rid of certain practices all together, where we need to find something new.
Far, far too often we blame the singles for being single--the problem must be with them. And the older a single gets the more likely that people are going to wonder just "what is wrong with them." What is in dire need of fixing is the method, for the right, the center and the left of center.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
English was not my first language. Although we also spoke others, Yiddish was the preferred language when I was young. And like other languages, Yiddish is chock full of idioms and metaphors. Some of these idioms are from a time period well in the past and may not be used by modern speakers of Yiddish. Languages adapt to the circumstances of their speakers.
In Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries the military, particularly the army, had great significance. The time periods were marked by many armed conflicts. The military provided many of the idioms and metaphors used by Yiddish speakers. The military was not a meritocracy but a type of aristocracy; regular soldiers were conscripted from among the "lower" classes, and officers came from the upper classes. Officers had power, authority, education, came from monied families and looked terrific in their beautiful uniforms. They were required to have polished manners, to have social graces, to be able to converse intelligently, and to be as good in a ballroom as they were on the battlefield. Thus officers were "ideal men," at least that is the romanticized view.
Yiddish, the military and shidduchim came together in an idiom, an idiom that illustrates clearly that some of the issues in shidduchim were around long ago and are not just modern problems. The phrase is "Zie vill an offitzeer mit a shtraimel"--she wants an officer wearing a shtraimel. The "pshat" of this idiom is sometimes explained in different but related ways. One explanation is that she wants the best of both worlds, worlds normally in conflict with each other. Another explanation is that she wants two things that are mutually exclusive--officers were never frum Jews and frum Jews could never be officers. But the simplest explanation is "she wants too much," "she wants the impossible," "she wants what hasn't been created yet."
The idiom clearly refers to a woman. There was a lesser used idiom that referred to a man, but I overheard that idiom when I clearly was not supposed to, used by a few men who would have been horrified to know that I heard it, and I would never myself have repeated it, and certainly not in writing on a blog. It has its equivalent in the English "prostitute with a heart of gold" idiom but was far more pithy.
Clearly those who were involved in trying to make a shidduch for their children or who were observing the shidduch process were frustrated. The answer to "What do women/men want?" was "too much." Funny, we use different words today but we are still saying the same thing--those looking for a shidduch want too much. And sometimes there is truth to the "offitzeer mit a shtraimel" dilemma.
We build a picture in our minds of the "perfect," of the "ideal" person we would like to marry. We imbue that person with all the positive midos and characteristics we can think of. We sally forth secure in our thoughts that such a person exists--we are just going to have to look hard to find him/her. And we are disappointed when the person whose image we have in our minds doesn't seem to exist anywhere where we can find him/her.
Last I looked, custom built people were not an option. Of course, there was the Golem mi Prague, but the Golem turned out to have plenty of problems also. And Dr. Frankenstein's creation turned out to be more "monster" then "mensch."
There is no harm in thinking about what an "ideal" life partner would be, as long as we recognize that "perfection" is a philosophical idea, not one that is found in the real world. In truth, perhaps what we ought to be doing is going to a second step. Okay, here is the "perfect" person--now what will I--also not a perfect person--be willing and able to live with. It is not about what we "deserve" but about what is actually available in the real world.
We need to get practical, as painful as that might be. We need to replace "offitzeer mit a shtraimel" with "This is doable." Maybe then we can also say "And they lived happily ever after."
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
As a parent, the one question that has been known to strike terror in my heart is "What is your child looking for?" Earlier on I would earnestly try to give an answer to this question. Most people's eyes glazed over. There is surely no short way to answer this question.
As I began to look at some of the young people for whom I was redding shidduchim, and at my children's friends and at my friends' children, and observing just how close the person they actually married was to what they told me they were looking for, I formulated an answer to use myself to the question.
Now when I am asked I answer: I'll tell you when they are standing under the chupah. I think it's a fair answer.
You see, I have seen the tall girl who wouldn't go out with a boy under six feet whose husband is two inches shorter than she is. I have seen the boy who only dated a size 8 and whose wildly beloved wife is a size 18, and always was. I have seen the girl who wouldn't date an out of town boy, including New Jersey, who now resides in her husband's home in Australia. There's a saying that applies here: "Man tracht, und Gott lacht." Man plans and God laughs. Or maybe we should remember that "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."
You would think that everyone would have a pretty good idea of what the word "date" means. You would think so, but apparently you and I are wrong.
Start with the simplest definition: a date is when a boy and a girl--a man and a woman--go out. Right from the beginning we have a problem with this definition. What is going out? Well, that is where a young man takes a girl somewhere. You mean they never stay "in"? Okay so sometimes a date is in the house and sometimes it is not.
And what do you mean by a boy and girl? Any boy and any girl? No, only those boys and girls who are deemed the correct ones to be going out on the date. Who decides what "correct" means? Do you have a lifetime to spare? It would take that long to define "correct."
And what do you mean he "takes her somewhere"? Does somewhere mean anywhere? Is everywhere appropriate? Okay, the young man takes her to somewhere appropriate. Oh yeah, who has decided what is appropriate? That depends on the philosophy of all kinds of people with an interest in this date.
And what is done on this date? Are you telling me they just go someplace and do nothing? Okay, so what is done depends on a whole lot of other things, like the state of the boy's wallet, the weather, whether it is a first date, a third date, a fifth date.
Okay, so two strangers are going out or in on this date? Sigh. That depends on how good a detective the shadchanim involved are, the parents involved are, the "datees" involved are. Some people on a date really are strangers and others are people who know "everything" about each other but just have never met yet.
And hey, just how long is this going out or in? Well, that depends on your personal philosophy, the philosophy of an parents involved, the philosophy of an rebbes involved and on whether it is the first time, the third time, the seventh time or the last time. So, why would someone go out or in on this date? (Now there is a question that many a young man or woman has asked themselves!) That depends. Are we talking about a general philosophy? Are we talking about the first date? The third date? The fifth date?
I was not a math major in college and the statistics and calculations involved in defining a simple thing like "date" make my head spin. Klal has gone overboard in trying to regulate the unregulateable. When defining dating requires an act of Congress we have gone too far. Anyone on a date who has to remember all the rules and regulations, which change from date to date, is not really having that date--they are too busy reading the rulebook to participate fully.
Strange, nowhere in the definition of dating does anyone ever mention "having an enjoyable time." Hey, dating is business--what does enjoying yourself have to do with it? And please, don't ask me whose "business" dating is.
Monday, September 17, 2007
For those of you with weak stomachs I suggest you take a deep breath before reading on. What follows has been known to "slay the mighty" and "lay the strong down weak." Yes, I am referring to......cleaning out the attic. Steady there. And if you substitute "garage" or "basement" the terror still remains.
A few years back we ending up having to clear out our garage because we were going to be using the space for something else. After the heart palpitations had calmed down to manageable the obvious question arose: where was all the "stuff" going? My husband's answer was to build a few sheds in the yard to hold the "necessary" items, and, of course, a whole bunch of things went up to the attic. There, that wasn't too painful.
This was supposed to be a relaxing summer for me. There were a lot of things on my "to do" list but everything was manageable. My husband had a different "to do" list, including dismantling those same sheds he had built to hold the garage contents. We had to hire a dumpster to take the refuse. My first reaction, when asked what we were going to do with the stuff from the sheds was "put it in the attic." I so did not want to deal with sorting through a lifetime of collections. And then one Sunday morning, with the temperature outside at a hot and humid 94 degrees, my husband announced that we were "cleaning out the attic." As long as the dumpster was there we might as well "clean house."
It has been a few weeks and I can finally say the word "attic" without pain. Sorting through everything that had not seen the light of day for years was not fun. Some things were so old that no possible use could be found for them. Some things I had been sentimental about years ago I sure did not feel the same way about now. Some things I could not remember why I had bothered to put into the attic. And some things that were up there I could swear did not belong to us, had never belonged to us and somehow got into the attic all on their own.
Some things that still had some use for others were given to various tzedakas and organizations. Some things were put straight into the garbage. And yes, some things, but far, far fewer of them were returned to the attic for storage. And what every person in the house swore was that never again would the attic be allowed to fill up to be looked at "some day."
Cleaning out that attic actually taught me a couple of valuable lessons. I pass them on in hopes that I might save you some of the agony I went through.
First, I plain and simple had too much stuff. And so did my kids and so did my husband. We are a consumer society and you could sure prove it by my attic. I once read a "self help" article that said that before you make any purchase you should look at what you are going to get rid of to make place for that purchase. One in, one out. It's not a bad piece of advice.
Second, putting something off does not mean it will go away. You may not like something you have to do, but it is not going to get more enjoyable later.
Something else occurred to me. I had a "personal" attic, otherwise known as my mind and memory. And my memory, like my attic, needed a good cleaning. Some of the things in my memory had long ago ceased to be of use to me, but there they were, taking up space. Some of the things in my memory were not items that were doing me any good and, in some cases, were doing me lots of harm. There were things in my memory too imperfect to use any more. And I had no idea why and how some other things had gotten into my memory.
What kinds of things were up there? Past hurts and anger, stored to be used again "some day." Memories of "what was" that were keeping me from thinking about and seeing "what is" and "what will be." Stray thoughts that had taken up residence, taking up space that something better, more worthwhile could surely use.
I've been making a concerted effort to empty my memory of the "junk," leaving only what is worthwhile to keep. And I've been thinking that Klal could use a good cleaning of its communal "attic." Yes, there are things that the members of Klal should never forget, things like the Shoah, for one--those things should stay in its attic. But the "he said, they said" petty bickering that sometimes breaks out among different groups in Klal ought never to get up into the attic, and should surely be cleaned out and thrown away now. The irrational enmity that is sometimes seen between various groups in Klal should not be stored away. "Sinas chinam" doesn't belong in the attic. The political maneuverings and the grabs for communal power should have no place in the attic.
What I learned in cleaning out the attic in my house is something that Klal also needs to learn: you cannot put off the day of reckoning for ever. Someday you are going to have to clean the attic, and the longer you put it off, the more painful it is. One good way to avoid the pain is to refuse to put junk in the attic to begin with.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Occasionally I get asked where I think a nice place for a date is. Sometimes the question is where is a good inexpensive place to go on a date. Sometimes the question is where is an unusual place to go on a date. I hadn't really given a great deal of thought to some of my answers until one young man called me up in desperation: he had been to the Liberty Science Center 7 times in 10 months and there was no way he was going again. Could I help? So I sat down to design the ideal first or second date.
The requirements were simple. One, the time spent should be about 2-3 hours, with no more than a total of one hour in traveling time back and forth. Two, the cost should not be overly expensive--no more than $20-30 dollars maximum. Three, some type of refreshments should be available. Four, there should be something there that would stimulate conversation, natural conversation. Five, there should be someplace there where a couple could sit down and talk, not just walk around for the whole time. Six, it would need to be a place that can be visited in the day or at night, during the week and on weekends. Seven, it would need to be climate controlled so that extreme weather would not be a problem. And one of those teeny tiny requirements that is often overlooked--it would need to have restroom facilities. A lot of places met some of the qualifications but not all. Only a few places met all the qualifications. The one that follows is the one I recommended to my desperate young man.
Try a Barnes and Nobles Superstore. "A bookstore? Is she nuts?" Nope, I'm not. Just read on.
There is a Superstore in every Borough so traveling time is not an issue. And trust me on this, you are not going to run into everyone you know from your home neighborhood in the store. All the Superstores have small cafes that are Starbucks concessions. They all have small tables where you can sit down and drink whatever you have ordered, and no one shoos you out after 10 minutes. Cokes are available. So there are refreshments and a place to sit and talk. The prices are nowhere near as crazy as the price of cokes in a fancy lounge. There are also comfortable chairs and/or couches spread throughout the store, so you can also sit there.
But what do you do you ask? You wander through the various sections, and while you do you use the subject matter of those sections to stimulate conversation. Wander through the travel section. Stop and look at the illustrated pictures in some of the guide books--the Frommers travel guides are good for this. Play the game of "If I could go anywhere in the world it would be ___________ and why. Find out how your families spend their vacations. Do your families go away for yom tov or stay home? Where do you go? Why?
Look at the best sellers section. Ask what books you have each read lately. Did you enjoy them? Why or why not? Got a favorite author? Why? What book of this author's would you recommend the most?
Go to the "how to" section or the "crafts" section. You cannot imagine what kinds of how to books there are out there. My all-time favorite is "How to attract frogs to your garden." I spent about 15 minutes just browsing through the book to find out why this oddity should be desirable. Ask each other if there is something you would like to learn how to do. Why? Why haven't you done this yet? Is there something you are good enough at that you could write a how to book? What and why?
Visit the children's section. See what has changed since you were children. Are there still some favorite books of yours from your childhood that are being sold? Why were they the favorites? Would you want your children to read these books too? Why? And watch how the conversation can morph into childhood remembrances and the things you were most fond of, and the things you sometimes wish you could still do but they are too "childish," but you are looking forward to your own children doing.
Visit the gift and collectible section. Is there something there you would buy for yourself? Why? Are there strange things being sold? Things you cannot imagine anyone wanting to buy, and certainly not for the price being asked? Discuss luxuries and necessities. It's a small way to get an idea about spending habits and about what kinds of purchases the other person finds silly and what kinds of purchases the other person finds "necessary" or "desirable." [And should this date eventually lead to a shidduch, you just may have an idea of what to buy for this new spouse of yours, and in what colors.]
Visit the biography section. Whose life would you want to read about? Why? What attracts you to that person? Whose biography would you absolutely not want to read? Why? If someone were to write a biography about you what would be the most important thing they could put in it?
The magazine section has lots of different kinds of puzzle magazines. Buy one, take it over to a table with your drinks and work on a few puzzles together. [Bring a pencil with an eraser with you if this appeals.] You would be surprised how wide ranging the conversation based on doing the puzzles can be. Oh yes, guys, when you are leaving the store offer the magazine to the young lady and ask if she would like to take it home to do more puzzles. If she says yes, you look like a prince for offering. If she says no, you still look like a prince for offering.
You should be getting the idea by now. A bookstore is a great place to find topics of conversation that come about naturally and that also let you get to know each other.
You remember my desperate young man? He took a girl to Barnes and Nobles and he found out just the kind of information that showed him that he and the young lady were definitely not a match. She did not read any "English" books that were not assigned for school. She thought they were a waste of time for a frum girl. She dismissed any children's books she had read while young as having been a mistake, and she would not make that mistake with her own kids. The only book that appealed in the "how to" section was one that was "how to shop for clothes in New York like a pro." You get the idea--so did the young man.
This young man would eventually take a girl to Barnes and Nobles on a second date who was indeed his bashert. They spent about 4-1/2 hours in the store. Their conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics and they enjoyed the ones they agreed on and even enjoyed arguing about the ones they didn't agree on. Before they left the store the young man gave the girl an inadvertent clue that he was going to say yes to another date. He stopped at the front desk and picked out a pretty bookmark for her. He said something like "everyone needs a bookmark to mark the pages that are important." Yes indeed.
Total cost of this date? $12.00 for 4 cokes, $3.00 for a puzzle magazine, $3.00 for a bookmark--$18.00 in all. A whole lot of bang for the buck.
Do you have a place that you think would make an ideal first or second date and that meets the requirements above? Please comment.