Some weeks ago I published a letter from a secular Jewish woman in her mid-thirties. To all appearances, she had everything going for her – a successful career, good health, dynamic personality, many boyfriends and relationships. She wrote, however, that it all had no meaning. More than anything, she yearned to build a home and start a family, but marriage kept eluding her.
“Why can’t I get married?” she cried out, and her cry resonated in many hearts. I have received a plethora of letters and e-mail – all struggling with this same question – secular and observant Jews wrote and even non-Jews echoed her dilemma. It seems that singles all over the world are confronted with this very same challenge.
In past columns I mentioned that there were many contributing factors to this escalating problem. To discuss all of them and do justice to them, I would probably have to write a book. Nevertheless, the problem is vexing, and while our discussion may be limited, I do believe that it has to be put on the table, for it is already out-of- hand. I isolated a few factors in last week’s column and demonstrated how many of the values and mores of our contemporary society lobbyagainst marriage.
Specifically, I focused on relationships and asked why a secular young man in today’s world should undertake the responsibility of marriage when he can simply enter into a relationship that can be terminated at the drop of a hat without entanglements or monetary consequences. So, in a sense, girls who facilitate these relationships underwrite their own difficulties in finding their marriage partners.
That being the case, the question still remains: How do we resolve the dilemma of religiously observant singles who are committed to a Torah way of life? Why can’t they find their bashertes – soul mates? The question becomes even more troublesome when you consider that, from early childhood, these singles have been nurtured with a vision – to go under the chuppah and establish a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael – a genuine Jewish home. These girls are not sidetracked by careers, by dreams of travel or by entering trial marriages through relationships. And significantly, they reside in their parental homes much longer than their secular single counterparts. They benefit from parental intervention and guidance.
In the Orthodox world, mothers and fathers actively network to make shidduchim for their children. They have access to numerous shadchanim and chesed committees that have been specifically designed for that purpose. So the question still remains: what went wrong? Why are there so many single women in the Torah world who have difficulty “taking that short path down the aisle?”
In this column, I will touch briefly on a few factors, but the reader should by no means consider them definitive. Obviously, there are many reasons that come into play, and I invite you to share your thoughts on the subject. You can e-mail me at rebbetzinhineni.org or write to me at Hineni, 232 West End Avenue, New York, NY 10023.
There is a saying in Yiddish, “The way the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world.”
Whether we like it or not, to one extent or another, we are influenced by our environment. Even as it is impossible to enter a perfume factory without absorbing some of the aroma, so it is difficult not to be impacted by our culture. Ours is a world that places tremendous emphasis on external appearances. When it comes to marriage, looks and material possessions are all-important. Many of our single men have formed unrealistic images of “that gorgeous, ‘size- zero’ girl,” but these very same young men never bother looking in the mirror and asking, “Would I want to marry someone who looks like me?” Nor do they ask, “What do I have to offer this girl?”
And it is not only young men who can be problematic – their mothers can be equally unreasonable, holding out for what they consider to be “that perfect girl” (beautiful and the daughter of a substantial family that can offer generous support), and thus they dismiss many good prospects.
In all honesty, however, I must add that while this problem is more prevalent in the case of men, in my experiences as a shadchan, I have found that girls can also be very difficult, and after a while, they too can lose all sense of reality. We live in an “entitlement” society and seldom consider that, instead of making demands, we have a mandate to give. Thus, precious years can go by looking for that “perfect” girl or guy who is no more than a figment of the imagination.
We Are Good Friends
Many singles live in communities that offer special activities – Shabbatonim and other gatherings. After a while, these programs too can prove to be counterproductive, deluding singles into believing that they are doing their best to pursue a match, whereas in reality, they are just going from event to event. Under such circumstances, dating for tachlis – marriage, becomes more complicated. Often, I have tried to make shidduchim between two people residing in the same neighborhood, only to be told, “Oh, we know one another – We go to the same Shabbos seudos – dinners, etc. She/he is very nice…we are good friends,” they tell me, and with that, the possibility of a shidduch is closed.
Time and again, I heard my father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, urging parents to heed the teachings of our sages and marry off their children at a young age, for, as the years pass, my father would warn, there is a tendency to pick up more and more “shtick” and become entrenched in one’s ways.
A man in his early 40s who had been dating endlessly came to consult me regarding a shidduch. Since I knew many of the girls he had dated and they were all lovely young women, I wondered aloud what he had found objectionable in them.
“Tell me what you are seeking in a wife, so that I might better help you,” I said.
He readily confessed that he had dated more women than he could count, but he just never felt any “electricity” for any of them.
“Let me tell you about electricity,” I said. ” New York is one of the most sophisticated and technologically advanced cities in the world, but even in New York, there have been electrical failures. Electricity today is no guarantee that there won’t be a power failure tomorrow.”
“Rebbetzin, what are you trying to tell me?” he asked.
“Simple – Instead of electricity, you would do well to look for goodness, kindness, timeless values and common goals. Such power is lasting and guaranteed never to fail!”
“But,” he protested, “doesn’t there have to be chemistry?”
“Of course you have to feel attracted to the person,” I agreed, but such attraction should not be confused with the superficial fluff that our 21st century culture has come to adulate. And then I told him a story about a bachelor his own age who traveled to Israel to consult a sage.
“If everyone has a basherte – a soul mate, why can’t I find mine?” he asked.
The sage studied him for a few minutes and said, “Maybe you did find her, but instead of seeing her heart, you just saw her face and worried that she wasn’t pretty enough.”
(To be continued)