Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Olden Days of Shidduchim--Part #2

JS asked the following question in a comment on the "Shidduch Making Revisited" posting, as did bad4:

"Can you describe more about what shidduch making was like "back then" or refer to another post?" I partially covered this topic in http://conversationsinklal.blogspot.com/2009/04/then-and-now-holocaust-generation.html%20LetI also covered part of it in the first part of this posting. Let me expand.

The 60s and the 70s. The New York Metropolitan area. Opportunities for frum college students to meet with others of both sexes abounded. Major shuls and communities had regularly scheduled collegiate programs.

In Far Rockaway there was a Friday night oneg every week just for collegiates. It was sponsored by the two major shuls in the area then--The White Shul and Shaaray Tefila. There was always a speaker of some kind and then refreshments were served. The onegs were held in private homes. And yes, during refreshment time we all walked around and spoke to each other. One result was that whatever male/female shyness there was was soon dispelled. Males and females got comfortable in speaking with and to each other. They became friends to varying degrees. And as part of that friendship, we served as each other's fixer uppers when it came to dates. I don't remember a single shidduch coming about between two people who were in the group, but a whole lot of dates came about when we all fixed each other up. And some of those dates eventually lead to marriage for the two parties. And some of those dates lead to fix ups by the datees with yet other people which eventually lead to marriage.

The National Young Israel had a Collegiate division which regularly held social affairs all over the city and upstate as well. Yes, there was usually some kind of speaker or program, and sometimes not, but the ultimate purpose was to give us exposure to people from all over the city. And it worked. Collegiates met other collegiates and social networking was the result. Some of the YI communities also held Shabbosim just for college age kids. The purpose was for us to get us to know each other and to expand the number of our acquaintances.

NCSY had a large group of collegiates who served as counselors and leaders for its various functions around the country. It would frequently send 5, 10 and more of us to the various regional conventions. We all became friendly with each other. And yes, some of those leaders met and married each other. The aunt and uncle of a well-known blogger's wife were one of those couples. Bnai Akiva madrichim and madrichot also had this type of social network and provided social affairs for people to get together, as did Mizrachi HaTzair.

[Note about NCSY: through NCSY the OU held many types of functions for high school aged boys and girls, and they were mixed. Obviously the main focus was not getting 13 and 14 year olds married to each other. Nonetheless, we shouldn't discount the friendships that were made and connections that were made during the high school years that definitely were helpful during the college/getting married years. The same can be said about Bnai Akiva. ]

There are people my age in NYC who would rather commit hara kiri than admit the following, because it's not how they want to be thought of today. Tough! Back then there were two major hotels in the Catskills (and one not so major)--Grossingers and the Pioneer and then The Pineview--which held mega weekends on July 4, Shabbos Nachamu and sometimes on Labor Day. These weekends were just for those college age and above. Yup, males and females alone together for a weekend, away from home. Table seating was mixed and the people were shifted for each meal. There were all kinds of programs and plenty of opportunities to get to know others who were there--that was the whole purpose. And yes, lots of fix ups and lots of eventual marriages that came out of that networking.

Yeshiva University held regular chagigas both uptown at the YU campus and downtown at the Stern campus. Yup, they were mix and mingle affairs. [Note: some people even took their dates to the chagigas. A free date? Could there be anything better?!] There was no mechitza. And yes, meeting and eventual marriage was a common enough result. Certainly there was networking. Stern girls frequently went to the uptown YU campus to eat dinner, particularly if they had a relative there. The year I spent at Stern my first cousin was at YU. Once a week I would travel up to see him. Sometimes my roommate or another friend would come with me, sometimes not. And a few times we would eat together just the two of us, and more often than not a few of his friends would plop down and join us. I was hardly the only girl eating in the YU cafeteria. And no one came over and said "es past nisht," and no one forbade us to go.

A word about parties, yes parties. People had them for various and sundry reasons [a melave malka, Chanukah party, Purim party and an I-feel-like-seeing-everyone party, for example]. So did frum organizations. And most were mixed sexes. Why not? They were a real chance to meet others and have a good time in the process. (Note: talking to each other was considered having a good time.) I remember a melave malka I held in my parents' home with the intention of introducing my Brooklyn friends to my Far Rockaway friends. We had a baby grand piano in our living room and the highlight of that evening was when the composer of "Shmelkie's Niggun" played us that new song before it had been released on record. They were a really inexpensive date too. Yes, a date. The aura of secrecy that exists today was little seen back then. No one had you walking down the aisle just because you were seen in public with someone of the opposite sex. The pressure was far less. Note: When was a party not a party? When it was called a kumzitz (literally come and sit together). A kumzitz could be held in a private home or in a public venue. Music and conversation were the main draw.

And weddings. Now there was a networking/social occasion. Even some frummie weddings back then did not have a mechitza, just separate circles for dancing. Lots easier to look and be looked at. And where there was mixed seating (which was far more common then than now), the choson and kallah placed their single friends at the same table. And singles drifted out to the lobby between courses and between dances to see and be seen and to talk.

Now someone out there is sniffing and going "MO." [And have I mentioned that I realllly, reallly hate that term MO? As opposed to what? Ancient Orthodox?] Yes and no. The division back then was far less formalized than it is now. It's our recent generation that has gone label crazy. Clearly the chassidim were not part of this scene. But a whole lot of those who we characterize as yeshivish today were. Why not? Hordes of Esther Schoenfeld girls and BY girls were mostly in Brooklyn College or maybe Hunter College. So were Torah VoDaas boys and a fair sprinkling of Chaim Berlin boys. Either you were attending during the day or for some of the boys they were going to college 4 nights a week--that's right, 4 nights a week. I believe that the Mir limited their students to only 2 nights, but a lot of those Mir boys went 4 nights anyway. A lot of people were in Brooklyn College. They were also in Queens College, Hunter and City Uptown. They were in Pace and Baruch and NYU and Columbia and every other college with a presence in the city. They were sitting in classes with each other, sometimes sharing notes, sometimes exchanging phone numbers, and they certainly were present in the cafeterias.

Perhaps someone among my readers will remember the CUNY Houseplans. I suppose you could consider them as the poor man's fraternities and sororities. And some of those Houseplans were started and peopled by frum collegiates. And their purpose, for the most part, was so collegiates could meet and become friends with other collegiates, male and female. There were hundreds upon hundreds of shidduchim that came about through the social networking and meeting and greeting that took place at CUNY campuses.

And the carpools to school. While I generally had my classes during the day, one term I had to take a course that was only given in the evening. I carpooled from Far Rockaway with some of the boys who were in college at night. Yup, me and 3-4 boys. I laugh now when I think of who those boys were then: all are pretty much household names today. And one of them married my friend's younger sister eventually. The shidduch was pretty much "I have a girl you should meet." He did eventually, and the rest is history. And I'd stake everything I own on the fact that none of his kids have ever been told the real story of how he met his wife. He'd first have to explain that he was carpooling with his "shadchan."

And re those yeshivishe kids, I can think of 5 mainstays today of some of those oh-so-to-the-right yeshivas who are never going to tell the story of how mommy met daddy, because those stories would have to start out with "I was in the cafeteria at Brooklyn College when my friend pointed out this girl/boy..." or maybe "I was taking a class with this girl/boy...." Or maybe "My best friend was marrying his best friend and we met when we were planning sheva brochos together."

Singles in the olden days had a chance to meet other singles everywhere, both in an organized fashion and informally. Singles were not looked at as separate from the rest of the olam. They came and went just as if they were "regular people." No one looked at them as problems in need of solving.

So where did we meet/see each other? Every where and any where. And sometimes, when the time was right, you had your Rodgers and Hammerstein moment:

Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,

you may see a stranger across a crowded room

And somehow you know, you know even then,

that somewhere you'll see him/her again and again

Yes, families very much wanted their children to get married. Heck, most of us also wanted to get married. But we were a part of the process, the most important part of the process. In the end, no matter how a date came into being, it was up to US, the datees, to make the decisions. In the final analysis, only two people went out on a date in the olden days, and only two people had to make decisions. You might consult your friends or your parents, but ultimately you were left to make the final decision on your own, as it should be. Except today, a whole lot of people have the twisted idea that you can't leave dating and marriage to the datees--they're too immature, too inexperienced. Then what in blazes are they doing looking to get married for?!!!

Note: for a slightly different way that one young lady met her husband, see http://conversationsinklal.blogspot.com/2007/11/when-shadchan-is-inhuman.html

NOTE: bad4shidduchim has a post up now asking for people to tell how their parents grandparents met. You might want to take a visit and respond http://badforshidduchim.wordpress.com/


Lion of Zion said...

"I was in the cafeteria at Brooklyn College"

i asked my wife for a date in the brooklyn college cafeteria. i still maintain that she's the only good thing i ever got in the caf.

Lion of Zion said...

"through NCSY the OU held many types of functions for high school aged boys and girls, and they were mixed"

no. 7 on my list of questions to ask ask school before enrolling your child is "What type of authority does the school feel it can exercise over what happens outside the precincts of the school? . . . [e.g.,] Can they fraternize with children of the opposite sex?"

the complete questionaire (in progress) is here http://agmk.blogspot.com/search/label/Yeshivah%20Shopping

SuperRaizy said...

I'm so glad that you wrote this post. OF COURSE that's how we met! We mixed and mingled and got to know each other and found mates that we felt comfortable with ON OUR OWN. Three of my friends met their husbands at a hotel on Shabbos Nachamu, two met at college, my sister met her husband in high school, my brother met his wife at a bungalow colony, etc.
I have absolutely no intention of arranging shidduch dates for my children. By the time they become adults, they will hopefully be capable of finding their own spouses.

mother in israel said...

So what are people afraid of today? Men's "improper" feelings? That a few people will sleep together without marriage? The problem is that in modern Orthodox circles where mingling is common, say at Columbia or on the Upper West Side, there are not many marriages happening.

rejewvenator said...

Ok, so we know things were different in the past. Why'd they change? It's not enough to say that people moved to the right. My theory is that this is largely a response to increasing marriage age. As people are getting married a bit older nowadays, the risks of intermingling are higher.

Trudy said...

Rejewvenator I'm a little confused by your comment. What increasing marriage age? The opposite seems to be true. Kids are getting married at earlier and earlier ages. How else would a community call a girl of 21 an old maid, never mind if she is older then that? What risks of intermingling are you referring to? Please explain.

What did happen to all those collegiate functions? They were terrific places to make friends and meet people. What's the YI movement afraid of? That people will consider it too modern? Like that isn't already the case to many on the right.

Kalman said...

I honestly never thought about what might have been different in my parents time about dating. I guess I figured it was pretty much the same as now. My sister did once ask at the table how my parents met and the answer was that someone set them up, a friend of their parents.

We were in Israel last year and visited a cousin of my mothers who we had never met before. Somehow in the telling of family history and stories she also told us about how my parents met. And it was nothing like a friend of their parents set them up. A lot more like what you are describing in your posting.

I guess I can see why my parents would lie about how they met considering where they live now. But to us kids?!!

mother in israel said...

Actually, no one is sure how my parents met because my mother was embarrassed and never told which version was accurate. Supposedly it was on a bus or subway, no one had introduced them. My father was in YU, boarding at the home of a rabbi (he was a refugee from Europe). For their first date he had her come to meet the rabbi to show he had some credentials.

JS said...

Thanks for this post. In it I found the stories of how my parents, my in-laws, and our collective aunts and uncles met (grandparents too!).

I think parents in general are much more controlling of their children, so maybe this is part of it. Another part may be that many of the parents from this "freewheeling" generation of dating were immigrants and maybe figured "it's a new world" and perhaps trusted their own Americanized children to show them the American way of doing things. Just a theory.

Tom said...

I have to show this article to my Wife. My sister (a Stern girl) set me up with my wife (also a Stern girl) when they sat next to each other at a singles weekend in the Catskills.

The composer of "Shmelkie's Niggun", Rabbi Shmelkie Brazil, is my wife's cousin. :)

Rafi said...

help me out here please. My parents never mentioned how they met. I asked my grandmother and she sort of rolled her eyes and mumbled something about a hooting annie (or something like that). Not sure if this is something kids should know about their parents---any ideas what my grandmother was talking about? If it's not something good you don't have to answer and that will be my answer.

Anonymously said...

Pleeeease ProfK you answer Rafi and put him out of his misery. Could barely stop laughing long enough to type this. Sorry Rafi, no insult meant but either I'm having a senior moment or it's true that today's generation has no idea, none, about the world their parents and grandparents grew up in.

ProfK said...

I believe the word you are looking for is hootenanny. Basically it was an evening of folk music and sometimes emerging country and western music. The Jewish hootenannys--and a few groups did advertise them this way--were more Jewish folk music than secular music, although some included both. There was a short lived tv show called Hootenanny presenting this music. A while after the show folded the name sort of went out of existence for Jewish musical nights--kumzitz was the preferred term. Without knowing your parents I can't say for sure, but it may be that they never mentioned this because there were NO separate seating hootenannys and audience sing along was encouraged, both males and females.

I can sympathize. It is sometimes hard to be the repository of the history of the last 50-70 years and have some people who not only don't care what was, they deny that what was was.

The Upper West Side was an anomaly even back in my younger days. Even though there are married couples with children living there (I have a first cousin living there, married, who raised her family there) no one thinks of the west side as a place for married people. Singles are overwhelmingly the focus of the area. A sociologist/anthropologist could probably get a book or two or a doctoral dissertation out of dissecting and analyzing this area. You are correct that for an area with such a huge concentration of singles there are relatively few marriages when compared to the size of the group. And while there are certainly a few west siders who marry other west siders, most of those who do marry are marrying people out of the area.

In a game of Jewish geography you and I are almost related. Sorah Brazil was my first cousin's roommate at Stern.

I'm only guessing at what you mean by the risks of intermingling. However if you are referring to THOSE kinds of risks, you think that intermingling is the only cause or even the major cause? My mother grew up in Europe in an educated Chasidishe family (no not an oxymoron)where mingling between the sexes was strictly verboten, and her first language was Yiddish, a very refined Yiddish at that. And yet...I remember hearing my mom and a group of women mention in Yiddish that a particular woman in Europe had produced a "zibele." After they left I asked my mom what it meant, having never heard the word before. She may have blushed a bit but she explained that a "zibele" was a baby born seven months after a couple's marriage. Now yes, it is possible to have a premature delivery, but on the other hand.... Those risks are universal, have existed for centuries and hardly can be blamed on mixed gatherings. I think hormones has greater standing as a cause.

Rae said...

I remember many of these activities with pleasure. We had fun, we met people, we dated, we got married. But a few of those activities had a component that you didn't mention. Lots of organizations, for singles and for married people too, had social dancing as part of a program. That has been dropped by not just the right but by most of the MO world as well.

Chumi Friedman said...

You've bought back memories even for those of us who didn't date in the 60s and 70s. My husband and I began dating in the 80s - we met Simchas Torah night on 14th Ave, and he went to Mir.

Today we consider ourselves normal Torahdik people - daven in a shteibel, but don't always wear a hat to shul.

Our two married kids met their spouses through friends - and I think it was the best way. There was no pressure, minimal checking on our part and both of our in-law children had a chance to become part of our family before the wedding.

Our third wants to go the "normal shidduch dating" path - but I am still hoping she meets a really nice guy in one of her college classes.

Anonymous said...

Thought you'd like to know that the past sometimes comes right into the future. My dad doesn't normally get involved in the shidduch process. At least not the get the information part.

Someone suggested a shidduch and the information my mom got sounded good so she said yes to the boy. She left the sheet of information on the kitchen table and my dad just happened to look at it and then said absolutely not to the shidduch. He didn't say why but he was really upset. My mom called the shadchan to say we had changed our mind and the shadchan said that the boy's family had also said no so it didn't matter.

I honestly couldn't figure out why we turned down this shidduch or why they turned us down. When my grandmother came over to visit I told her the story. She asked to see the information my mom had taken down. Then she lit up and gave me the answer. My dad and the boy's mom had gone out years ago. I guess my dad must have liked her and they went out for a while but she decided it wasn't going anywhere and called it off. My grandmother's opinion is that he must have been more hurt then he let on back then.

So now there's a new piece of information i have to worry about. Apparently I can't go out with the sons of anyone my dad dated, or I guess my mom either.

Looking Forward said...

i'm thinking that the reason why the shidduchim became dejure was because many of these household names probably did innapropriate stuff with their wives (as their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents may have also) and therefore decided since its impossible that anyone before them ever did this, we can't do it anymore and lest people pretend its ok they decided that noone should ever know it was ever permissable.