Posts Tagged ‘West End Avenue’
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)
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I was referred to speak with you by Rebbetzin _________________, wife of the late Rabbi ________________________ of ___________. The rabbi, zt’l, was my spiritual mentor and good friend, and prior to his unfortunate passing at a young age, I found solace and comfort in his wisdom and advice.
Since his passing however, our community has been without a rabbi, and I have had no one to turn to for advice on Jewish matters. Rebbetzin Jungreis, I have a question that has plagued me and is seriously hampering my religious growth. I do not feel capable of moving forward
and find myself slipping backwards because this question so much affects my belief in Hashem.
We are taught that Hashem is kind, loving, just and benevolent, and it is He who created the world and continues to play an active role. The book, ‘The Jewish Theory of Everything’ outlines this quite clearly and makes a clear and lucid argument for Hashem’s continuing role in the world. However, if HaShem is so kind, caring just, loving and benevolent, why does He allow children to suffer? Why are innocent helpless children abused, raped, left to starve to death, neglected, left to suffocate in locked cars, etc.”
You would think if Hashem was indeed involved in the world then he would take pains that innocent children do not suffer. I can grasp the concept that adults are capable of making choices between good and evil, but children are incapable of making that choice, nor should they be forced to suffer because some foolish adult chose evil over good.
I am beginning to believe that perhaps Hashem created the world and then turned around and walked away (figuratively speaking, of course). As a new mother, this question is on my mind constantly and I am concerned that it is starting to affect my entire belief system. I feel as if I am on a downward spiral and I would like to resolve this conflict so that I can raise my son as a good frum Jew with complete faith in Hashem.
I have read both ‘The Committed Life’ and ‘The Committed Marriage’ and found them both to be inspirational and applicable to my life.
Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail and I look forward to your advice.
Letter # 2: ‘Where Do My Prayers Go?’
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I don’t know if you can help me. I really don’t know why I am writing, but I feel so full of pain and sorrow that I just feel that I have to share my thoughts with someone – and you, Rebbetzin, are the person who came to mind.
I have attended your classes at K.J. on Tuesday nights and also on Thursday nights on West End Avenue. I read your book - you touched and inspired me, but now I feel empty. My loneliness is unbearable. I am 44, never married, an only child of Holocaust survivors. I have no aunts or uncles. My parents’ families all perished in Auschwitz, so I’m truly alone. Five years ago, my father died, and now, my mother has been taken from me. In this entire world, I have no one. If I die tomorrow, no one will cry … no one will miss me, no one will even take note. Perhaps at my workplace, I’ll be missed, but they will quickly replace me, and in a few days, I’ll be forgotten.
All that I can handle - I guess that that’s my lot in life. I never married and never had the privilege of having children - and now it’s too late. Please don’t think that I am one of those feminists who intentionally refrained from marriage in order to focus on a career. That was not the case at all. I just didn’t have mazel…but it is what it is. I realize that I can’t turn the clock back, and I accept it, but what I cannot accept is the death of my mother. I always loved her deeply, but to tell the truth, for many years, we weren’t that close. She was a Holocaust survivor, and was overly-cautious and controlling, which I found very difficult to take. She wanted me to live at home until such time as I married, but we were always in conflict, so I felt it would be healthier for me to move out and take my own place, but unfortunately, that decision created an even greater rift between us.
Six months ago, she had a coronary followed by a stroke which left her totally incapacitated.. I realized then how precious she was to me and how deeply I loved her, so I closed up my apartment and moved back home. I prayed like never before that G-d give her years. I felt so close to her - we bonded in such a special way. For the first time, there was no tension between us. On days when she felt better, she would share stories of the Holocaust with me. In the past, she never spoke about her concentration camp experiences. Our relationship took on a new life.
My mother was never observant. Like many of her friends - other Holocaust survivors, she gave up on religion. But in those last few months of her life, her attitude changed. I would play your Torah tapes for her and she loved them. I even asked her if she would pray with me - something I had never seen her do. Amazingly, she agreed and she would repeat the prayers that I recited.
The doctors were satisfied with her progress, and I was really hoping that G-d had accepted our prayers and would perform a miracle, but then, He took her away. So I ask you, Rebbetzin, where did all those prayers go? What’s the point of praying? For the first time, we were close. I wanted so much to have more time with her, and it wasn’t given to me.
Since my mother died, I cannot pray and I haven’t attended any classes. I just can’t believe any more. I guess you’d call it a crisis in faith. Do you have any answers? Can you help me?
In that same column, I also published a letter from a young girl who was in the shidduch parsha and was committed to marrying a full and long-term learner, but she too was conflicted by the fact that her parents could not lend any assistance and she would have to be the sole breadwinner. These letters evoked much comment, and I published two of the responses – one from a 23-year-old young woman who has been dating for the past three years hoping to find someone who is machshiv Torah (devoted to learning) and also capable of earning a living. The second letter came from a 22-year-old Beis Yaakov girl who was experiencing the same frustrations, but who also had to live with the reality that her mother is an almanah – widow, and is unable to offer any help. Both young women come from yeshivishe families, and are determined to marry bochrim to whom Torah learning is a priority, but who would also understand that mothering children cannot be relegated to strangers.
‘I want to be the primary mechaneches – educator of my children…’ ‘I want to be able to be alert, awake and relaxed enough to create a warm, Torah-filled, loving home for my family…. I want to imbue my children with love of Torah and Yiddishkeit, and I don’t want to rely on a babysitter to fill this role…’ ‘I want my home to be a makom Torah, my children to be b’nei and bas Torah, but I also want to be able to do this… to have my children see their mother actively involved, and if I am working, how will they ever see that? Children need a mother in the home who will actualize these lessons? wrote the 23-year-old. While she was open to the idea of supporting her spouse for a year or two, she wrote that the ‘good boys’ who are machshevei Torah want to learn full-time for many, many years. Her question is, should she date these boys even though she knows that neither she nor her family can provide long-term support, or should she restrict her search to those who are planning to earn a livelihood? She also writes that she is confused and doesn’t quite understand when and how the roles of men and women were reversed. Traditionally, it was always women who were in charge of the home and the husbands were the breadwinners. Today however, women are expected to assume responsibility for both.
The second letter writer wrote that the mother of a young yeshiva man who had been recommended to her, actually asked her how much money she was earning because she wanted to be certain that her son would be supported comfortably. Her question is: Is it fair for young women to run themselves ragged while juggling the impossible, and is it fair to see parents working two jobs and killing themselves to support their sons-in-law?
This is not a question of what is fair. Actually, the word ‘fair’ does not exist in Lashon HaKodesh – the Hebrew language. Either things are right or they are wrong, and there is no quick or easy answer. For some people, working and homemaking may be right, while for others – women who run themselves ragged, parents who have or work two jobs, it is wrong and disastrous. Each person must be aware of his/her own limitations and not allow peer or social pressure to place them in an untenable situation. Not every girl can be a Rachel and not every man can be a Rabbi Akiva, but we must all be Yirei Shamayim (G-d fearing) and make our hishtadlus ‘ put forth our best efforts to fulfill our mission in life.
You are quite correct when you note that somewhere along the way, a role reversal has taken place. And as a result women are expected to be both homemakers and providers. In the Kesuba however – the marriage contract, it is clearly stated that it is the husband who must commit himself to supporting and sustaining his wife and yet, despite this, there are mothers like the one described by the second letter writer, who have the audacity to interview a prospective kallah and ask how much she earns, and whether she will be able to provide for her son comfortably. It is neither right nor realistic to expect women to be supermoms and super-earners. Under such pressures, something is bound to give. In many instances they just collapse under the pressure.
Undoubtedly, there are exceptional young men who should be learning full-time and undisturbed, and there are families, Baruch HaShem, who are able to support them, but this does not apply to everyone. There are some excellent young men however, who are ‘learner/earners’, who are kovea itim - who set time aside daily to pursue their Torah studies and at the same time, earn a livelihood, and I believe that it is in this direction that you should both focus when considering Shidduchim. To accept dates from Yeshiva young men who plan to be full/long time learners can only lead to disappointment and conflict since you cannot deliver that which they seek.
I know that it is not-easy to find that special young man who meets all those qualifications, but the Ribbonoh Shel Olam is ‘Mezaveg Zeevugim’ - It is He who makes the matches, and surely, your shidduch is already waiting for you, You need only maintain your bitachon – your trust and faith. Do a lot of davening (especially mincha) and make your hishtadlus – spare no effort in contacting friends, neighbors, and rebbeim in yeshivos, and you can call upon me as well. May I suggest that you come down to Hineni either in Tuesday evening at Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85 Street, at 7:00 p.m. or on Thursday at The Hineni Heritage Center, 232 West End Avenue at 8:15 p.m.