Friday, January 29, 2010

A Bnai Brak Wedding

He's leaning through the gap in the Mechitza. She stands on the other side, gazing up at him. They look so in love with each other, I think, as I watch them.

"Is that her brother?" a woman asks me

"No, he's her Chosson" I say. Surely it should be obvious? They came out of the Yichud room an hour ago, and it shows. Some serious chemistry going on there. I'm so happy that she's finally found him. It was a long journey.

"That can't be her husband, he's not wearing a hat" the woman announces, breaking my reverie. "She told me her Chosson wears a hat."

I stare at her; finally take in her tailored suit, sensible flats, and self righteous expression. Who is she? A rebbetzin, a teacher, a busybody neighbour?

Then I swivel round, take another look at the happy couple. She is right, he's not wearing a hat. I hadn't noticed before. He's wearing a black suit, and black velvet Kippah, but no black hat. His hair lies in damp strands on his forehead.

"He does wear a hat usually" I reassure the woman. "He probably took it off when he got hot from all the dancing"

"Hmmpph", is all she'll she say. She's not impressed. What sort of Yeshiva Bachur removes his hat, ever? He must be Modern.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"I'm a good girl, I am"

"Where did you.go to school?"

I name a seminary, then a college.

"Oh. You're a Bais Yaacov girl," She sounds suprised. I wonder if I should be insulted. Maybe this skirt really is too short. Maybe I should have tied back my hair, and not worn such long earrings.

We are on the bus, sitting next to each other. We discover we are the same age. I tell her I thought she was younger, and she's flattered. It's frightening, reaching the age where it's a compliment to be thought younger. I rememeber the years of trying to look older, guess they are over now.

Naturally, the conversation drifts to dating. Us both being single and all.

"Do you go on real shidduch dates, like they are set up before and everything? Or do you just, like, meet guys?"

"I go on shidduch dates." I answer.

"Oh." Again she sounds suprised. "You're a good girl then."

The words hang in the air. I'm good. Despite the complaining, despite the online venting. Despite the dreaming, sometimes, of something different, of some other way.

"Um, yeah", I say finally. "I guess I am."

I'm good. Because I meet boys on prearranged Shidduch dates. Isn't life simple.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frum N' Loving It

Frumsatire's post on why he loves being an Orthodox Jew had me itching to write one of my own. So here's the female perspective, on why I'm glad I'm religious. Deep existential reasons aside.

Shomer Negiah- I complain about it endlessly, about how tough it is not to be able to touch my boyfriend, OK, how tough it is not to even HAVE a boyfriend. But, when push comes to shove, being Shomer Negiah is a great excuse to get out of kissing old men on their dry parchment skin, or hugging fat uncles, or basically any physical contact whatsoever with the male species who are, on a whole, less than appealing . It's bad enough having to kiss every female at a wedding; Thank God the men keep to their own side of the Mechitza. And even if we do end up making out with the opposite sex, we limit touching to the guys we find attractive. The rest of the clan we can tell "Sorry, I'm Shomer."

Also, I'm glad I wasn't pressured into sleeping with my boyfriend at the age of sixteen. Although it would have been nice to have actually had a boyfriend…

Separate Swimming- Every time I go to the swimming pool I'm grateful I'm religious. Compulsory strutting my stuff in a bikini is hardly the most relaxing activity in the world. Especially for those of us who haven't got much stuff to strut. This way I get to skip Vogue's annual work-out and self tanning tips, and move on to the serious stuff, such as 'how to tell if he's into you'.

Shabbos- It's clichéd, but- "I don't know how non religious people survive without Shabbos". Twenty four hours of guilt free doing nothing. As opposed to other days of doing nothing, where there's always that "I really should be studying/cleaning up/ [insert chore]" lurking at the back of my mind and ruining the laziness.

Especially now I'm a borderline internet addict, what with Twitter and all, Shabbos is the time that forces me to stop and smell the roses (on the way to Shul), and saves me from slipping over the edge into the abyss of cyber space no-return. (e.g. "What's that big yellow thing in the sky? My desktop doesn't have one")

Shidduch Dating- Another one of my favorite rants, but at least this way I don't fear bringing up the "M. word" on dates, and don't have to figure out how to get a man to commit AFTER he's been living with me for a couple of years. Plus, I have all these middle aged Shadchans doing the dirty work for me, and finding me suitable escorts, instead of me needing to hit the bar scene and the wallflower fears that entails. Bring 'em on!

Shmirat HaLashon- It's nice to know, that even if you do something really, really, stupid, you stand a chance of that fact not being broadcast to the entire world, since people do try on a whole to watch what they say, and guard their tongue, and be nice and all that. It doesn't stop the gossip, but it does slow it down.

The Animals- or rather the lack of them. I don't have to fake adoration of any suitor's dog, or cat, or pet snake. It's much easier to admire his black hat. (Although this benefit is only true to the Ultra Orthodox)

The Kids- Such as my six year old niece, who came back from Kindergarden knowing how to read, and now insists on reading out the entire Benching, after every Shabbos meal. She sits there with my Illustrated Gadi Pollock Bencher, and loudly pronounces decibel after decibel , staying at the table long after we have finished clearing up. She does more for my faith than any Shiur. And I love sitting on the edge of their bed, and singing Hamalach Hagoel to them, the same way it used to be sung to me. They don't even mind my useless voice.

Letters to the Editor- What can the secular world offer, that beats the Letters to the Editor in Yated and Hamodia? Advice on how to get your Challah to rise better, tips on applying a gasoline mixture to shoes instead of polish, warnings on how to avoid the Evil Eye. Comedy can't compare.

The Blessings- Random strangers stopping me on the street and blessing me. OK, they are usually blessing me that I find my spouse ASAP (is my desperation written on my forehead?!), and OK, they are usually asking me for money, but still, a blessing is a blessing, right?

All in all, I love being religious. What would I have to complain about, otherwise?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chapter 13: Shidduchs in Shul

The women milled outside, waiting for the men to exit. Friday night was the time for showing off their Shabbos finery. The next day was too late. By the time morning prayers ended, their lipstick had long vanished, their eye shadow had faded, and their hair drooped in wilted curls. Once the holy day had begun, makeup was forbidden, along with all the other tricks of the trade.

So instead the women came to Shul the night before. That's when they were looking good. Fresh from the Erev Shabbos showers, made up and pristine. Their perfumes hug low in the air, encompassing the patio with the scents of Dior and Lancôme.

Shulamit spotted Brachy. She pushed her way towards her, between the rustling skirts and silken tops. When Brachy turned around, with a smile of greeting on her face, Shulamit grabbed her arm, and pulled Brachy to the side, away from listening ears.

"Whoa, Shuli. And a Good Shabbos to you too. What's the rush?"

"Brachy, I have the perfect guy for you!" Shulamit was ecstatic. Finally she'd found a match for Brachy.

"Um. That's wonderful." Brachy said. "But what are you talking about?"

"I found a guy! He's just what you're looking for!" Shulamit said. "He's a great boy, really special, everyone said so. He's a serious Torah scholar, he learns all day. He even learns in the afternoon break! And he's got good Middos, they all said how sweet he was. Oh, he may be a bit quiet. But that's not so bad is it? After all, you're also quiet."

"I see" Brachy said. "How do you know him?"

This was the tough part. "Well…I don't actually know him..." Shulamit admitted. "He was suggested to me actually, at, um, the singles evening I went to on Monday."

"Shulamit, you went to a singles evening?! Even I don’t go to those. Aren't they for people who are much older?" And desparate, she thought, but didn't say.

"Yeah well, I went as a matchmaker. I am one now, remember."

"Right." Brachy was keeping her thoughts on Shulamit's new career to herself.

"Someone there suggested this boy to me. I checked him out, and he sounds great. Then I told them about you, and they were very impressed. He wants to meet you, Brachy!"

"If he's so great, why don't you go out with him yourself?"

Shulamit's face went white and taut. The mauve blusher stood out in stark contrast on her cheekbones. "You know I'm not dating this year. I want to finish studying first, remember?"

"I'm sorry, Shulamit. Of course you're not dating yet." Brachy reached out and squeezed her hand. Poor Shulamit, no wonder she wasn't dating. What a nightmare last year must have been. None of them were allowed to talk about it, though. Shulamit had made that clear. "You’re absolutely right to take your time, Shuli. You need to be a famous fashion designer one day!"

Slowly Shulamit regained her color. She managed a smile. "So, Brachy, now we've settled that, are you going to give this boy a try or not?"

Brachy nodded. Then grinned.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Four Reasons to Love Winter

1. Between boots and woolen tights, girls, you can get away with not shaving your legs. But let's keep that as our little secret.

2. You can stay indoors, snug and warm, curl up with a book and a hot chocolate, and not feel guilty for not having a life. Because who goes out in the rain anyway?

3. You can find Tznius clothing in the stores. Winter, time of long sleeves and high necks. There's no such things as an immodest coat. Even Rabbi Falk couldn't think what to ban in winter outerwear.

4. Shabbos goes out early enough for scheduling in relaxed dates on Motzai Shabbos. Way better than the post workday rush


Sigh. It didn't work. I still can't wait for summer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chapter 12: Shadchan Undercover

"I'm Shulamit and I'm a…" She couldn't do it. She simply couldn't do it. What was she thinking of? How could she sit in the circle of chairs, younger even than the singles here to be set up, surrounded by stately matriarchs, and announce that she was a matchmaker?

She was definitely the youngest person attending. The girl on her right was elegant, and stylish, but she still looked faded, somehow. Perhaps it was the tinge of transparent blue under her eyes, or the way her hair looked like it had been blow dried once too often.

Expectant eyes still stared at her.

"...a student." She completed the lingering sentence. "I'm a design student."
Well a wannabe design student, pending acceptance. And a matchmaker on the side. That she didn't say.

It had sounded so simple. An Oneg Shabbos for single girls to network with matchmakers. Shulamit had thought she could expand her customer base. She hadn't realized that they would all think she WAS a customer. Being a single girl of marriageable age and all.

"And what are you looking for, Shulamit?"

What was she looking for? A career in fashion design, for one. And to help people. Yes, she'd like to help people.

"What are you looking for in a boy?" the woman repeated patiently. Shulamit probably looked nervous.

"Um, well, I haven't really thought about it. But send me all the details of anyone you think of and I'll check him out!" Check him out for her clients, that is.

Wow. Why didn't she think of this before? This was a great way to hear of single boys! She'd get them suggested to her, and then she could pass them on to her clients... She'd be a sort of undercover matchmaker. An agent provocateur. Scouting out the Singles scene.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chapter 11: Longing for Touch

They never touched. They never hugged, or kissed, like other families. Some would call them cold. Yet they loved her, Brachy knew they did. They just didn't show it, at least not physically. They didn't feel the need to.

Except for once, when walking back from where Daddy was buried, Miriam reached out and held her hand. They walked that way, the two sisters, fingers entwined, all the way down the dusty path, past the graves and marble monuments. It felt good, sharing feelings without words, sharing love without awkward phrases.

Miriam let go, when they reached the exit, stepping out from under the trees into the courtyard by the parking lot. They stood by the carved water fountain, and freed their hands from each other, ended the contact. They needed to pour water over their fingers, six times in all, to wash away the spirit of death, to be pure. Then, as, its job done, the copper washing cup clanged back against the damp stone basin, Brachy and Miriam walked to the car, in the bright harsh sunlight, separate again, alone.

Brachy hadn't cared before, hadn't even noticed, how solitary her life was. But now she longed to be held; to be cradled in another's arms. She yearned for safety and warmth. She didn't want to be brave any longer, didn't want to hear she was 'dealing with her loss so well'. She didn't want to be independent, and strong, and self sufficient. She wanted to be a little girl again, sheltered and protected from the cold outside.

It was too late now, to change things, to change her family. Touching wasn't a part of their language.

And if Brachy were honest, honest enough to admit to those feelings hidden inside, it wouldn't be enough, even if her family were more demonstrative.

She saw the couples; the models and actresses on billboards and screens, and the real life couples in the streets and the parks. She watched them, boys and girls, men and women. She watched them wrap their arms about each other, and stand close together, and kiss sometimes, when they thought no one was looking.

If only someone would hold her that way, would be with her that way, she'd feel better. She knew she would.

Because then she wouldn't be alone any longer.

She just wanted to be held.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mismatched

"I come out of the bedroom, in my nightgown, and she points at me, at my bare legs, and tells me I'm not Tznius. Can you believe it?! She's only three! What are they teaching her there? I don't know what this Bais Yaacov is drilling into her head. Tznius is important, but this is bordering on obsessive."

"Relax." I tell her. "Girls take in more from their families than their schools. Look at me, I went to the most extreme school possible, and I'm normal, no? My friends are all the same. With girls it goes by the home, not the school. It's the boys you should be worying about."

She puts down her fork, leans across the table. "No, The Talmud Torah is fine, they barely teach Mussar or Haskafa. In boys' schools the focus is entirely on Torah learning, nothing else. It works out great, the boys listen to us, and there's no contradiction with what they're getting at school.

"Wait till your boys begin Yeshiva Ketanah." I say. "It's the path of no return."

Because it's the boys who change, they go to off to Yeshiva and that's it. Their family can be open as open can be, but the boys morph, into streamlined products of the yeshiva system. Put it down to the dorming, ascribe it to them being less attached to home, whatever the reason, the results are the same.

I should know. I suffer the consequences every day. I date products of the system. Many girls have the same problem. Girls from American families retain their homes' openness, their Chutznik mentality. Boys, from the same families, are swallowed up in the Israeli Hareidi world. It's a mismatch.

Come to think of it, maybe that's at the root of the Shidduch issues in Israel. We are mismatched, crops of two different systems.

Despite the exorbitant financial demands placed on parents, despite the apartments the girls need to provide, the fathers prematurely aged by the weight of loans, despite it all, 95 percent of my class is married by now.

Who's left? The Americans, the girls from middle-of-the-road families, who want their own homes to be equally open minded. Because their male parallel doesn't exist. Their male peers, the brothers and cousins and neighbors, left home at thirteen, and entered a different world, the mainstream Hareidi world, and never looked back.

The other girls having the same issues are the Sefardi girls. The daughters study at Ashkenazi Bais Yaacovs, the sons are sent to Sefardi Yeshivas, and again the result is a clash of cultures.

There's no Shidduch crisis in Israel, as long as you both tally, parallel products of parallel systems. But when the girls belongs to one world, and the boys to another, then trouble lies ahead.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shidduch Sick Leave

Would you go on a date feeling sick? I don't mean sick at the sight of him, which isn't a good sign for future marital happiness, rather sick due to ghastly diseases like the common cold, and the flu.

The thing with dating is, there's no one to provide a sick leave note. The Shadchan is never happy, being asked to make another batch of piggy-in-the-middle phone calls, delaying the auspicious meeting to a latter occasion, to a time when you're hoping you won't feel like a clan of elephants are playing hockey in your head.

You feel sorry for the guy, too. Maybe the poor thing has already showered, and shaved, and now his efforts are going down the drain. He's going to have to make do with the 'company of sweaty guys' - as one boy described his roommates to me-instead of cavorting with a charming Shidduch Maidel.

The fears lurk, unspoken. What if he thinks I'm generally sickly? Not up to being a future baby machine? What if he doesn't believe it's 'only a 24 hour thing'?

Or what if he thinks I'm a hypochondriac, forever searching for excuses to cancel dates?

He could merely think I'm spoiled, coddled. Fleeing to the warmth and comfort of bed, orange juice, and chicken soup, instead of taking pain killers and braving the elements, like any sturdy, responsible, girl would do.

I'm in Shidduchim. I'm supposed to be perfect. Not a mere mortal.

I've tried it both ways. I've done the stiff upper lip thing, covering my red nose with foundation, and disguising pale cheeks with rouge, sucking Strepsils, and dosing myself with double strength Paracetemol, tucking a plastic bag into my purse, in case I throw up on the way, teetering off to the bus stop, grasping the railings for support as I walk.

I don't remember now what the reason was, why I didn't cancel. I do remember I had to go out with him a second time. Because how could I rely on my judgment of the first date? It had been impossible to distinguish which part of the nightmare was him, and which part was the flu. I was just glad I'd remained conscious.

I'll never forget an ill fated date, a couple of years back. Hopefully I'll forget eventually, when I'm happily married to the man of my dreams, but until then it haunts me. I thought I'd met the one. The only one, the right one. All was going hunky dory, until our fourth date.

I was so tired, lethargic, I didn't know why, I just wanted to curl up in bed, not talk to him. We spoke of the commonplace, standard conversations on Judaism and current affairs. As he walked me to the bus stop, I used up tissue after tissue on my wayward nose, trying valiantly to follow what he was saying, to reciprocate. When I got home I collapsed, discovered my temperature was sky high, realized I was probably coming down with something.

The next day, I was lying on the sofa with a pile of tissues scattered around, a mug of tea in my hand, when the phone rang.

"What are you doing home?" she asked

"Sick leave." I said

"Oh. Refuah shleimah. But listen, it's a no." the Shadchan said. "He doesn't feel the relationship is going anywhere."

I mumbled something back at her. A combination of flu and being dumped is a wonderful recipe for feeling sorry for yourself.

It didn't help, saying I'd been sick, suggesting trying again. His rabbi had told him by the fourth date he had to feel ready to marry the girl. And he wasn't ready to marry me. Love doesn't conquer all, I learned that day. Love can be conquered by a fever.

He can't have been my Besherte. He obviously isn't, since he's married with a kid by now. But I sometimes wonder, what would have been the outcome of that date, what would have been the progression of that relationship, if I'd actually arrived to it a person, and not a zombie.

So tonight, I'm not going anywhere. The floor is sparkling, roses peek out from the vase in the corner, but no man will be calling on me tonight. I'm wearing flannel pajamas and a sweatshirt, not the dress I ironed on Friday. Fuzzy slippers and not heels. I'm taking daters' sick leave.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting Dressed in Israel

They only tell you stories from Israeli buses, from the Shuk. It's time you hear about our changing rooms too. They are the true key to Israel.

I'm trying on a sweater, minding my own business, enclosed in a curtained booth, when a head peeps through, imposes itself between curtain and plywood wall. "Mind if I join you?"

Before I know what's happening, head is followed by body, and both are beside me, inside the now cramped space.

"Thanks so much! Are you sure you don't mind?"

I nod mutely. Haven't quite figured out what's going on yet.

She begins to strip. Soon she's standing there in underwear, entirely unembarrassed. I back out of the stall, feeling rather in the way.

"Oh, you don't need to go! You don't mind me sharing your stall do you? There aren't any empty ones." She steps into a pair of jeans, starts pulling the denim fabric up her legs.

I guess it's her choice. I only have a pile of sweaters to try on, over my shirt. There's no real reason not to do it front of her. I stay in the cubicle.

But I try to imagine the same scene happening abroad, and fail miserably.

Modesty can be taken to the opposite extreme too.

"Is this skirt too short?" I ask my friend. I sit down on a stool, and try to see if it still covers my knees.

"It's much too short!"

I spin around. Is that woman speaking to me? She is. "None of the skirts here are Tznius", she tells me.

"Um, right." I say. "Thanks."

She's a soft spoken French woman. She means well. She's merely giving me advice. Never mind that I didn't ask for it. Never mind that she's never laid eyes on me before in her life.

Hey, we are all one big happy family, right? Nobody is a stranger in Israel.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chapter 10: More than Torah

"What's she looking for? Well, just a nice boy really, a Mentsh. Middos is the most important thing, don't you agree?"

Ima was impossible. How was the Shadchan going to suggest the right type of guy, if all Ima could say was that he needed to be "nice". Nice, indeed. As if that would solve everything.

The problem with nice boys was they wanted nice girls. Nice sweet little girls. They didn't want her. Not that she particularly wanted them.

Karen gestured to Ima. Stood in front of her and whispered "sophisticated".

Ima waved a hand, brushed her aside.

"so- phis-ti-cat-ed", Karen mouthed, trying to get her attention.

"What was that? Hold on a second please, my daughter's saying something. What do you want Karen?"

"Sophisticated. Mature. Put together" Karen whispered.

"What? I don't understand. Here, you talk to her."

Karen wanted to scream. Ima knew she hated talking to matchmakers directly. That's what parents were for.

But now she was left holding the receiver. Ima had disappeared back into her beloved kitchen.

"Shalom Rebbetzin Auerbach. Yes, I'm also happy to be finally speaking to you. Well, about the boys."

Should she have said 'Bochurs'? Would that have sounded more Frum?

"Yes, so Middos are very important. But I do feel that, for it to work, he'll need some other character traits too. I also need someone sophisticated, do you know what I mean? Like mature, an adult, someone who knows what's going on in the world."

Karen settled down into the chair by the telephone, this was going to be a long conversation.

"Oh no! Of course I think learning's important! And I do want to marry a Yeshiva Bochur! Just I'd like to, well, be able to talk to him. About other things, not only Torah. Not that I'm saying Torah shouldn't be the focus! But there are so many other interesting things going on in the world too…" Karen's voice drifted off. It was so hard to explain. And they never understood.

"Yes, I realise that you deal only with boys from mainstream Yeshivas. I've gone out with boys from those Yeshivas. Surely one of them can be a serious learner, and still be able to hold a conversation about current affairs? About art, history, science, something, anything?"

"Oh you're saying those boys aren't the dedicated ones, that the ones you deal with are all good boys from good solid Frum families? Is that a contradiction? Maybe you can think of someone all the same?"

"Right. I see. Well, good bye then. Thanks anyway"

Karen carefully placed the receiver back in its place. She swiveled around, called into the kitchen . "It's no good. She says she doesn't have anyone suitable".

The water stopped running in the sink. Ima came back out into the living room.

"Karen, darling, was it really necessary to be so specific? You scare them away. Can't we start with finding you a nice Jewish boy? Why do you need to add all the fancy words?"

"But what's the point, Ima? What's the point in going out with yet another typical Yeshiva boy? I never like them. I just want to be able to talk to them, is that so much to ask for?"

"I don't know Karen. I don’t know what to say to you."

Karen's parents had been ready for all the laws and rules and stringencies, when they became religious. They'd been ready to move neighborhood, to change the way they lived and spoke and dressed. But they hadn't been ready for this. For the sheer helplessness they felt now, while their daughter's future wavered in the balance.

Maybe it was their fault. They hadn't been able to resist sneaking in secular culture, their favorite tidbits from the world they'd turned their backs on. The parts they couldn't give up.

So this was the result, here was Karen, Frum through and through, yet not quite, not quite the same as the others, as other people's children. The standard Yeshiva boy's weren't enough for her. She wanted more, more than her parents could give her. What had they done to their child?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Chapter 9: Her Father's Name

When Brachy was thirteen, she had a problem on her hands. She was a teenager, almost a grown up. She couldn't go around calling her father "Daddy". It sounded so babyish. She listened to what the other girls said, the words they used. It was mainly "Abba", sometimes "Tatty", or "Dad". But none of the names were him. This is what she'd called him all her life. This is what he was, her daddy. And how could she start calling him something different; how would she explain. He'd be hurt.

She tried to minimize the damage to her adult image. In public, she'd speak about him as "my father". That sounded reasonable. And when Shuli and Miriam came over, when any of her friends were around, she'd try not to call him anything at all.

Then came the point where they all knew his name. She went from classroom to classroom, every morning, writing his Jewish name in big curvy letters on the blackboard. Shimon Yosef son of Rachel Devora. Never mind that he was only Shimon Yosef for Aliyos in Shul, that he was Sam the rest of the time. This was the name they had to pray for.

That last week, the week he lay in Intensive Care, and slipped day by day away from them, she still called him "my father". She passed a cluster of classmates, gathered outside the grocery store, as she made the trek from hospital to home.

"Where've you been Brachy? We haven't seen you in a while."

"My father's very ill." She said. 'Please Daven for him. Please Daven for my father."

But what she wanted to yell was "Daddy is dying. Inside that cold white building. While you're standing here."

And now, Abba, Father, Daddy, it didn't make a difference anymore. She didn't have to worry about sounding childish. There was no one to call. God had taken that problem away from her.

"Do you remember how Daddy used to make us pancakes, on Motzai Shabbos?", she asked Shlomo.

Shlomo nodded slowly, "Yes, he was so proud that he'd learned how to. We used to add ice cream on top."

He didn't want to forget Daddy, either.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chapter 8: Shadchan's Interview

The floor was covered with Lego and puzzle pieces, scattered artistically in bright splodges of color. Shulamit kicked them aside and cleared a path to the dining room table. Brachy followed in her footsteps, trying her best not to step on any toys. Shulamit gestured to Brachy to sit down opposite her.

"So Brachy, tell me a bit about yourself please."

"Shuli, we've been friends since kindergarten!"

"I know, I know. But I still need to write down the details. Your personal information and stuff."

"Like what? You know who I am" Brachy thought this whole thing was ridiculous. Shulamit was getting carried away.

"Brachy relax. I know what I'm doing. I am an experienced matchmaker."

"Um, exactly how many matches have you made Shuli?"

Shulamit made a non committal sound. It was a sore point.

"Nu, how many?"

"One" Shulamit said. "But now I've learned the technique! This is just the beginning!"

"Right" Brachy said, not convinced. "So, what do you want to know? I'm called Brachy Miller. I live down the street from you. I grew up with you"

"Hold on, let me get organized." Shulamit opened up a loose leaf binder, pulled out a pack of fluorescent pink writing paper.

"I have a system", she told Brachy. "Pink is for girls, blue is for boys"

"So all you need to do is match the pink papers with the blue ones?"

Shulamit smiled widely. "Exactly!"

Brachy muttered something, but Shulamit pretended not to hear it. It didn't sound flattering.

"Brachy, tell me what you're looking for."

"Looking for in life in general? Or something in particular?"

"Looking for in a husband! Come on, Brachy, you agreed to this."

Brachy sighed. "I'm so tired of that question though. It's all anyone ever asks me. 'What am I looking for?' Like all I need to do is punch my order into a manufacturing system and a boy will come out the other end. And then, once I've finished spilling out my heart's desires, they tell me they don't have anyone, they don't even know any single boys. So why ask in the first place?!"

"Right. I can see how that can be upsetting. But we have to start somewhere."

Shulamit flushed a bright shade of pink. She matched the paper she was holding.

"You don't have any boys either, do you Shulamit? Admit it"

"I did meet one!" Shulamit defended herself. "Just this Friday I met a lovely boy who's interested in dating!"

"Great. So set me up with him."

"Oh. I don't think you two would really suit. I can't see you together..."
"Don't you think you should let me decide that?"

"Please Brachy, trust me, OK?"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chapter 7: The Flower Seller

This matchmaking business wasn't working out the way she'd planned. Shulamit opened the folder again, slammed it shut. Nothing had changed. No blue papers had miraculously flown into the file overnight. She still had almost no boys, just a thick stack of pink papers, one for each girl looking for a date.

Finding girls hadn't been a problem. Wherever she went, she kept an eye open, for the ponytails, the braids, and the bobs. She'd gotten bare head spotting down to a fine art. Shulamit could tell the natural hair from the wig, even when she was five rows behind in Shul, down a supermarket aisle, or across a wedding hall. Once she'd satisfied herself that the girl wasn't married (and also wasn't a minor), she'd pounce. They'd usually agree to come over, to be interviewed. (True, after a tiny little bit of effort on her part.)

With boys it was proving to be more of a problem. Where were they hiding? What a stupid question. The boys were all in Yeshiva of course. How would she get to them there?

She could make a sign. "Shulamit the Shadchan. Call me!". She could ask Dovid to go round the Meah Shearim, hang up the ads in the study halls. No, that wouldn't work. She could hardly start interviewing strange guys in the living room. Abba and Ima would never agree to it.

What a mess. Why hadn't she thought of this before. How was she going to keep all her promises now?

Shoot. The doorbell was ringing. "Dovid!", she yelled, "Someone at the door!". Let him answer it, she had bigger things on her mind.

Oh right, Dovid was at the grocery store. She'd promised to make his favorite peanut butter brownies, if he went to buy the ingredients.

There was a knock, this time. Two gentle taps, and a pause. Didn't people realize she had a business to run here? She gave up. She'd go see what they wanted.

The door swung open. Shulamit found herself looking at flowers, a big bunch of pink roses. A boy was holding them. He thrust them towards her, wordlessly. Had Abba invited Shabbos guests again without telling them? Now she was going to be stuck with playing hostess until he got back.

"Hello", she said, trying to look welcoming. "Do come inside! Would you like a drink?"

The boy looked rather surprised. Hadn't he known about her? Was he the type of Yeshiva boy who wouldn’t eat at homes where there were girls? Then he smiled. "Thanks, that's so kind of you to offer. I really could do with a glass of water"

As he stepped over the threshold, Shulamit saw a bucket, by the elevator outside, behind where he'd been standing. He'd been blocking it from view before. It held a mass of color, of life. The bucket was filled with flowers- roses, and gardenias, and orchids- Shabbos flowers.

Oops. He was the flower seller. Not a Shabbos guest. But she couldn't throw him out now. Besides, his face was red, his black hair clung damply to his forehead, there were wet patches on his T-Shirt. The poor boy obviously needed a rest.

"You know, I've been going door to door, all morning, lugging around this bucket, and even though it's a heat wave outside, you're the first person to offer me a drink!"

Shulamit gestured wordlessly at a chair, went to the fridge to get a bottle.

"I never realized how much work it was to sell flowers! When Motty woke up sick this morning , and asked me to do his round for him, I figured it was as good a way to spend a Friday morning as any.
"
He didn’t stop talking, now he was given the chance.

"I don't have Seder on Fridays. So I figured I'd do him a favor. But I guess I'm out of shape, Gemorra learning isn't exactly physical."

Shulamit stopped, her head bent over the plastic cup she was handing him.

He wasn't a regular flower seller. He was learning in Yeshiva. He was a Yeshiva boy. In her house. Without her even needing to post ads. Thank you God.

She looked up at him, a big smile on her face. "Take your time! You need to cool down in the air conditioning for a bit!"

She went over to the table, pulled out a blank piece of blue paper, from under the file. She picked up a pen, and sat down opposite him. Now all that was left was to find out what he was looking for. He had to be right for somebody, out of all the pink papers. The Shidduch was as good as made.