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Too Many Degrees Of Separation


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In my previous column I mentioned that a matchmaking initiative called the NASI Project was generating an avalanche of discussions, debates and disagreements regarding its value in effectively dealing with what is referred to in Orthodox communities as the shidduch crisis.  It seems that pro or con, no-one has a “parve” opinion about it merits or feasibility – but everyone agrees that there are too many older singles whose path to the chuppah is getting more arduous and out of reach.  For them and their hand -wringing parents, there are sleepless nights, despair and heartache.

I suggested another possible tool in helping the unmarried to change their status quo, and borrowed from an exhortation from America’s Homeland Security to ordinary folk – keep your eyes and ears open, and if you think you saw or heard something noteworthy, tell someone.  Anyone, young or old, single or married, who knows or is aware of someone single, should be part of a proactive process in setting that person up.

Even ten-year-old Malky in Brooklyn can tell her 23-year-old cousin in Chicago about her wonderful 21-year-old babysitter – and get the shidduch ball rolling.

Everyone can be a shadchan.   There have been numerous matches from shidduch suggestions that came from the most unlikely sources.

I know of a case where a quiet, middle-aged accountant happened to mention to his chavursah that his wife’s 24-year-old nephew was visiting from out of town.  His learning partner casually said that his neighbor had a daughter who was 23. They told their wives. The couple is now happily married with a baby.

In particular, married people can be an invaluable resource in getting people set up. One way is to invite singles in their community to a Shabbat meal, whether with both genders together or separately (if that is their haskafah), find out more about the individuals, and when at a gathering, like a tea, wedding, shiur, at the gym, or even at a poker or mah jong game, swap stories and network with their friends.

People across the frum spectrum bemoan what they feel is a dearth of “good” boys or girls.  But I strongly believe that is not the case, that there actually are plenty individuals of both genders to go out with. The reason it seems that there is a limited selection of worthy candidates to date is because the observant olam has created an enormous obstacle – one that has greatly hindered and horribly impacted this generation’s ability to get married.  I call this phenomenon: “too many degrees of separation.”

How many of us have made shidduch suggestions that we really felt, based on our knowledge of a particular boy or girl, had a lot of potential, only to be told by a parent or the single her/himself, that it wasn’t shayach – not appropriate or didn’t apply.  In a majority of cases, the suggestion was summarily turned down, due to what I view as very flimsy nuances of religiosity. Not too long ago, almost indiscernible “variances” in Yiddishkeit did not exist; they weren’t even blips on the “radar” when setting people up.  However, in today’s veldt, any gradation or hint of a difference can invalidate someone’s suitability.

Here are two true stories (with minor changes in the details) to illustrate this self-imposed degree of separation:

Mrs. A. calls Mrs. B. to suggest her sister’s daughter for Mrs. B’s son.  Mrs. A. herself has a daughter in the parsha, but the girl wants a long time learner and Mrs. B’s son learned in bais medrash for several years, but also earned credits for a college degree and makes a decent living.  While he goes to a pre-Shachris shiur and davens with a minyan and learns in the evening, he nonetheless is a “working boy” and not for her daughter.  Mrs. B. thanks Mrs. A. for thinking of her son for her niece, but shares that he is “busy” (currently seeing someone). However, she on the other hand knows an erliche boy for Mrs. A’s daughter; he is planning on learning indefinitely. She mentions the “Black Hat” yeshiva this fine young man attended. Mrs. A. immediately turns the offer down.  It’s not the “right” Black Hat yeshiva for her family and not shayach.

A girl, 27, is redt a shidduch.  She is a lovely young lady but tall and people are reluctant to set her up with boys she will tower over. A boy, who is 26 lives in a small but heimishe community and comes from a “nice” family known for their philanthropy and middos.  And he is tall.   He is willing to meet her even though she is “older.” She however, says no. Why?  In the photo she was shown of him, he was wearing a colored shirt (as opposed to a white one). She feels their “hashkafos” aren’t compatible.  He is too “modern.”

In both cases, Mrs. A. and the young lady did not even try to find out what kind of person the young man was. Was he easy going, generous, saw the glass half full as opposed to half empty; was he hard working; punctual; considerate; sincere; self-sufficient or was he self-centered, impatient, expecting meals and laundry on demand when his wife came home from work?

Instead, there was immediate rejection of the shidduch. And the tragedy is that this girl/mother might have thrown away someone who might have been an amazing spouse; or having met and not feeling they were meant for each other, set him/her up with a friend who might be. A lost opportunity for themselves and for someone else.

In the not so distant past, if someone was kosher and shomer Shabbos, that made him/her eligible for a date.  Short, tall, fat or skinny, natty dresser or shlump, day school educated or yeshiva graduate, there was no shidduch crisis because there were no nit-picky degrees of separation.  If the couple liked each other as people, they continued the relationship and would try to make it work via mutual compromise and respect.  Or they parted if the differences were too great and not reconcilable. But at least they gave it a shot, at least they made an informed decision, and did not allow some vague, capricious, preconceived and ultimately self-defeating baseless bias stop them from cracking open the door.  Perhaps it’s time to put aside our inflated sense of “specialness” and go back to the old ways, for the sake of our hapless children and Jewish continuity.

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