Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bubbe's Always Right

“My grandson Yossel is so smart, he finished Shas for the first time when he was 5!” Fruma exclaimed.

“Is that so?” Shprintza inquired.

“Yes ma’am! It was his first major accomplishment after he was potty trained,” Fruma puffed out her chest with pride.

“You don’t say!” Shprintza thumbed her fist on the armrest of her chair.

“I do say!” Fruma retorted.

“That’s what I said!”

“What?!” Fruma held her hand to her ear.

“I said, that’s what I said!” Shprintza cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted.

“I can’t hear you, my hearing aid needs adjusting,” Fruma poked at the device. It warbled and whined momentarily, then fell silent.

Well,” Shprintza sat up straighter, “My granddaughter, Sarala is so smart they let her run the whole production when she was still in the 7th grade!”

Fruma tilted her head at an angle. “I don’t believe that for a minute.”

“It’s true, I have the program with her name in the credits right here,” Shprintza lifted her purse onto her lap and pulled out a wrinkled, faded photocopy. “See here, I even circled it so it’d be easier to find,” she handed Fruma the well-worn sheet of paper, pointing at the big red circle around a few words.

“Are you kidding me, look how small this print is, no one can read this!” She squinted. “It could say President Roosevelt for all I know!”

Shprintza raised an eyebrow. “Theodore or Franklin Delano?”

“There were two of them?” Fruma asked, puzzled.

“Weren’t they brothers?” Shprintza scratched her head. Fruma shrugged and looked back down at the program, brow furrowed in concentration.

“Anyway,” Shprintza continued, snatching the paper from her friend’s hands. “My granddaughter is so aidel, she’s the most sought after girl for shidduchim in the tri-state area. Believe it or not, the boys all line up for her!”

Fruma eyes widened in disbelief, “You’re yanking my chain! That’s impossible!”

“You better believe it! Her list of potential boys is five whole pages long,” Shprintza jabbed a finger in the air for emphasis. “And that’s front and back, too.”

Feh,” Fruma waved her hand dismissively. “I gua-ran-tee that my grandson Yossel wouldn’t even think about going out with what’s-her-name.” Shprintza looked at her friend as though she’d been slapped.

“You know what? You’re grandson, what’s-his-face, isn’t even good enough for my Sarala!”

“Is that so?” Fruma countered.

“Well, I say it’s so, so of course’s it’s so!” an irritated Shprintza spat. Her dentures flopped out of her mouth and landed in her lap. “Now look what you made me do!” She yammered and quickly popped them back in. Fruma twittered with laughter, slapping her thigh.

“I bet you that if your granddaughter were redt to my Yossel that he wouldn’t even have to consider it for thirty seconds before he turned her down!”

“Ha! Says you! Your grandson couldn’t even make it to the bottom of Sarala’s list! The moment she even heard your grandson’s name she’d know he wouldn’t be worth the time it took to call his references!” Shprintza fired back.

“What do you know, anyway!” Fruma fumed. “If your Dovidel-”


Fruma paused mid-rant. “I thought you said his name was Dovidel?”

“Yossel, for crying out loud!” Shprintza shook her fists in the air “You got a hole in your head or something?”

“Fine. Yossidovel or whatever, if you could actually convince him to go out with Sarala, I bet you a million dollars she’d call the shadchan the second he dropped her off at her house and turn him down for a second date!”

“You think so?!” Shprintza thundered. “He’d reject her so fast, he’d probably even call the shadchan with her in the car to say no to a second date.”

Fruma cocked her head at an angle and shot Shprintza a disapproving look. “Now that’s not middos tovos!”

Shprintza scrunched up her face in a scowl. “He’d only do it because Shirala-”

“Sarala!” Fruma interjected.

“-would have been such a horrible date! It’d be real sakanos nafashos, even,” Shprintza finished in a serious tone.

“Now you’re lying through your false teeth!” Fruma raised an angry fist. “No one talks about my Sarala like that!”

“Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?” Shprintza taunted, waving her hands on either side of her head.

“I’ll give you a potch so hard, your girdle will turn backward!”

“I’d like to see you try, you old fogey!” Shprintza raised her hands like a boxer. “I took tai-chi on Thursdays last month, you better watch yourself!” She slowly chopped the air a few times.

“Just you wait ‘til I get over there and I’ll knock you into next Tuesday!” Fruma challenged.

“Why I oughta!”

“No you oughtn’t-a!”

A sudden knock on the door startled the pair of octogenarians, bringing them back to reality. They both hurriedly cleared their throats, and called out “Please come in!” together. The door swung open gently.

“Hi bubbe!”

“Yossel, my boy!”

“Good afternoon, Grandma!”

“Sarala, it’s so nice to see you!”

Fruma and Shprintza fell silent and stared at each other in suspicion.

“What’re you trying to pull?” Fruma demanded in a low voice.

“What’s your game?” Shprintza answered in kind.

Yossel walked over and sat down next to his grandmother. “Bubbe, I’ve got some exciting news for you.”

“I knew it!” Shprintza leapt from her chair to hug her grandson. “You’re engaged, aren’t you?!”

“How’d you know?” Yossel smiled broadly. Shprintza peeked over his shoulder and stuck her tongue out at Fruma.

“So, nu, who’s the lucky girl?” Shprintza inquired warmly.

“I am!” Sarala chirped with glee.

“No kiddin’!?” Fruma held her hand against her cheek. “That’s so exciting!” Fruma enveloped Sarala in an embrace, and winked at her friend, whose jaw hung slack from her face.

“Well, if that ain’t that the baker’s blintz!” Shprintza said.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Awkward Dating Moments - Birthdays

Birthdays. We all have them, most are hopefully happy - though some not, and we all enjoy celebrating birthdays with friends and family (mostly).

But what happens when you have a birthday during a shidduch date? Or your date has a birthday during the period of time you are dating him/her?

It is rather awkward to celebrate such a personal occasion with someone you hardly know, whether your own (what shaychus do they really have to you to commemorate your birthday?) or his/hers (it seems akin to walking up to some random friend-of-a-friend from Facebook and trying to be part of their birthday party).

While this may seem like a rhetorical question for some, it happened to me several times, with differing results.

The first question is: should you even acknowledge the occurence of the birthday at all? If you legitimately had no clue and only found out after the fact, then that saves you from this dilemma. But if you DO know about your date's forthcoming birthday, I think it would be a bit rude not to recognize the occasion at all. Most people who give out shidduch profiles have their birthdate right there for anyone to plainly see. The person could have also mentioned the fact of their approaching birthday in passing conversation, chit-chat about what's going on in his/her life - as in, "I'm going out with my friends for my 21st birthday this weekend." In any case, if you are aware, I find it appropriate do recognize the birthday somehow.

The next question that always came to mind was, do I need to get her a present of some sort?

I think the entire matter largely depends on exactly how far along the relationship has progressed. Granted, any real gift purchase might seem to her that you are expressing a level of affection that might not be appropriate at that point in time (say within the first 1-5 dates). Even if you are further along, say a month or two into the shidduch, do you really know the person well enough and feel enough emotional connection to justify a buying him/her anything substantial? No matter what the scenario, I never bought anything major whatsoever, and would advise doing the same.

The simple solution is just getting a card, particularly one with something cute/funny and related to something they like/enjoy. If your date has mentioned liking a particular TV show or something else in pop culture - or even some random thing that can found as a theme in a birthday card - why not buy it for him/her? The effort and money spent are very minimal, and if you actually like the other person, this little token of recognition could spur further reciprocal feelings.

For a guy who's date is having a birthday, a single rose or whatever other flower she likes might work as well. No reason to go overboard and get a bouquet, especially a rose bouquet, which is usually associated with a proposal.

If you're going out to dinner, why not secretly inform the staff about your date's birthday (this goes for both guys and girls) for a surprise dessert/rendition of "happy birthday?"

I've personally gone the card/small gift route, and have received similar gifts in return. Of course, nothing tops ASoG's expensive hard-backed comic book she so very thoughtfully bought me after our date at the now-defunct 66th street Barnes and Noble.

Any else have any interesting birthday related dating experiences?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Post Wedding Report Part 7: The End - Or - The Beginning

Welcome to the 7th and final part of my Post Wedding Report. This has been a project that was in the works for a long time, but I'm glad to have finally completed it. Enjoy!

Before you read this post, don't forget to check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6!

Dancing was intense and very fun. I say intense for two reasons – my friends were really, really into it, and because I had eaten a little too much in the yichud room, so I was very focused on not having my delicious break-the-fast meal revisit me on the dance floor. I had listened to the advice of an older married friend who suggested we request the caterer to serve real food in the yichud room and not just cake and soda. This was great advice, but I will add to it that despite how hungry you, as the chosson or kallah might be (and generally the chosson is the more likely of the two to actually eat anything significant) don’t push yourself. Aside from the usual stomach shrinkage due to fasting, you’ve also been on pins and needles all day with excitement, anticipation, and a healthy dose of nervousness, so your stomach really can’t handle so much, and it certainly can’t handle a lot of spinning around in circles afterward. Thus, during the first set, I had to ask those dancing with me to slow down or not spin as much to prevent any messy scenarios.

The band was fantastic, and really did a great job getting everyone present into a simcha-mindset with their energetic performance.

During our engagement, I did my very best to keep to my rebbe’s advice that he imparted to ASoG and I when we first met with him after we got engaged, which was to “be cool” throughout the engagement process and let our parents do as much of the planning as possible. However, the band wasn’t something that I could just leave to my parents or future in-laws to take care of. In fact, this was pretty much the only thing I had any desire to be involved with vis-à-vis planning the wedding, and I had to make sure that the band we had was a good one.

I’m a big fan of Jewish music (as evidenced by a number of posts on this blog), and I had debated with myself for a while what style of band I wanted at our wedding: either the very standard orchestra type, with the blaring brass instruments and loud, pounding sound, or the more laid-back 4-5 member band set up with the focus on acoustic/electric guitars. Think Neshama Orchestra versus The Moshav Band. My dilemma was to go with the stereotypical wedding band sound, which, despite its tendency to burst eardrums, honestly infuses a lot of energy into the dancing, or the more b’nachas approach, which although lacking the oomph of the big-band approach, is far more leibedig. In the end, I decided to go with the non-orchestral approach, and I don’t regret it for a moment.

The dancing was a big deal for me, since it was the part of our wedding where all the different people in attendance, who represented all the different time periods of my life joined with each other in one big mixture to celebrate together. I had friends there from pre-school/middle school, high school/NCSY, my yeshiva in Israel, and Yeshiva University – aside from all the relatives and friends who came in from my hometown. It was truly wonderful to see all the diverse elements of my life come together in such a beautiful mosaic of simcha.

The shtick was amazing, and turned out to be almost as good as, if not as good as it would have been had I planned it all myself. I had dropped a few hints here and there regarding some things that I wanted to see, such as my request for one pair of friends who randomly did the Macarena in a hilarious fashion at another mutual friend’s wedding to do a repeat performance at mine. However, some guys totally surprised me, knowing exactly what in-jokes to play off of even without my suggestions. Even the bits of shtick that I did request were done better than I had imagined. There was also a lot of shtick that I had no clue was coming, but was executed very well and drew many laughs and smiles from ASoG and I.

As a result of all of this wedding related merriment, I’ve heard dozens and dozens of comments from those that were there that our wedding was one of the best they’ve ever been to. We didn’t go overboard with excessive frills that are often found at weddings nowadays, but we managed to have an amazing simcha – largely in part to all of my friends who came. Even the disparate groups, such as my hometown friends and my YU friends, all worked together very cohesively, instead of the “take turns” method I’ve seen at other weddings where the different groups share the chosson back and forth because they don’t want to have anything to do with each other. I really can’t take any credit for how wonderful everything was, because the guys really outdid themselves with the dancing, shtick, and celebrating – it seemed like everyone had their simcha-meter dial cranked up past the maximum limit. My family also really got into the shtick performances when they brought ASoG over to sit with me. Even my less-religious relatives got in on the game and seemingly had a great time.

The girls’ side, from what I heard/saw (and witnessed in the video) wasn’t quite the same as ours. ASoG tells me she enjoyed everything – with the exception of the silly umbrella breaking confetti-filled balloons thing – which I still don’t understand whatsoever.

At the end of the first set, everyone danced us over to the head table in the typical fashion (after refusing to stop dancing, as is usually seen). The photographer scuttled over and wanted to take the prerequisite hand washing pictures, even though we had already washed and begun to eat in the yichud room. We obliged, taking turns pouring water over each other’s hands and me posing with the big challah and knife – though I don’t think anyone ever ate any of it.

Of course, as I had been forewarned, we didn’t really have a chance to eat much during the break. My mother had told me before the wedding that we should go around to eat table to greet all our guests, but I insisted that we weren’t going to do that for two reasons 1) We were going to be exhausted from the fasting and dancing (which we were) and 2) If we’re the king and queen for the day and it’s everyone’s job to entertain us, then they should come to us and not vice versa – which is basically what happened. There were guests who wanted to say hello and mazal tov, others who were leaving early wanted to say goodbye and mazal tov, and others just came by to visit. Before we knew it, we were back on the dance floor for round two.

One thing I particularly enjoyed during the dancing (all three sets) was the individual partner dancing with my friends, relatives, and rabbeim. As each one emerged from the throngs to grab my hands and begin his own personal dance – and there were many different sorts – the crowd let out a cheer and turned the dancing and singing up a notch. It was so meaningful to go one-by-one and dance with each of my friends, and even more so with all of my rabbeim who were present, which ran the spectrum of my Jewish educational career, starting from my local day school when I wasn’t really religious all the way to my rebbe at YU.

After the second set they brought out the dessert buffet, and ASoG and I made a point to cut our cake, which had been largely ignored the entire evening. Of course, I’m sure everyone was waiting for us to cut it, and take our cutesy feeding each other pieces of cake pictures, but even after that very few were willing to try some. I cut up a bunch of pieces and started calling out to people to please take. There was a large group of women huddled nearby chatting, so I got their attention and told them that they need to take a piece, since the wedding was already over and there was no need to worry about fitting in their dresses anymore. I only got a few more takers from that offer…

By the time the last set started most of the attendees had left for the evening – it was getting later after all. Nevertheless, a core group of my friends refused to let the liveliness of the celebration die down, and they yanked me back onto the dance floor once again. I remember someone once explained to me how the last dance set is really the most important, because the majority of guests have already gone, and you need to make sure the chosson and kallah aren’t left twiddling their thumbs the remainder of the time the band has on their contract. These fellows were definitely some of my closest friends, and they didn’t disappoint whatsoever. As per ASoG’s family tradition, we did jump rope with a big sparkly streamer-thing, and it turns out I was pretty good (I could leap rather high). We started off a bit rough since one of the rope-swingers was a little on the short side, which made for uneven rotations, but once we got two taller guys to take the job, we were in business.

My friends kept things going strong up until the last minute, when someone came in and said that our limousine was due to arrive shortly, and we needed to wrap things up. We semi-abruptly ran over to our table to begin sheva brachos. At this point, I had forgotten my list of kibbudim somewhere in the hall, and with my second copy, which my uncle had had at the chupa also missing in action, my shomer saved the day with my third back-up copy, which I had given him for just such a scenario. It turned out a number of the guests we had wanted to say a sheva bracha at the bentsching had already left, so we improvised for a few selections.

We finished the last sheva bracha after which ASoG and I sipped the awful tasting hall-provided wine again and passed around the leftovers for all the eager singles to get their segulah wine. Our remaining friends quickly lined up for parting words and to receive brachos from us. We had to do this in a bit of a hurry because the limousine driver had already arrive and was beginning to threaten that he’d leave without us if we didn’t get downstairs soon enough.

In my previous wedding attendance experience, I’ve seen the chosson either give generic brachos to the guys that they learn a lot and find their kallah, or actually make an effort to be more personal and formulate a bracha that is direct and more meaningful. I did my best to opt for the latter, which always made a lot more sense and made me feel far more appreciative when I was the on the receiving end of those brachos.

We managed to collect almost all of the wedding shtick we had, though a few semi-important/expensive things ended up missing and were never found. ASoG and I ran to the yichud room to gather our belongings and grab our prepared food to take with us. I handed off my kitel and a few other things to my mother to take back home, and we dashed down the stairs to catch our ride.

The photographer was long gone at this point, so we don’t have any official pictures of us leaving/getting in the limo. The driver was particularly determined to leave at the appointed time, so we ended up running out without even saying goodbye to our fathers, who were left behind to deal with paying the hall manager and the band leader. A small group escorted us with our things into the limo, we said our goodbyes and headed off to our hotel.

The limousine ride had a sort of magical quality to it, since this was the first time we truly were totally alone as husband and wife. All the ceremonies and celebrations were over, and we finally had a chance to relax and take a deep breath as Mr. and Mrs. Shades of Grey, without worrying about that bothersome knock on the door to the yichud room. We made it! We survived the engagement and the wedding, and although a lot more lay ahead for us, we were ecstatic over the new life we were beginning.

I won’t divulge anything further about that evening, for obvious reasons, other than that it turned out the hotel we stayed at was hosting several weddings that night. As we pulled up to the front driveway, dozens of drunken men and women were milling about, clearly continuing to party long after the wedding they attended had ended. A number of them saw the white limo, ran over and thumped the car with their fits, cheering us on – I think they may have mistaken us for their own recently wedded friends. At any rate, we successfully managed to avoid the unwelcome visitors and enter the hotel, quite exhausted, but filled with joy at the life we were beginning together.

So ends my series of Post Wedding Reports detailing all the ins-and-outs of our special day. I’m glad I was able to complete them, despite many delays, and hope I can look back on this record, along with our video, to help me recall the funny, bizarre, meaningful, and happy goings-on that we experienced.

Was everything absolutely perfect, just the way I envisioned it? Nope – see my post about the pictures as one example. However, the amount of things that went right far outweighed the issues and incongruities that popped up. Life isn’t perfect, and weddings certainly aren’t perfect. The main thing is to focus on the most important aspect of the wedding; namely, the fact that you are marrying the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with. All the other mishugas simply falls away when viewed from that proper perspective.

The wedding is truly only a start to life together, but it encapsulates a level of simcha as of yet unparalleled in one’s life. However, as Rav Reichman told us at Chana and Heshy’s sheva brachos, this elevated intensity of simcha does not last, and does in fact fade away as normal life sets in following the week of sheva brachos. The key for any married couple is to understand that this is but a taste of the true simcha that can be attained in marriage – a realistic goal that can be attained through hard work, dedication, mutual giving, and lots of love.

Someone recently told us that he’s been married for 24 years and it only gets better and better. I hope that we can strive to embody Rav Reichman’s lesson, and use our wedding as a model for the happiness we want to achieve and maintain throughout our lives. May everyone who is married take this lesson to heart and focus their attention on working together to ascend spiritual heights together, and may everyone not yet married soon experience this great joy and begin their own journey to recapture and relive the elation of their wedding day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Year(s) In Israel: Good, Bad, Ugly?

Chana’s husband Heshy recently posted a note on Facebook that briefly touches upon an issue I know Chana has already discussed quite thoroughly: the year in Israel. As someone who did not attend a seminary before starting Stern College, and who is firmly rooted in halacha, I have always found Chana’s perspective to be unique and very much worth listening to.

I attended a yeshiva in Israel for two complete years before I entered Yeshiva University. My experience was very positive overall, with a few bumps along the way that I would attribute to either my personal relationships or the often kind of crazy group of guys I ended up going to yeshiva with.

As a ba’al teshuva originally coming from a very traditional, though not entirely halachically observant background, I imagined I would be behind the curve with regard to my learning skills, religious observance, and other areas. I was honestly shocked beyond shocked at the behavior, language, and general demeanor of the majority of guys I encountered when I began Shana Aleph. These young men were products of the major yeshiva high schools (co-ed and not) in North America, which, due to my complete ignorance of such institutions, made me think they’d also be serious about learning and growing, being open minded toward deepening their already firm religious commitments and personal hashkafos.

Boy, was I wrong. As I learned, it turned out that so many of the big-named Jewish high schools out there were very unsuccessful at making sure the guys who went there were truly observant, enjoyed learning, and developed toward adulthood. I’m not pointing fingers at the school as the only factor in the issues that plague teenagers (male and female) across the Modern Orthodox world, but I certainly think these schools are a major factor, along with inattentive/overly lax parents, peer pressure, and the secular media.

Anyway, my intention in this post isn’t to bash Modern Orthodox high school education or the students or parents that are a part of this system. Rather, I want to focus on what I have seen and experienced, while in Israel through my time at YU until the present, that suggests the year in Israel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or that it just isn’t obligatory for every single kid out there.

Based on my rather positive experience in Israel, I used to be of the mindset that everyone had to go, or at least should go to Israel for a year (or two) post high school. After seeing a few friends attend my yeshiva after starting off somewhere else, it seemed like everyone had a yeshiva/seminary they could attend, it’s just a matter finding which one is the right fit. Certainly going to the wrong yeshiva can be detrimental, but with the multitude of options out there, there had to be some particular school that fit every personality, right?

As it turns out, it’s not so simple.

I heard Dr. Pelcovitz quote that there is strong evidence from research done on high school students who attend a yeshiva or seminary in Israel that there is a subset of teenagers who should never have gone in the first place. Something like 10-15% if I recall, but don’t quote me on the numbers. These students tend to degrade and become less religious and connected to Judaism because of their experience, basically having the total opposite effect that they and perhaps their parents had intended when sending them on that El Al plane to Ben Gurion.

I never had any real issues or negative encounters with rabbeim, as some people I know (or personally witnessed) did. These students probably fell into this group Dr. Pelcovitz mentioned, and were either in the wrong yeshiva, or perhaps in the wrong country entirely. I personally observed a few individuals who were, by nature, rather inquisitive and not so willing to listen to or accept anything the rabbis told them. I’m not in any way suggesting that this is a fault on their part, because I have no right to judge them or say they have a corrupted mindset that wouldn’t allow them to experience a religiously defining experience. However, they probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place, because their personal netiyah was not of the sort that would benefit from the format of current yeshivas in Israel. I don’t think they necessarily disliked rabbis or Judaism, but I do think that this manner of study and the environment they found themselves in were not the best conditions for their personal growth and investment in what Judaism and being observant of mitzvos really meant to them.

I guess you could say I was one of the “success stories” who came to Israel looking to learn, grow, and further solidify by Jewish identity. I saw other students (few in number) who had similar mindsets, while most of the guys eventually came around and benefitted tremendously from their yeshiva experience did not arrive with those intentions whatsoever. They were happy to be away from their parents, came to Israel because it was the thing to do, and perhaps pondered the notion that they might get something out of it. When the time was right, when their minds and hearts were open, they found their niche and successfully developed it over the course of one or two years in Israel.

Then there are the “flip outs.” Some students go to Israel seeking to flip out for one reason or another, and for some students it happens to just grab them and never let go. In either case, I personally would like to make the distinction between those who honestly discover their true “calling” as it were, and those who devolve into a cult-like relationship with their Judaism and rabbeim.

I firmly believe that there are supposed to be specific individuals (I say individuals, because Chazal have many quotes about these people, and they call them “yechidim”) who should be learning Torah 24/7, and who then become our next generation of teachers, rabbeim, rosh kollels, poskim, and gedolei hador. But, they are few and far between. However those people get to be where they need to be is irrelevant, but hopefully they will catch the opportunity to maximize their potential and fulfill their divinely ordained role in this world for the betterment of all of klal Yisrael.

While this process can often be shocking to their parents, family, and friends, I think (and have seen) that those who are truly honest and level-headed about becoming more “yeshivish” or whatever you want to call it, will find ways to gracefully handle the transformation and how it affects those near and dear to them. As one of my rabbeim told me in a pre-Pesach shiur for guys going back for bein hazmanim, for every chumra out there halacha also has a legitimate kulah that is perfectly acceptable. One should strive to find the proper balance between his personal observances and the needs and sensitivities of those around him, especially parents, and it is far better to be maykil, and know that you are personally fulfilling halacha, than to stick to your guns about a chumra and stir up trouble back home. The cost of losing or estranging a person’s relationship with his parents (in particular), family, and friends isn’t worth the chumra that you’re forcing down their throats.

Realistic, rational people consider this approach and utilize it to the maximum. They are sensitive and caring toward their fellow Jews, aware of how their actions might upset or disturb someone, and do their very best to maintain their higher level of observance while simultaneously continuing to nurture their connections to those who matter most to them. Sure, everyone makes mistakes, and it can take time to show that despite your “change” (which may include appearance, actions, speech, etc) you are serious in your new commitments to Judaism, find great meaning and fulfillment in them, and still truly care about those around you and how your new mode of life can affect them.

These are the types of more right-winged “yeshivish” people I think are worthy of admiration and respect. To them, their new hashkafos and observances are real, which they achieved through self introspection, along with guidance from rabbeim and mentors – but primarily because they chose to want to live this way, not because they were told or forced to.

That leads me into the second category – those who “flip out” because they are under the impression, whether self motivated, or directly told by certain rabbeim, teachers, or mentors, that this is the proper and only way for a Jew to live. That anything else is meaningless, not frum, and anyone who doesn’t live this way can be lumped together with groups like the Reform and Conservative, who have legitimately done far more harm than good for our global Jewish community. These are the people who march triumphantly back to America, and instead of applying their growth in Judaism to real-world situations, flout their previous lives under the banner of being “frum.”

In the process of gallivanting around in their new “frum” trappings, spouting off “Baruch HaShem’s” and “Bli Neders” in an unrestrained and thoughtless fashion – as though it were obligatory to end every sentence with such aphorisms, they begin to distance themselves from their parents and loved ones – either intentionally, or as a result of their behavior. They radiate arrogance, despite the fact that they claim to be humble, righteous and devoted to their religion. They seem to forget that parents, even not-religious, or not-as-religious parents are absolutely worth every notion of respect, and worse, they seem to worship the rabbeim and mentors that got them to make this transformation.

Suddenly, the person you knew, who was once at least individualistic enough to think for him/herself now has to ask their rebbi a shayla about every single thing that happens in their lives – and take their advice (it’s not always about psak) as l’havdil, the word of G-d. Meaningful discussion about the wealth and breadth of Jewish haskhafa and differing viewpoints becomes insignificant next to the power of their rebbe’s/teacher’s words. It becomes a duty to “educate” others to become like they are, and exactly like they are, instead of encouraging others around them to grow on their own and find their hashkafic niche within Torah observant Judaism.

I personally think that these individuals, like the first category Dr. Pelcovitz talked about, should probably never have gone to Israel in the first place. Sometimes these young men and women do need further guidance and the opportunity to grow – and thus attending a yeshiva or seminary, or perhaps pursuing focused Judaic studies with a rebbe or institution in America will be necessary – and I firmly think everyone has to discover their needs in these areas. However, some people, who were fine and had a proper serious approach with their previous religious observance, only become corrupted in this fashion when exposed to more right-wing sentiment, because they aren’t strong enough to resist and think for themselves. Some become convinced on their own while others get caught up in the fervor of a dynamic rebbe who becomes their sole link to “authentic” observant Judaism. In both instances thoughtful logic and tact get thrown out the window in favor of a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, which can only, and does, lead to conflict.

I think that this is the major reason for the “flip out” crisis that faces so many Orthodox families today.

I believe it is wrong to teach someone that there is only one “correct” way to be observant of Torah and Mitzvos within the context of proper halachic observance. Halacha is halacha, but there are chumros and kulos, and there are certainly a plethora of hashkafic fashions in which a person can conduct his/her life within the greater umbrella of halacha, which isn’t more proper or acceptable than any other. I personally find many things to respect in all the hashkafos out there, and I also have critiques of each viewpoint – because none of them are perfect. Each has its own positive, neutral, and negative elements, and it is up to the individual to determine where he or she best fits in after much soul-searching and exploration. This doesn’t mean that someone has to do anything differently from their parents, as long as they find that meaningful, but if there is something spiritually lacking in how they were raised, then it is that person’s prerogative to find out where they need to be to best serve G-d throughout their lives.

This means that every person has his/her own individual levels of Torah study, chesed, tzedaka, leadership, communal involvement, teaching others, etc. As long as they are within the realm of halacha as determined by own established mesora, no one should have a right to look down on anyone for being different from them in nuances of their lives. I remember a pair of shiurim I heard in Israel about Yom Ha’atzma’ut, one given by a more chareidi rabbi and the other by a da’ati leumi rabbi – and the da’ati leumi rabbi emphasized that although they disagree about how to approach Yom Ha’atzma’ut, they agree on the other 99% of halacha (the issue was hallel with a bracha or not). That is how Jews are supposed to be – all different, yet similar to one another in our obligation to halacha.

Teenagers who are otherwise level-headed and observant, but cannot withstand the pressures and influence of right wing teachers should either go to a different yeshiva/seminary, or not go to Israel, just as the students who get totally turned off to Judaism should explore other options that best suit their individual needs. I think it would be far better to remain more stationary in their identity – though certainly maturing through further Jewish education in some form – than become so “religious” that they close their mind to everyone they know and place all their faith in one teacher.

Being so dependent upon a single individual, no matter how great he or she might be, is not what Judaism is about. We don’t believe in infallibility, that’s for Catholics. Yet, I’ve seen too many young men and women voluntarily (seemingly) give up their free-will so that they can be “frum” and will ask a shayla for every little thing in their lives.

This especially applies to marriage and dating, when this sort of cult-like sickness can alienate parents from children who choose to follow a rebbe’s advice against anything their parents say. It’s one thing to want to live a more observant lifestyle than your parents may have initially wanted for you – that will inevitably happen for children who experience a greater quantity and quality of Jewish education than their parents – but that can be handled in a respectful fashion where hurt feelings can be avoided. It’s entirely another thing to disregard the words of the people who gave birth to you, raised you, and know you far better than any rebbe whose shiur you attended for a year or two – despite the religious differences – and only have your best concerns at heart. As much as an influential teacher/rebbe may claim to care or actually care about you, the two are completely incomparable.

Specifically related to how one dates, who one dates, the length of dating/courtship, who one talks to while dating, as well as the length of engagement are all hot-button topics for these sorts of people. Parents often don’t “get” what their kids are doing, and the kids very often don’t give their parents the time of day to properly, methodically, and respectfully explain their beliefs and what their intentions are. Too many resort to subterfuge, telling some details but not the important ones, in an attempt to make their parents feel at ease with the process, which will only shift into crisis mode when they suddenly show up with a young man or lady and tell their parents that they’re getting engaged.

To me, this is the ultimate chutzpah. Perhaps it stems from what I learned while in Yeshiva, that parents are of paramount importance and we, the younger generation, should strive our hardest to go against the trend of modern children who berate and belittle their fathers and mothers. One of the most helpful pieces of advice one of my rabbeim gave me when I talked to him about starting to date when I went back to America was that I should first talk to my parents, tell them that I am ready to start going out with the intention of getting married, hear their perspective, and discuss practical points regarding my future, such as what would happen if I got married in undergrad, who would pay living expenses and for grad school, etc. The point was to find out my parents’ thoughts on the matter, make sure we all understood one another, and to reaffirm that despite our very different levels of religious observance, we are all one family and can live together in peace, with great love and mutual respect.

Granted, there was still a bit of tension along the long journey that led eventually led me to the chupah with ASog because life is never perfect, but we avoided most, if not all major conflicts. Since then, I’ve seen others butt heads quite unnecessarily with their parents because they won’t approach this matter with the proper measure of respect and understanding.

In the end, I have come to recognize that Chana has been right all along, and not every needs to, or even should attend a yeshiva or seminary in Israel. I hope we can all be more understanding of those who, for legitimate reasons, choose not to, spend that year in Israel. I also hope that we can all strive to help those who are hurt by their Israel experiences, who either have become disconnected from Judaism, or who have become so enthralled in harmful zealotry, bringing them back to a more proper shvil zahav.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Testing 1-2-3, Testing 1-2-3

“I am beyond delighted to make your splendid acquaintance, Shelly,” Ari uttered aloud.

“I can say the same, yet about you,” his date replied while shaking her head such that her long curly locks fluttered as the wings of butterflies.

“The soup will arrive soon!” He said, thrusting his spoon into the air mightily.

“I certainly hope so, for I am famished enough to consume an equine whole!” Shelly retorted with glee in her eyes.

In moments, their delicious split pea soup was actually delivered to their table. The waitress, while yawning into one hand, proceeded to pour the soup into Shelly’s lap with the other. She hopped about in her seat shouting “Hot, hot, hot!”

“Oh, I am sorry,” the waitress said with a clown-like frown before she fled through the kitchen door waving her arms in the air wildly.

“Praise the Almighty, I have been severely souped!” Shelly shouted toward the heavens with outstretched palms.

“You have passed my ultimate test of marriage-worthy-ness!” Ari shouted with great exuberance. He summoned the waitress back by snapping his fingers rhythmically. She hopped toward the table as a frog and presented a silver platter which held a small orange striped velvet box. Ari took the box, opened it to reveal the sparkling diamond ring within, and set it down in front of his date on her fish appetizer.

“What are you doing?!” She asked tumultuously, her hair waving as snakes on a hot skillet in the middle of July.

“I hereby offer you the opportunity to give me your hand in marriage. Accept the ring and be mine forever!” He grinned the widest grin ever grinned. “I look forward to your cleaning of my laundry!” Ari cheered.

“I am unimpressed!” She declared, rising to her feet, without concern that now all could see the large green stain splattered across the front of her dress, which was shaped exactly like the state of Oklahoma. “In fact, I blow my nose at your so-called ‘test’ of my marriage-worthy-ness!” She quickly snatched his tie from around his neck, cupped it to her nostrils, and blasted mightily. Upon finishing, she dropped the used garment on his salad plate.

Ari looked down in complete shock, his jaw almost hitting the table. “But, you did not take the token of my esteem!” He cried out in abject sorrow.

“Indeed. Fare thee well,” she turned on her heel and began walking briskly. “Goodbye and never hello again!” She proclaimed to all the other restaurant patrons who clapped with one hand on their spare banana sundaes.

“This was only a test?” The waitress hiccuped at Ari.

“Yes,” he raised a handsome eyebrow. “But it was I who failed.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Last Shidduch

“Ma, please put that phone down! The doctor said you need to rest!” Lisa pleaded with her ailing mother. The stubborn older woman pursed her wrinkled lips in a frown of refusal and shook her head feebly.

“You just don’t get it, darling…” Shira Rubinstein paused to gasp for air. “…Who knows what’ll happen if I don’t make sure this shidduch gets through,” she glanced at the tattered piece of paper in her left hand then started shakily pressing numbers on the phone in her right. After she dialed a few digits, the phone slipped from her grasp, knocking the IV stand connected to her arm, and clattered on the floor.

Lisa sighed in frustration. She quickly snatched the phone and plunked it on the night stand across the hospital room.

“I’m really running out of patience here, Ma. I know you’ve been a shadchan for many years, but it’s time for you to focus on yourself and your family,” she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Lisa, I keep telling you…” her mother wheezed. “You don’t understand how important this is.”

“No, Ma. You don’t understand how important you are to us,” Lisa felt the edge in her tone leaking out as her anger began to dissipate. She quickly pulled a chair close to her mother’s bedside and sat down. “All I’m saying is,” Lisa sniffed and wiped away a tear that began rolling down her cheek. “All I’m saying is that we don’t want you doing anything stressful that might hurt your chances for recovery.”

The older woman smiled weakly. “Look, sweetheart, I need to make a few more phone calls, then-”

“Ma, it’s always ‘a few more phone calls.’ It always has been. Me, Leah, Jeff and everyone else have seen how much energy you put into your matchmaking,” Lisa stopped and dabbed at her eye with a tissue. “Even years ago, when you were in good health, we saw how worn out you were each night after you finished calling all the singles and the other matchmakers.”

Lisa reached over and put her hand on her mother’s aged arm, careful not to disturb the IV line attached there. “It’s time to let other shadchanim work their magic, so you can be strong enough to spend time with us.” As Lisa spoke, she knew what she really meant to say was “Spend your remaining time with us.” Along with her younger brother and sister, Lisa was very aware of their mother’s poor prognosis. The recent in-and-out stays in the hospital were taking their toll, and the doctors had recommended rest and attentive care as Mrs. Rubinstein neared the end.

“Ma, why don’t you hand the match off to someone else? Someone younger who’s with it and knows what the shidduch scene is like today?”

The elder Rubinstein gave her daughter a stern expression of disapproval. “No, no, no. Those young shadchanim don’t know anything! All they know is computers and matching surveys – it’s like tic tac toe with boys and girls.” Though she paused to catch her breath, the fire burning in her eyes did not diminish. “I bet if I suggested that one of the younger shadchanim take over, they would probably say it’s a bad match for some meshugas reason like her mother wears the wrong colored stockings or something.”

Lisa took a deep breath. She hated having to parent her own mother, but given her mother’s advanced age, she sometimes had to fulfill that undesired role. The last time Lisa had to make such a tough judgment call was almost, but not quite as bad as the decision she was about to make. Several years earlier, she had to be the “bad cop” among her siblings who confiscated her mother’s license after a mid-afternoon fender-bender. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the incident forced them to have a meeting to determine the appropriate course of action to take. After over an hour of heated discussion they reached a consensus; the safety of the other drivers who were potentially at risk whenever Mrs. Rubinstein sat behind the wheel was paramount.

Lisa recalled the stinging, lingering pain she put her mother through by taking away her freedom of mobility, but she knew this time would be much worse. This wasn’t just taking away the keys to the car, which was more of a convenience than anything else – shadchanus was in her mother’s blood. She lived and breathed for the sake of matching up singles of all ages, and became filled with such a tremendous amount of simcha whenever a couple called her up to announce their engagement. Yes, this was going to be much harder than last time.

She released the pent-in breath through clenched teeth. “Ma, I’m going to have to take your cell phone.” Lisa held up a hand to cut off her mother’s offended retort. “One of us is going to be here almost round the clock to make sure you’re alright, and during the few hours that we won’t be in the hospital, the nurses will regularly check on you to see how you’re doing.”

Her mother was indignant. “Lisa, this isn’t right, you know what it feels like to have to suffer through the difficulties of shidduchim!” she all-but-shouted. “If not from your personal experience, then from your own daughter, who took four years to find her chosson,” the older woman pursed her lips fretfully. “What’s going to happen to this boy and girl if no one takes care of them?”

“You know better than I do, Ma,” Lisa offered a conciliatory smile. “If it’s meant to be, I’m sure HaShem will find a way to make it happen for them.” Lisa saw the resentment begin to fade from her mother’s face.

“You have a point, my dear,” the elder Rubinstein conceded with a disheartened sigh.

“I’m really sorry, Ma,” Lisa apologized as she stood up and walked over to the nightstand. “The most important thing right now is for you to rest and keep up your strength,” she said over her shoulder as she slipped the cell phone into her purse.

“I can’t really argue with that,” her mother replied with a look of defeat.

Lisa slipped the purse strap over her shoulder. “It’s time for you to rest up. You’ve earned it,” She crouched over her mother and gingerly kissed her on the forehead.

“I guess I have.”


Yehudis stared out her bedroom window, too distracted to work on her history assignment. She hadn’t heard from Mrs. Rubinstein in several days and was beginning to get worried. She wondered why the renowned shadchan still hadn’t returned any of her calls, particularly since Mrs. Rubenstein usually made sure to call up her singles to chat, especially when she was actively working on setting up a shidduch for them.

As a shadchan, Mrs. Rubinstein was definitely one of the best. She was very attentive, considerate, and always made sure to check in and see how both parties were doing, not only during the early stages when she served as the intermediary, but even later on as the relationship matured. Her reputation was legendary, and her success rate was rather high. She somehow managed to balance the hundreds of singles she worked with along with the dozens of matches she actively helped along, all on top of her personal life, which was full of time devoted to her family.

Both of Yehudis’ older sisters met their husbands through Mrs. Rubinstein, and Yehudis was eager to continue the family tradition. She looked forward to the day, hopefully soon, that she too would mail a wedding invitation to Mrs. Rubinstein. Yehudis fondly remembered that special moment on the dance floor when the spinning circles would temporarily slow down while the women created an open pathway. In came Mrs. Rubinstein, escorted by one of her daughters, arriving at the center for a one-on-one dance with her newly wedded sister. Twice Yehudis watched this touching scene from the sidelines, but she longed for the day when that memory would be her own.

Suddenly, her phone started vibrating on her dresser, sending Yehudis scrambling to catch it before the phone crashed to the floor. Quickly scooping up the phone, she checked the screen and confirmed that it was indeed Mrs. Rubinstein. She excitedly sat back down on her bed, inhaled deeply to calm her nerves, and answered the call.

“Hello! Mrs. Rubinstein?”

“Hello, is this Yehudis Levine?”

“Yes! How are you doing Mrs. Rubinstein? I hadn’t heard from you in a while and I-”

“Actually, this is Nechama, her granddaughter,” the voice on the other side of the line said before falling silent for a few seconds. “My grandmother passed away last night.”

Yehudis’ heart leaped to her throat and she struggled to find words. “Baruch Dayan Emes,” she barely choked out as the tears began to fill the corners of her eyes.

“I’m sorry you had to find out this way. We’ve been trying to contact all the singles and married couples Bubbe worked with to let them know,” Nechama replied mournfully. “The levaya is this afternoon at four.”

Yehudis closed her eyes tight and the tears began to stream down her cheeks. “I’ll be there, bli neder.”

“I know your family was particular close to Bubbe, so can you please tell you parents and sisters?”

“S-sure…” Yehudis answered, her shoulders trembling. She ran her hand across her face in a vain effort to wipe away the flow of tears. An idea popped into her head, emerging from the storm of emotions in her mind.

“Can I ask you a question? How did you get my number?”

“Like I mentioned, we’ve been trying to get in touch with everyone Bubbe set up. Mom thought it was a good idea to check her cell phone in case we missed anyone, and your number was the last one she had called.”

Yehudis brightened ever-so-slightly. “Mrs. Rubinstein was in the middle of setting me up with a guy the last time we spoke,” she gulped, swallowing her sadness momentarily. “Did you see any other singles’ numbers there? Maybe it was the guy!”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but yours was the only one that wasn’t family or a doctor’s number in her recent calls list.”

Frantic, Yehudis kept pushing. “His name was Chaim Eidel-something, did that show up anywhere?”

“Bubbe never could figure out how to add names to her address book, but she kept all her shidduch contact information in her written records back home.”

“So you could go check through the papers and see if there is anything about me and Chaim?” Yehudis asked eagerly.

“Maybe. Her desk is a bit of a mess and I wouldn’t want to disturb anything. Things are kind of hectic right now with planning the levaya and calling everyone. Perhaps after the shiva’s over,” she offered.

“I understand. Thanks anyway,” Yehudis felt deflated. “Please send my condolences to your mother.”

“I will. Have a good day,” Nechama said.

“You too,” Yehudis barely mustered before hanging up. She flopped onto her bed and began to sob.


It was a cold, grey day. The rain had started to fall shortly after sunrise and showed no signs of tapering off as the day moved onward through noon. The somber crowd that gathered at the Jewish cemetery huddled beneath umbrellas, rain jackets, hats, and a black tarp provided by the funeral home which was spread out in front the open grave and over a few rows of chairs. Mrs. Rubinstein’s children, along with their spouses, sat in the front row, while the second and third were filled with grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The remaining seats were occupied by elderly men and women who didn’t have the strength to stand for the duration of the funeral, but wanted to pay their final respects.

The head of the chevra kadisha opened the back of the hearse, and Mrs. Rubinstein’s older grandsons and nephews filed in to carry in the casket. As they slowly marched forward, the rabbi began saying the pre-burial tefillos.

“Hatzur tamim po’olo….” Rabbi Blumenfeld recited as he led the procession.

Yehudis stood near the inner edge of the crowd, which gave her a full view of the proceedings. In her haste to make it to the funeral on time, she had dashed out of the house without her umbrella. While her overcoat protected her body, the hood wasn’t large enough to shield her face from the precipitation onslaught.

The pallbearers reached the grave and gently set the casket down. The rabbi walked over and released the pulley mechanism, and the casket began to descend into the grave.

Yehudis was upset with herself. She looked passed the rabbi toward Mrs. Rubinstein’s daughters, who held each other’s hands and wept together. Her son appeared outwardly resolute, but she could tell he was also heartbroken. These poor people had lost their beloved mother, and their tears were worthwhile and genuine. Though Yehudis was also terribly saddened by Mrs. Rubinstein’s passing, her own grief was focused on the unfinished shidduch the shadchan had left behind. She recognized that their sorrow was far beyond her own meager concerns, and by any reasonable understanding, she too should be able to concentrate on the moment at hand.

But, she couldn’t force herself to cry for Mrs. Rubinstein, and the tears that flowed freely were for herself. Yehudis felt as though her future with her potential bashert was being buried along with Mrs. Rubinstein’s mortal remains as the casket sunk into the ground. Thankfully, Rabbi Blumenfeld concluded his prayers and cleared his throat to get ready to deliver his prepared eulogy. Yehudis stifled her self-directed pity and attempted to give every ounce of her attention to the mora d’asra.

“We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of Mrs. Shira Rubinstein, a dedicated and beloved pillar of our community,” he began.

Why did this have to happen to me? Why was Mrs. Rubinstein taken now, of all times? Yehudis felt like shouting at the cloudy sky.

“She was widely known for her abundant chesed,” Rabbi Blumenfeld surveyed the crowd, many of whom nodded their heads in agreement. “In particular, Mrs. Rubinstein was characterized by her energy and enthusiasm as she literally devoted her life to assisting the young, and not-so-young singles of our community find their spouses.”

Look at all these couples here. Husbands and wives together, each offering the other support in this emotionally challenging time, but who am I supposed to look to? I’ve got no one. The voice in Yehudis’ mind grew louder.

“I was speaking with Mrs. Rubinstein’s children last evening after her petira, and they told me how their mother was so passionate about her work as a shadchan, she would forgo sleep and attending to her own health to make sure that the men and women she set up were well cared for,” Rabbi Blumenfeld looked toward the front row. Lisa’s younger sister Leah was leaning on her big sister’s shoulder and crying into a tissue.

“Our tradition tells us that any person who successfully makes three shidduchim that lead to marriage is guaranteed a portion in Olam Haba,” Rabbi Blumenfeld paused. “Without a doubt, we can assuredly say that Mrs. Rubinstein’s herculean efforts as the shadchan par excellence earned her an appropriately grand chelek in Olam Haba.”

I would have been the number three shidduch in our family for Mrs. Rubinstein. Now I’ve denied Mrs. Rubinstein what’s rightfully hers in Olam Haba. Yehudis bemoaned silently. If only I had checked in with her sooner…

“The shidduch world at large, and especially our own community, now has a large void that must be filled. Everyone present today should take to heart the lesson Mrs. Rubinstein exemplified by doing whatever we can in making an effort to help singles find their bashert.”

But who is going to help me!? Yehudis sulked.

“And now, let us perform the mitzvah of the final kindness, as the soul of our dear departed sister, Shira Rubinstein joins with the patriarchs and the matriarchs of klal Yisrael,” Rabbi Blumenthal concluded. The members of the chevra kadisha stepped forward with their shovels and started filling in the grave, while a line formed nearby so that others in attendance would have their opportunity to contribute to the burial.

With every muffled thump of dirt hitting the wooden coffin, Yehudis scrunched her eyes and recoiled as though someone had struck her. The blows crashed against her heart, threatening to shatter it even more than it was already broken. Watching the formerly empty hole in the ground quickly fill up with dirt, Yehudis felt her dreams for marriage were being sealed away forever.


After the service was over, the crowd dispersed hurriedly, everyone dashing for the dry comfort of their cars. Soon, all that remained was a solitary figure left standing forlorn in the rain.

The tears flowed down Yehudis’ cheeks, mixing in with the chilled raindrops that continually battered her small frame. Looking down at the dampened dirt mound in front of her, she sensed the last dregs of her hope ebbing away as she cried. Yehudis believed her opportunity to meet her bashert had died with Mrs. Rubinstein, and now that the elderly shadchan was buried, it seemed as though she had no future to look forward to. What if the guy Mrs. Rubinstein had in mind for her was “the one?” Her family would probably never find her final matchmaking notes and now Yehudis would never meet him. Yehudis closed her eyes and sobbed aloud, feeling more alone than she had ever felt in her life.

After a few minutes, Yehudis reached upward with a clenched fist in an attempt to wipe her eyes dry. She noticed that she couldn’t feel raindrops splashing on her face anymore. Yet, the sound of the rain falling all around her still filled her ears. Yehudis opened her eyes and glanced upward to find a large umbrella spread over her head. Astonished, she blinked a few times and suddenly caught sight of a hand grasping the handle.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but why are you still standing out here in this downpour?”

Whirling around, Yehudis saw a handsome, clean-shaven young man in a suit with dark hair and glasses. He adjusted his hold on the umbrella to keep her sheltered from the rain. Embarrassed, she quickly rubbed her face, hoping to wipe away as many tears and remove as much running makeup as she could.

“I, uh…” She sniffed, trying to find her voice. “…Mrs. Rubinstein was a close family friend. She was the shadchan for both of my older sisters.”

“Ah,” the young man rested his free hand on his chin contemplatively. “I imagine she had worked with you as well,” he said. Yehudis nodded meekly. The young man appeared to understand her predicament, and sighed.

Yehudis wrapped her arms around herself in a hug, shivering from the cold. Her eyes briefly met the stranger’s, where she thought she detected an unexpressed sadness. They quickly looked in different directions as the awkwardness of the moment hit them both.

The young man opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He hesitated for a few seconds, clearly fumbling for the right words. “May I walk you back to your car?” he offered cautiously. “I couldn’t possibly leave you out here alone to get even more drenched.”

Yehudis was a slightly taken aback by the proposition, but she was impressed with his mentschlichkite. “I’m not sure how much more soaked I could possibly get,” she flopped the sleeves of her saturated coat. “Sure. Thank you.”

“All right then,” he replied haltingly. “Shall we?” he gestured with a wave toward the distant parking lot. After a few steps Yehudis stopped abruptly. Her escort almost tripped over his own feet as he hurriedly swung the umbrella over her head.

“What’s wrong?” her unexpected companion asked.

Yehudis’ eyebrows furrowed briefly, and she looked into his eyes. “Excuse me for being silly, but remind me again what your name is again?”

“Again? Oh, I’m sorry. That was impolite of me to not introduce myself,” he cleared his throat. “I’m Chaim. Chaim Eidelman.”

Yehudis’ face brightened and she grinned broadly. “I’m Yehudis Levine.” A look of recognition dawned on Chaim’s face. Both of them turned around, almost in unison, and gazed at Mrs. Rubinstein’s grave.

With a sudden crash of thunder, the rain began to fall harder than before, and Yehudis inched closer to Chaim under their umbrella.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Yom Yerushalayim 5771

Ever since I came back from my 2 years in Israel, Yom Yerushalayim has always been a bit of a letdown. Either I’ve been home, where the particular bent of the religious community doesn’t allow them to recognize the religious significance of Yom Yerushalayim, and I end up walking out during tachanun – or – I’m at YU and since all the students have left, nothing official or especially celebratory happens either, even though there is some appreciation in the form of hallel (without a bracha) during Shacharis and a drasha, this year by Rav Willig (which I missed because I thought it was at 1 and not 12 for some reason.
Anyway, I just wanted share a quick thought I heard from President Richard Joel on Yom Ha'atzma'ut that is also very appropriate to Yom Yerushalayim.
When President Joel was the head of Hillel International, he had the privilege of attending the very first Birth Right trip. The night before they were supposed to visit the Kotel, a number of students approached President Joel with a question.
They were not particularly observant, and didn't know so much about Judaism or its practices, so they asked President Joel, "We're going to be at the Kotel in less than 12 hours, what are we supposed to do when we're there?"
President Joel replied with a short story/lesson. He said that their great-great-great grandparents probably didn't know his great-great-great grandparents. In fact, they probably lived in different areas of the Pale of Settlement, spoke different dialects of Yiddish, perhaps even had different levels of religious observance. But there was one thing they had in common and one thing they knew in their hearts. They all believed that they wanted to be there, at the Kotel - but they knew that they never would. Now, these students, their descendents, would finally get that opportunity that their forebearers longed for for centuries.

We should all learn from this very powerful lesson. Many of us don't know what a world without Israel was like, and even moreso what a world was like without Jews being able to go to Kotel and pray. Let us rejoice in our holy city, and hope together for its true rebuilding with the Beis Hamikdash as its centerpiece.