People are generally attracted to articles that cover subjects with which they can identify on either a personal or professional level. Of course, there are articles that are interesting in their own right and have little or no connection to a particular reader’s life. More often than not, though, subjects that touch people personally will be that bit more attractive.
That is probably why, over the past years, I have found myself reading many articles on shidduchim in this and other publications. These articles have been penned by people from all walks of life, from rabbanim and educators to shadchanim, parents and singles. The tone of these articles reflect their respective authors and vary between humor, advice, frustration, logic and, often, hurt.
Shidduchim is a frustrating and deeply painful subject for many people. It is also a very personal one and requires careful consideration and sensitivity before putting pen to paper to share one’s thoughts on the matter. For some, the word “shidduchim” alone in an article’s title is an immediate put-off. However, being in this parshah, with all its ups and downs, I made the decision to toss my hat in the ring and share some feelings of my own.
The current shidduch situation has been awarded the term “crisis.” People have adopted this term and taken to using it in their shidduch conversations. Although the word “crisis” is defined as “a time of severe difficulty or danger,” this does not nearly come close to defining the emotion it evokes in many who are in shidduchim.
Indeed, mere mention of the “shidduch crisis” means they have to expend that much more energy to fight off the feeling of pain or even despair that creeps in on hearing this term. This can be a difficult battle to win; many are already emotionally exhausted just trying to remain hopeful along the road that will, with all its twists and turns, eventually lead them to their life’s partner.
And yet we see that people keep going, keep searching, despite all previous disappointments. This commodity that urges them on is, to my mind, as delicate as it is powerful. When handled with care it can work wonders, yet when mistreated it can shatter all too quickly. This ingredient has different names for different people. Some call it “strength”; some prefer “endurance”; still others insist on “optimism.” I choose “hope.”
On a Motzaei Shabbos a number of weeks ago, I was visiting one of my close friends. We were sitting around the table with his wife and children and having a general shmooze. At one point during our conversation I suddenly turned to his wife and said, “Tell me, how did your parents actually meet?”
Although I do not know what possessed me to pose this question at that particular time, the reason I asked it at all was that I had always been struck by her parents’ different backgrounds. Her father was from Israel and her mother from South Africa. He was a third-generation Jerusalemite and she came from a Litvish home. Moreover, this shidduch happened when it was not so common to travel halfway around the world to meet someone. How did such a shidduch come about?
This is what she told me:
My father at that time was on his way from Israel to Brazil to start a new job. His flight happened to go via South Africa, although I’m not sure why he took that particular route and didn’t fly non-stop.
He arrived in South Africa on Friday morning and his plan was to spend Shabbos with the local community before catching his connecting flight to Brazil. I don’t know how he found out where he needed to go – after all, he had never been to South Africa before – but he somehow managed to find some accommodation in the Jewish area over Shabbos.
That night, Shabbos night, my father went to the local shul. After davening had finished a man, seeing a new face in shul, approached him and asked whether he had anywhere to eat. When my father replied that he did not, the man kindly invited him for the Friday night meal, and my father gratefully accepted. What my father’s new host did not know was that his wife had independently invited a local single girl for the same Friday night meal. Had he been aware of this he would not have extended the invitation to my father. Blissfully unaware of the situation that was about to unfold, however, my father and his host happily made their way home from shul.
On arriving home, the host and his wife quickly realized they had a situation on their hands; they had unwittingly, and independently of one another, invited a single boy and a single girl for the same meal. However, seeing as it was now too late to do anything about it, they all sat down together to eat.
Over the course of the meal that night my father and this girl struck up a conversation and, as the evening progressed, they were getting on very well. Their hosts noticed this and suggested that they relax and continue their talk after the meal was over, which they did. Before the evening was over, the hosts decided to invite them both again for Shabbos lunch. The young pair happily agreed and their time together during lunch pretty much picked up where they had left off Shabbos night. Things were looking promising.
Time, however, was not on my father’s side. He had to catch his connecting flight and was not able to prolong his stay to get to know this girl better. He felt very comfortable with her and thought they had a lot in common. And so, not wanting to over-think matters, my father quickly made up his mind and proposed. He took care to explain that, if she accepted, it would mean traveling halfway across the world to live in Brazil where he was about to start his new job. To his delight she happily accepted his proposal and agreed to move with him to Brazil.
Years later I once asked this girl how she could possibly have agreed to make such life-changing decisions after meeting someone just twice. She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, “It just felt right, and if it feels right you go with it.” That girl is my mother.
* * * * *
When I heard this heartwarming story on that cold and rainy Motzaei Shabbos I was infused with hope. A flight from Israel to Brazil via South Africa, a “mistake” by a kind-hearted host and his wife, and a young man short on time forced to make a quick decision led to a match that today, Baruch Hashem, boasts children and grandchildren.
This beautiful tale with all its “coincidences,” reaffirmed in my heart that the show is not run by us but is orchestrated from Above. We make our efforts in this world in the spheres of shidduchim, parnassah, children and the like, using the abilities the Almighty has blessed us with to do the best we can. But at the end of the day, the success of our efforts comes from Above, not below.
Knowledge of this essential fact – that everything is guided from on High with perfect precision – should give us the strength, especially in shidduchim, to go on, however rocky the road appears.
Hope on its own, therefore, is not enough. That hope, so crucial to our personal journeys, must be based on faith. Indeed, these two soldiers of fortune are perhaps our two most trusted companions in shidduchim. Hope without faith is like a leaf in the wind, flying free and without direction, clinging to whatever object happens to stand in its apparently random path before the next gust of wind comes along and blows it away again.
Rooted in faith, however, our hope has direction, stability and purpose. Viewed through the prism of faith, that leaf is not being blown about randomly, but is being carried along and guided towards its destination; there are just a few stops along the way. It is this understanding that fuels our ability to hope.
In the world of shidduchim, with all the disappointments that can come in its wake, it is especially important not to fall prey to the vacuum of despair, so enticing when yet another shidduch hasn’t worked out, when yet another prospective match has said “no.”
It can feel as though our strength has been completely sapped. People will say “onward and upward,” perhaps not fully appreciating the optimism and energy that was initially invested in a shidduch and the deep disappointment that comes tumbling down when yet another suggestion amounts to nothing. Nonetheless, difficult as it may be, one must never lose hope.
* * * * *
If there is one thing our history has taught us throughout the generations of our long exile it is that we are a people of hope and faith. My grandfather, Simche Bunem Unsdorfer, was a nineteen-year-old boy when he arrived in Auschwitz. He was the youngest of six children and the last of his siblings still living at home in 1944 when they were deported. One of his sisters had already been deported with her family, two were married and in hiding, and his older brothers had been sent to the Manchester Yeshiva in England.
He stood in line in front of Mengele and watched helplessly as his mother was sent to the gas chamber, followed by his father. He endured three different concentration camps, a death march and unspeakable horrors. And yet, in the very midst of this hell on earth, he risked his life to light Chanukah lights, recite Kiddush Levanah, put on tefillin and help prepare and participate in a Pesach Seder in a packed barracks that could barely contain those who squeezed into it to experience a little light in their darkest hour.
This lesson and legacy of hope and faith against all the odds is an enduring symbol of our faith that the Almighty never forsakes us, whether as a nation or as individuals.
No one who can fully understand, or appreciate, the frustration and pain of shidduchim other than those who are themselves involved. Each person is unique, a world unto him or herself and, by extension, each relationship is unique. Saying “I know how you feel” is rarely true. But one must always remember that as much as there is hurt and frustration in shidduchim, there is happiness, joy, marriages, children and families at the end of the road.
As part of a nation that is built on hope and faith we must retain these values and adopt them in our daily lives to help steer us through our most challenging times. We must allow ourselves to believe that there is not only light at the end of the tunnel but that there is light in the tunnel itself.
A short while ago, Jews around the world celebrated Pesach. Pesach is the story of our liberation as a people from slavery to freedom. It is the story of faith steadfastly clung to throughout generations of hardship and against all odds. It is the story of an eternal hope that is firmly rooted in that faith. This legacy has seen us through exile, destruction, an Inquisition, Crusades and a Holocaust. And it must tell us, during the more challenging times of our lives, never to give up and never to despair, for that is not our way as Jews.
In his book The Yellow Star, wherein he describes his experiences during the Holocaust, my grandfather writes the following:
There appeared to me to be two ways of surviving these camps of death. The first was to forget or abandon all laws of decency, respect and trust in your fellow men, and fight recklessly and ruthlessly for your own skin, irrespective of any consequences to your fellow inmates…. The second was to hang on to dear life by trying to find hope and courage beyond human power…. Some of us preferred to adopt the old and tested Jewish method of finding hope and strength in God, and in prayer to Him. Thus, every morning and evening, fifteen or twenty of us crouched together quietly between the bunks to recite some parts of the prayers, and then go to work or to sleep, encouraged by the knowledge that the God for Whose sake we suffered was listening to our pleas.
This has been the attitude of our people in the most trying of times. This strength, which runs in our veins, must also provide us with the resilience to fight the emotional exhaustion and pain that often accompanies the challenges of shidduchim. The power of the indomitable Jewish spirit lies in never losing hope, never lacking faith, never giving up.
It has not been my intention here to offer advice, or put forward a solution, to the so-called shidduch crisis. That is not my place. There are minds far greater than that of this writer, as well as countless selfless souls, who work tirelessly around the clock to help people find their happiness.
My aim in writing this article, after much careful consideration, was to attempt to inspire some hope in order to combat the hurt and lethargy than can engulf those doing their best to work their way through this often difficult chapter in their lives.
It is my sincere hope that it has, in some small measure, achieved its purpose.Simche Goitein
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