A determined knock on the Reichenberg residence yielded soft pattering sounds coming down the steps from within. The door swung open and there was my co-worker’s wife, Zeldy, with a warm smile and big hug for me.
“So glad you made it!” she exclaimed, moving her 16-month-old from one hip to the other. “Yechezkel’s still at shul, but come sit.”
I followed her up the stairs and into a small two-bedroom apartment. The house was warm and cozy, candles flickering on the table and challah warming atop the stove.
Zeldy brought their wedding album to me on the couch and sat beside me as I thumbed through the pages, pausing on each page to take in every detail. I had a question about everything.
“So why is he wearing white socks and he’s wearing black socks?” I asked pointing first to her father and then to her father-in-law. She didn’t seem to mind.
“Why does he wind his peyos around his ears, but Yechezkel tucks his in tight curls behind them?” “You wore a sheitel after your chuppah?” “So you guys hold hands after the chuppah?”
I had so many questions. And I soon learned: It’s a Vizhnitz custom to wind the peyos around the ears and it’s a rebbishe custom of Belz and Satmar to wear the white socks. For years I had thought that many chassidim tuck their pants into their socks, when in actuality they wear shorter pants tied with a ribbon right below the knee.
Fuzzy hats versus furry hats; tall, short, round, flat. It was all very eye opening to me. How different we are, I mused.
We heard faint singing and in walked my co-worker Yechezkel, Zeldy’s husband. Upon his head sat a wide fur hat, a shtreimel, and he shed one bekeshe in exchange for another shiny, black patterned one with a wide belt.
I couldn’t stop staring, and I knew it was impolite, but he looked so calm and serene, the spirit of Shabbos just washing right over him, taking away all the worries that must come along with a growing family and a hectic work schedule.
Yechezkel made Kiddush. I lifted my gaze to watch him – his eyes were squeezed tightly shut – to listen – the melody filling the small, glowing dining room – and to take it all in. No translations, no analysis. Just be present and experience, I told myself. And it was beautiful.
Soon we were sitting and chatting like old friends. The challah was warm and delicious, the dips unique in flavor, the fish sweet and covered in fish goo. That’s when things started to really strike me as different. Zeldy told me she makes the same dishes every single Shabbos, such as chicken soup with sliced radishes on the side. Radishes!
When I asked her about the custom she said, “It must be a Hungarian thing. It’s been in our families forever.” She added, “Wait till tomorrow – you’ll be eating eggs between the fish and meat courses.” I wanted to know where the egg custom originated and her answer was the same: “It’s just tradition…we’ve been doing that for generations.”
The night wore on without our notice; so busy were we in vetting dissimilarity and likeness between our communities.
“What’s the dating process like in your community?” I was asked.
I explained as best as I could that it’s different for everyone. Most Lubavitch singles from out of town move to Crown Heights in order to live near friends and be more available to date other Lubavitchers.
“Who sets you up?”
Way to put a girl on the spot! But I didn’t mind. I tried my best to paint an accurate picture of the shadchan/single relationship. In my situation, I mused, shadchanim hadn’t suggested many boys for me to date as of yet, but some had facilitated shidduchim suggested by friends of mine.
“Sometimes a shidduch is suggested by a host at whose table I’ve eaten on Shabbos; other times a guy who met me at an event asks me out through a friend.”
This seemed to be a novelty to my hosts.
“I don’t think other neighborhoods have as much of a singles scene as Crown Heights,” Yechezkel remarked. I explained that it’s only in recent years that there are events for singles aged 25 and older in Crown Heights; it’s become more accepted over the years. Times have changed.