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.


  1. As great as the story is, I can't imagine it EVER happening in real life!

  2. Thanks for the comments! I always enjoy getting feedback on my stories.

    Harry-er - you're in for a treat since I have a number of in-progress stories nearing completion. Look for one this week, maybe even later today.

    I have been experimenting a bit, such as this story, which is rather different from my more usual humor/absurdity themes. It's always fun to share these creative endeavors with readers.

  3. Spooky how the daughter convinced Mrs. R.that she could leave the shidduchim to Hashem, and then Mrs. R. passed away.

    1. Spooky indeed.

      That was what I was driving at. So many singles people nowadays tend to be convinced of one particular way that they can only find their bashert through one certain way, and despair when it doesn't work - but they don't try other methods that are available, or simply trust that HaShem has some greater plan in mind that we aren't privy to.

      Granted, this story is a bit idyllic, but I really like the rain stopping over her imagery. If you'll notice, I also deliberately put personalized details into their encounter at the end of the story, moving from an impersonal umbrella to his umbrella to her escort, to their umbrella - sort of indicating the formation of their relationship.


Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.