The following short story is fictional. However, many of you will surely nod your heads in agreement as you recognize people you know – perhaps yourself – in the characters I have described. I hope in future articles, to touch on what I believe are the various psychological factors that contribute to the shidduch crisis.
Mrs. Bredin glanced worriedly at her watch. Her Leahleh had left on a shidduch date at 6:00 p.m. and it was now 9:30 p.m. The hour itself was not what concerned her. After all, Leah was 28, had a thriving dental practice and took her Yiddishkeit to heart. By all standards, 9:30 p.m. was a respectable hour to still be out with a potential mate – and that was the source of Mrs. Bredin’s concern.
Mrs. Bredin felt her blood pressure rising with each passing moment. Surely a girl as smart as her daughter would have found a way to end her date well into the second hour – thereby tactfully terminating what Mrs. Bredin considered a gross mismatch.
Could it be that Leah did not see this boy was not in her league?
Mrs. Bredin shuddered at the folly of youth. It would not be the first time Leahle liked a totally unsuitable boy.
In fact, in the five years her daughter had been dating – Mrs. Bredin had insisted she finish her schooling first – Leah had wanted to continue seeing numerous boys with whom she “clicked,” much to her mother’s despair. While all these young men had been from suitable families, and were thoroughly examined, inspected, scrutinized and investigated – each had what she considered an irreconcilable flaw.
To pass the time while she waited, Mrs. Bredin went over them in her mind: There was Chesky, taakeh a nice boy, a dental school classmate whose parents were from the same town as her late husband. (His untimely death had left her a young widow with an 11-year-old daughter and twin sons of 15. After the shiva, the boys returned to their out of town yeshiva, then married and moved near their wives families. Thank G-d for her Leahle, how empty her life would be without her.)
She turned her thoughts back to Chesky. He would have been a good catch – except he was short. Wearing his hat, he was just a couple inches taller than Leah, who didn’t exactly qualify as a basketball player herself.
Then there was Duvid, the internist. He had real potential, but his family did not eat gebrokts. Why should Leah complicate her life with such a difficult minhag? Pesach might be only a week, but it could feel like a year with that added restriction. And why make it more difficult to eat by her brothers?
And, how could she not insist Leah reject Berel, a brilliant lawyer who also had yadin yadin smicha.
He was tall, but he also had a double chin and a paunch that made Humpty Dumpty seem scrawny. Mrs Bredin would have been embarrassed for such a grobe yingel to be her daughter’s husband even though he was a talmid chacham and worked at a prestigious law firm.
When Leah had come home from her date bubbling with enthusiasm over Berel’s witty and insightful conversation, Mrs. Bredin had cut her short.
“Don’t even think about it, Leah, he is not for you. As soon as you left I called Mrs. Weinstock and let her know how insulted I was that she could even suggest such a boy for you. She had told me he was a bit chubby, but I never imagined he would be so big.”
“Ma,” Leah had exclaimed with exasperation. “He isn’t so heavy, you always exaggerate. He just needs to lose a few pounds. All that studying he did over the years – eating late night snacks to keep up his energy…. If he was married and had home cooked meals waiting for him, I’m sure the weight would come right off. I really enjoyed talking to him. He is such a mentsch.”
But Mrs. Bredin had been firm in her resolve that her daughter get the best – she deserved it. And as much as she wanted Yiddishe nachas, Mrs. Bredin was not willing to “settle” for anything less.
Mrs. Bredin’s train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a car in the driveway. She could always tell if the date had “gone well” by the amount of time it took from when she heard the car till the sounds of car doors opening and closing. If Leah had enjoyed her date, it would take several minutes.
Pacing near the front door, Mrs Bredin felt her heart rate increase as the minutes ticked away. Finally the door opened and a glowing Leah practically skipped into the hallway.
“Oh Ma, he’s the one. After 10 minutes of talking, I felt we had been old friends for years. He…” Leah’s chatty jubilation quickly faded as she saw the familiar disapproving scowl on her mother’s face.
“You’re actually thinking of going out with that meeskeit a second time?” she asked shaking her head in disbelief.
“Ma,” Leah asked with trepidation, “What do you mean meeskeit. Shimon’s not ugly! He’s got so much chayn!”
“Are you blind?” the older woman retorted with scorn. “Maybe I should make an appointment for you with an optometrist. Maybe you need glasses.”
“Ma, you know I wear contacts. Just what is so ugly about him?”
“His nose. It’s so big I’m surprised birds haven’t perched on it.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not that bad. It is a bit big… so what?”
“Where are your brains, Leah? You want your future daughters to look like Pinocchio? Getting a good shidduch is hard for the pretty girls like you. Why would you want to ruin your future daughters’ chances, giving them such a yerusha – a big nose?”
Knowing from bitter experience that she had lost this battle – as she had all the others – Leah tearfully yelled as she ran up to her room, “At this rate, I won’t have any daughters – nor sons either.”
“I’ll never get married Matti,” a despondent Leah moaned, as she accompanied her very pregnant best friend and her two toddlers to the playground the following Shabbat.
“Of course you will,” Matti insisted. “You are an amazing person. Be patient, the right one will come.”
“I think the right one came a long time ago, except nobody is good enough for my mother. I bet if Moshiach came knocking on the door, my mother would find something wrong with him. ‘What, you’re taking my daughter out on a donkey? You couldn’t afford to rent a car!’”
The kids looked up with curiosity as the two women convulsed in laughter.
As they watched the kids play, Leah looked sadly at her friend. “I just don’t understand why nobody is good enough. Almost all the boys I went out with have gotten married and to great girls. Obviously their mothers thought these boys were ‘worthy’ enough. Why is she so hypercritical of each and every guy?”
Leah was to ask herself this question many times over the next few months. The answer came one day while she was in the shoe store. An elderly woman accompanied by a graying, middle-aged woman had walked out of the door just as she came in, and Leah realized that she had seen the pair before, had actually seen them several times shopping in the neighborhood. She had assumed that the younger woman was a caregiver or companion. She was stunned to hear one of the older shoppers in the store comment, with obvious envy, how lucky Mrs. Rotgerber was to have such a devoted daughter attending to her constantly.
“What else should she do?” one matron dryly commented. “She never got married.”
“I wonder why not,” another asked. “I remember she was a nice looking girl. A shame she never found anyone.”
“Ah, she had plenty of opportunities,” sniffed another lady as she examined a shoe. “But you know how it is – she was just too picky.”
“Ah, picky, smicky, it’s just an excuse. Some kids don’t want to leave the nest. So many mamma’s boys, and momma’s girls too.”
“Hey, it’s not a one way street. There are plenty of momma birds who don’t want the chicks to leave the nest. They find ways of keeping them from flying off.”
“What are you talking about? Every mother wants her kids to get married, to give her nachas. They are on the phone with shadchanim day and night.”
“Listen to me, some mothers hate the idea of an empty nest. They don’t want to let go of their kids. Who wants to be alone? Does Mrs. Rotgerber look miserable to you – with her daughter home and attending to her every need? She doesn’t think that after 120 her daughter will be all alone.”
Leah sat transfixed; her eyes wide open as she listened to the ladies’ chatter. The words, “there are momma birds who don’t want the chicks to leave the nest” kept ringing in her ears.
Six months and several dozen family therapy sessions later, Leah – with her mother’s blessing – became a kallah.
Her husband to be was a 30-year-old, balding, slightly stooped accountant with uneven teeth but a smile that lit up the room.
Years later, this good-hearted man took his ailing mother-in-law into his home and helped the wife he adored to care for her until the day Mrs. Bredin was reunited with her own beloved husband.
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