Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purim Haters Anonymous

Lots of things make me happy. Watching waves crash on the shore. Feeling the sunshine on my cheek. Falling into a steady rhythm as I cut through the water at the swimming pool. Seeing my nephew break into a smile, as the wind up train I bought him chugs around plastic tracks. Sitting with friends at a café and catching up on each other's lives. Writing the last line of a chapter I'm pleased with. The feeling is so good I want to bottle it up, keep it forever.

Purim doesn't make me happy. Purim makes me sad.

When Adar rolls around, and loudspeakers burst out with "Mishenichnas Adar"s, inside me I want to run away, to somewhere where there are no Purims, or perhaps hide out at home, until the worst has passed.

When I try to speak of it, it sounds odd, peculiar, loner-like and spoilsport-ish. Who doesn't like Purim, the year's official day of happiness?

I used to like Purim, once. When I was a kid, and planned my costume all year. Probably in ninth and tenth grade too, although I don't really remember.

I don't know why I hate it, these days. I don't know why I dread it, and feel like a huge burden is lifted off my shoulders when it's over.

Maybe I can blame it on the year my father was diagnosed with Cancer. Returning to the classroom as Purim carnival preparations were in full swing, joining in, planning and cutting and pasting and dressing up, because I didn't think there was any other way.

Maybe it's the year he was ill at home, and someone came to read the Megillah to him there, as the party went on in Shul.

Maybe it's the year after he died, when we were all putting on brave faces for each other, and we dressed up as gypsies, and strangers in the street asked us to tell their fortunes, and everything was great, on the surface.

There's no real reason, for me to hate Purim. I spend the week before making lists and packing Mishloach Manot, sometimes even themed ones. Once the sun has set I usually scramble around and find a costume to wear to Shul, in the 'if you can't beat them, join them' spirit.

After all, I sat enraptured in Seminary, through the Rabbis' lessons on the deeper meaning of Purim, the light of the hidden miracle, deeper and more intimate than the more obvious battles of Chanukah. I soaked in the Rebbetzins' talks of Purim as a day of prayer, of asking for miracles. So I try to remember, to get into the spirit of the day. I tell myself that this Purim will be different.

Then the hordes of Yeshiva boys arrive, banging on our door, wanting to dance with the nonexistent men of the house, and hit them up for donations. The music blares outside. I know there are parties going on, men getting drunk, boys dancing. Everyone else is happy, and I need to be too.

Maybe if I could get drunk, like men do, I'd be happy. I tried that one year, at the Seudah, surreptitiously pouring 'just a sip' of Smirnoff into my glass, every few minutes. It didn't help much.

I just want it to be over. Want life to be solid and steady again. Want to find joy in the small things, the precious moments, the intimate and close. Not in this loudness, brashness, that feels somehow fake, and shallow, and artificial.

Last year was different, if only for a moment. A woman came to visit us, on her way to a Seudah nearby. A successful, sophisticated, put together woman. A divorcee, her children assimilated and intermarried. On the spur of the moment, without much thought, we gave her a small Mishloach Manot, the left-overs from other packages, wrapped up in cellophane and a ribbon.

She was so excited. It was the first Mishloach Manot she'd received all day, she said. She placed it on the back seat of her car, proudly. She waved as she drove off.

And I was happy.

Perhaps that's what Purim is really about?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Confused Kallahs

"Mother's, take note. Don't allow your teenage daughters to shop without you! It is also vital to accompany kallahs. They are young and inexperienced and can't see how fitted clothes are alluring."

I put down this week's Hamodia.

"But it's not logical." I wonder out loud. "She's saying these girls are old enough to be brides, and choose their own husbands, but not old enough to choose their own clothes?"

Surely if they are responsible enough to get married, they can be trusted to go shopping on their own?

"Ah, but who's to say the brides choose their own husbands?" My mother points out the flaw in my logic.

Oh. Good point. Well that makes sense then. Obviously if you carefully select a teenage girl's husband for her, you should be watching over her shopping too. As the letter writer points out, the Satan lurks in every store, and every item of clothing needs careful inspection by a mature woman of experience.

The same way a potential son-in-law does.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I used to pray, that my father live to see my wedding. I calculated the extra years he'd need, to make it, to be there. For getting married is entering a new stage, a new phase; I wanted him to see me at it, see me reach it, see me grown up. I wanted him to be pleased, and proud.

But some things are not to be. He hasn't been around for a while, my dad. And even if he had been, so far he wouldn't have gotten to see that day.I'm still in the same stage I was then; same family status, same title before my name. Nothing's changed.

Yet it has. I may not be a married woman, but I have grown up, nonetheless.

I come home from work and run for my slippers and sweatshirt, rush to shed the constraining clothes of the day. He used to do the same. I thought it was funny, amusing, then.

I attend the Shiurs that he used to love, that I used to find boring. I enjoy them now.

I read his favorite books and columns. I appreciate his taste. I wish we could discuss them together.

I think of phrases he said, actions he followed. I see the wisdom, now. I understand, now.

There's so much we could have talked about, so much we could have shared. I would have understood him better, for I'm older now. Our whole relationship could have matured, developed. It would have made him happy, would have made him proud.

It's not only my wedding that he's going to miss. It's my adult life, which has already begun.

God let me have him all through my school years, he let me have a father growing up. I'm grateful.

"At least I'm not growing up an orphan" I said, at seventeen. "I'm an adult now. I can manage."

It is true, in a way. But as time passes, as life deepens and broadens, I'm grasping what I'm missing; a real relationship with him, an adult relationship.

Loss is supposed to get easier, when time goes by. And it does. Whole days go by where I don't even think of him, don't even look at his picture on my shelf.

Yet a part of me gets sadder. It's been longer without him, he's missing out on more of our lives. There is more and more that he's never going to see. The moments pile up, that I can't share with him.

I suppose that is what it means to lose somebody, in the simplest sense. He's gone, and in all the years that follow, through all the moments and events, he's not there. He's missing.

I almost didn't post this. I decided to in the end, because it's for all of you out there who are also missing someone.

My Secret Life

I have a secret life. I can't speak of it in public. I can't mention it in polite society.

"Where were you last night?" they ask. "Somewhere", I say.

"I heard this funny story from…Someone." I pronounce.

"I need to leave early" I tell my boss. "I need to do..Something."

"We are learning about Rabbi __" my niece says.
"Ooh, I went out with his grandson" I almost blurt out. I bite my tongue.

"Why are you so busy?" they ask. "Why don't we ever see you anymore?"
"Well I am working," I say. "And studying."
"And dating!" I want to yell. ""Hours upon hours of dates. Huge portions of my week, my time, my energy."

But I don't. Dozens of boys, hundreds of dates, thousands of hours, spent on an activity that must be kept under wraps, except with close friends and relatives. Phone calls and decisions and dilemmas; all unmentionable. They know it, they guess it. But they don't speak of it. Because, of course, it's private.

I have a secret life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Slow Me

"I'm slow" I tell him. "It takes me time to process things"

"Oh come on" he says.

"Really" I say. "You always want to have serious discussions when we are walking. But the stuff you tell me only sinks in a few hours later, when I'm already back home. I'm slow. I'm no good at on the spot debates."

A while later he tries to tell me a joke. I guess the ending while he's half way through.

"And you say you're slow. You always know what I'm going to say before I've even said it", he teases me.

It's true, I do have an annoying tendency of completing people's sentences for them.

"Ok, I'm not slow when it comes to understanding" I admit "It's only when it comes to feelings, opinions. Then I need to let in sink it before I can respond. I'm a bad arguer too. By the time I realize I'm upset, a good few hours have passed, it's all over. So I just get over it."

He was clearly unconvinced.

I think I've discovered the secret to my slowness.

It turns out the difference between extroverts and introverts isn't about being sociable, it's about how they think. Extroverts get their energy from the crowd; introverts get their energy from the quiet times. Extroverts process information while they are talking; the social interaction is what inspires them, what gives them the fuel to get going. While introverts can be equally friendly, but the time they actually think, analyze, understand, is when they are alone. They need to internalize in the peace.

Whoa, I am so an introvert.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Yeshiva Boy Auction

The boys wait in the wings. Their fathers stand beside them, wearing the same hats and suits, indistinguishable aside for the beards they sport. Their mothers are also there, even though they won't be joining their sons and husbands on the stage, for the obvious Tznius reasons. Still, the women are needed, and often only with their nod, spotted on the sidelines, can the deal proceed, be finalized. For who can know a boy's true worth, if not his mother?

The Rosh Yeshiva stands behind the podium. He welcomes the middle ages couples, spanning the rows of the auditorium. He doesn't mention the girls, sitting there too. Really the Rosh Yeshiva would prefer the parents came alone, without their daughters. He finds something a tad immodest, about the single girls examining the single boys from afar, as they are led on stage. The transaction should be about Torah, and Torah's value, not about looks. However, he has given up fighting that battle. The funds raised are sorely needed, and the parents refuse to go about it any other way.

Yaacov Hirsh strides on. Hirsh has no official title, but without him the Yeshiva would collapse in a day. He initiated the auction, later copied by all the top Yeshivas. He is to thank for this blessedly steady income. He's happy to explain the reasoning, to any man who asks.

"It's fair trade. A four year stint in Yeshiva increases a boy's net value to 50- 250,000 USD, payable in property, preferably an apartment in Jerusalem or Bnai Brak. Any Yeshiva graduate can typically fetch this much in the marriage market. And it's all thanks to us, thanks to the Yeshivas.

By all rights, the Yeshiva should be reaping some of the profits too. We take raw goods and turn them into valuable commodities."

And so the Yeshiva Boy Annual Auction came into being. The boys were sold, based on the traditional criteria of Yichus, intelligence, and diligence in learning. A percentage of the price they fetched went to the Yeshiva.

The Yeshivas were happy, no longer needing to send fundraisers abroad. The parents were happy, for it enabled them to see the boys on offer, without resorting to desperate measures. The only people to suffer were the matchmakers, now out of a job.

"Cutting out the middle man" is what Hirsh said. "And rightly so, for these are our Bochurs, on the market. Why should matchmakers be getting a cut, instead of us? What did they ever do for the boys?"

Shlomo Greenbaum is led on stage, flanked by Reb Greenbaum senior. The chatter stops, the air is still, filled with nervous tension.

In the audience, Ruchy Kahn says a short Kapittel of Tehillim. There has to be one boy here, for her. There had to be one boy, with a low enough asking price. Mammy and Tatty have already explained to her, as gently as possible, that they only have a small amount put aside. It sounds like a lot of money to Ruchy. But they look worried.

Hirsh consults with Reb Greenbaum, in a hushed tone. They come to an understanding, a price they can both agree on, taking into account the Greenbaums boy's average intelligence, and the time he spends learning, three full Seders, no more, no less. 100, 000 USD, the price of an apartment in Kiryat Sefer, is the starting price they settle on.

Hirsh starts the bidding. Ruchy's parents don't raise their hands. The amounts flying across the room are more than they can ever offer. Tatty is in Kollel, Mammy teaches, this is the most they can spare.

The Greenbaum deal is closed. The next boy is offered up. He is a top Bochur, from a Choshuve family, learning night and day. He is out of Ruchy's league entirely. She doesn't even aspire, for him.

There is a dimmer of hope, at one point. A skinny boy appears, in a wrinkled suit. He stands there alone. His parents are divorced, his father is abroad. He leans too close to the microphone, and his voice echoes through the auditorium, as he answers Hirsh's questions. His stutter is audible, as he stammers out the answers. He isn't a catch, by anyone's standards.

Perhaps he is the answer. Perhaps Ruchy will be a Kallah this year, after all.

But no, it is not to be. He fetches an apartment in a development town. He will be learning in a small Kollel in the south, next year. It is still more than the Kahn's can offer. For the first time, Reb Kahn regrets not going into business, not making a good living, like the other men in the room. He wanted to learn Torah, his wife encouraged him, they managed to make do, from month to month. But now, they have a single daughter on their hands. How are they to marry her off?

As the participants stream out of the hall, Ruchy and her parents remain seated. None of them want to go, want to give up on this dream, of finding her a husband.

"Next year, please God." Reb Kahn says, eventually. "We will put some more money aside. I will go to the Gemachs, see how much they can lend me. We will come again, to next year's Yeshiva Boy Auction. Next year, with Hashem's help, we will be able to afford a Yeshiva boy for you."

Brachy nods. She is a good, sweet girl. Together they walk out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm 23

They are only 23. They are coming back from India, becoming students and waitresses, living life step by step, vaguely thinking of plans for the future. They are still young.

I'm 23 already. I should be married, should be a mother; should have settled down, moved on. I shouldn't be in this position. I'm an older single.

You suggest evenings for single girls, events arranged specially for those left on the shelf. I tried them. I went to Shiurim, organized for girls "in my situation".

It felt like stepping back in time, back to my schooldays. I'm used to boardrooms and conferences now, not classrooms where we sit in rows, like good little girls, and are lectured to on why we should be brave, have faith, on how there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It felt like a quasi support group, where all that united us was our unmarried status.

There's more to me, than being single. There's more to life, than waiting to get married.

So I'm 23. I'm not a spinster, of the Victorian era. I'm not an old maid, sitting on the shelf. So I'm not married, not a mother yet. I'd like to be, I'm not. But I am young, nontheless, all the same.

There's a world out there, there's a life ahead. There's more than being a hanger on, at the fringes of society, tagging on to couples and families. There's more than being an older single, seeking comfort with the others who struggle.

What I search for is acceptance as an adult, with an adult's life, despite not having the marital trappings, despite my flat stomach, and bare finger.

There is a different world, where I can be me. Where I can travel and study and experience. Where I don’t need to count the days, the months, the years that pass, while I'm in limbo.

I have one foot in it, already. Yet if I step out, into that world, I'm stepping further from my ideals, my life's ambitions, further away from what I truly want. The world outside is not what can fulfill my dreams, of a simple, focused, home, and a family, and a husband who learns Torah.

So I stay where I am. I don't become a student again, taste life on campus. I don't quit my job, and try out living in NY. I don't backpack across Europe, meeting strangers on the way.

I stay. I wait. I'm only 23.

Left Behind

My universe has shrunken. It happened gradually, without me noticing.

Parties, trips, Shabbatons with friends, all are distant memories. Shopping in the mall, praying at the Kotel, I do them alone, now.

Theoretically, I do have friends. There is even one hour each day, a sixty minute gap before their husbands get home from Kollel, when I can actually see them. The rest of the time, they are "phone friends". Great for giving as references, ever ready to gush about how close we are, but not much use for my social life.

"I don't need new friends," I tell myself. "I just need to get married, and I'll be back on the sane terrain as them."

But I've been saying that line for a few years now. It's not enough, any more.
I want a world, I want to be part of society again.

I try going to Shiurim, to the gym and the pool. To Melava Malkas and Kidduses. Everywhere I'm the only bare head, surrounded by scarves and Sheitels. No best friends in the making there. I learn to adjust my conversation to babies' sleep cycles, and the best strollers. Films and shows are of no interest, because who can find a babysitter, anyway?

I've discovered a place, a society, where I can belong. Where I don't need to make excuses. I sit at the wide wooden table. Around me are women my age. There is one scarf, that's it. The rest have long hair, flowing down their backs. It feels so good. I fit in. I'm normal once more. I lean back and listen to the Shiur.

But there's one problem. There are men there too. It's a hang out scene. It's modern, it's mixed. I shouldn't be there.

"The longer a girl stays single, the more modern she becomes." someone once told me. With a boy it's the opposite, he stays in Yeshiva, he becomes Frummer, Shtarker. But the girls are out in the world, and it affects them."

I didn't understand her, didn't want to believe her. "That won't happen to me", I swore. "I'm not going to change. I'm Frum."

And indeed I was. I kept it all. I believed in it too.

But it wasn't enough to stay the same. I should have moved on, to the next stage.

I've lost my place, and am yet to find a new one. And my society, Chareidi society, has no answers. It's not that single girls leave the Chareidi world, it's that society leaves them, leaves them behind. And so they look elsewhere. Maybe I should, too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dragging In the Stars

'I don't trust you when you drag in the stars,' she said. 'If you were quite true, it wouldn't be necessary to be so far-fetched.'
(Ursula, Women In Love)

It was worth reading the whole book, just for that line.

Because it's exactly how I feel, when men start going all romantic on me.

How about you?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Prayer to be Dumped

Excerpted from the Complete Siddur for the Bas Yisroel. To be recited in Shema Koleinu or before Yehiyu LeRatzon:

(For those of you who missed seeing my guest-post over at FrumSatire)

Blessed be you our God and God of our foremothers. May you have mercy on me [insert name] daughter of [insert mother's name] and spare me from another date with [insert date's name] son of [insert your hopefully-not-to-be-mother-in-law's name].

Please, God, let me not find favor in his eyes. For the thought of another date with him doth not appeal.

It is true, O Lord that he is a rightful servant of your name, and he doth be all that is good and eligible. Moreover, there be no man without failings, as is written 'There is no Tzaddik in the land who does not sin'.

Yet though I do travail, there doth be no click, no connection. And though I labor to know him, to like him, it doth be of no avail.
And I don't know what to do.

And I do fear for my name and reputation. For to be named 'picky', in the language of the people, is ruinous. As it is written 'a good name is better than precious oil'.

And I do not wish to lie awake, afterwards, wondering if I have done the right deed.

So let it be your will that he dump me. Amen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cradle Snatchers

I don't know much about my little brother. I don't know anything at all, in fact. You see, he wasn't born, wasn't conceived, doesn't exist. I'm the youngest.

But I do know one thing about him. And that's that if I had one, he'd be getting married now. Yes, right about now my little brother would be announcing his engagement to the world.

What makes me so sure? Well that's what little brothers do, apparently. It's all that my friends' little brothers have been doing, the whole flock of them.

"Isn't he 18?" I ask, when I heard of yet another engagement.

She looks insulted. "No, he's 19. His birthday was ages ago."

"Oh." I say. "I'm sorry. I still think of him as 5, and getting in the way when we played house".

They are mainly 19. A few of them, the older ones, have waited it out till the ripe old age of 20. They span across society, from National-Religious to Litvak to Chassidic.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, really. I shouldn't call them babies. I also started dating when I was nineteen.

But I never went out with a 19 year old boy, it never even came up. And if a 20 year old had been suggested to me, I would have laughed. Even 21 I considered childish. I still do. Let's face it, men mature much later than women.

Boys getting married in their teens, that used to be because they were hitching up with their high school girlfriends. Not because they were Shidduch dating.

So what is this new trend, of teenage grooms? Is it only in Israel, or has it reached across the Atlantic too?

I've got to admit, I understand the girls, the brides, in a way. Grab the men when they are young.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chapter 14: Her Virtual World

"She should be Tznius, and have Yirat Shamayim, and encourage me to excel spiritually, and push me to learn torah"

Karen closed the tab. It sounded like he was looking for a rabbi, not a wife.

"Looking for a chilled girl, who likes to have fun, and enjoys a good movie"

She closed that tab too. He sounded like he wanted a permanent version of a girl friend, a party girl.

It was funny; really she was all those things they'd described. Really she was Tznius, and did work on her faith, and also did like to chill and have fun sometimes. But the guys who said they were looking for that in a wife; that warned her off them. She supposed it was a question of priorities. They were showing what was most important to them. And what they didn't care about, not that much.

Karen had it figured out by now, how to read between the lines, how to sort the wheat from the chaff.

She had a method, how to search their profiles, how to skim descriptions, picking out key words, learning all she needed to know from a few phrases. She had tactics, techniques for initiating contact, for responding to messages.

Here at least, at last, in this virtual dating world, she could instill order.
True, she'd never actually gone out with any of them, met them in real life. It always remained in the realms of the website; messages and chats and photos exchanged, a burst of enthusiasm. Eventually petering out, once the exotic stranger had turned into a known mundanity.

She had never met any of them, face to face, voice blending into voice. It was only words, cold black and white on the screen, laid out in rows. She could reply in her own time, at her own pace. She could sit at the keyboard, in Teddy bear pajamas, with moisturizer smeared in generous dollops on her face, wet hair wrapped up in a towel, and formulate the most appropriate response. So much easier than a date.

She knew it was unusual. She knew some would call it weird. She hid it, from them all, this new pastime she had.

She let them continue pestering matchmakers, and turning the world upside down in order to find boys for her to meet. She didn't stop the Shidduch inquiries, and webs of phone calls, between mothers and boys and rabbis and her, all to set up yet another stilted date. She went on the dates, she went along with it. Hopefully shed meet the right man, her future beloved, on one of them.

But every night, when she got home, she'd check her online dating account's inbox. This she could do herself, without asking for help. This was her backup plan.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Going After Your Man

I'm old fashioned. I was brought up to believe that you don't chase men; they've got to go after you. And if that guy of your dreams doesn't? Then he's just not that into you. Forget about him, baby. Move on.

My high school years revolved around crushes on guys who barely knew I existed. I learned my lesson. Take what you can get, don't chase stars. If he really liked you, he'd show it.

The most that us weaker sex can do is reciprocate. Subtly show we are interested, show the admiration is mutual. Hope he'll be encouraged, will work up the courage to ask us out.

The only problem is, I still haven't quite figured out how to do that. Flirting isn't something we were taught in Bais Yaacov. My 'subtle' is probably another girl's 'get lost'. And what if he's shy, nervous, scared? Or he thinks some insurmountable hurdle stands in the way, an issue you don't even care about? Or he simply never thought about you that way before, and somebody needs to light the switch in his mind?

There is another way. And it can work. A guest post from the keyboard of a happily pursued (and now married) man:

I met my wife in passing once. I went to college with her older brother. I didn't really give her a second thought, because she was so much younger. To me she was just my friend's sister.

She, however, was very interested in me. She found excuses to either come by with her brother to see me, or bump into me in various places. We struck up a sort of flirty friendship, over a few weeks. It slowly made its way over to regular phone calls.

A week later I broke my leg. And it was the perfect excuse for her to come over to my apartment to check and see how I was doing. That act made me think of her differently. One week later, when we were talking, she asked me out. I said of course.

The dating only lasted for a year. Then we got married.

Why did I *make* her ask me out?

Too often the guy does all the pursuing because he likes the girl. Usually, because he is very attracted, for one reason or another. As such, his feelings are pretty much known to all. But the guy is left guessing as to how the girl feels. Is she in it because she just wants company until something better comes along? Does she just like the free meals she's getting?

Though most guys won't admit it, it's nice to be pursued. As great a feeling as it is for a girl to be courted, it feels even better for a guy.

At least, that's what I was waiting for. I always told my friends, if a girl ever asked me out, no matter what she looked like, where she was from, etc., I would say 'absolutely' and go out with her, and pay for the whole date too. When someone can make themselves that vulnerable to another, that, in and of itself, is reason enough to give it a shot.

Bottom line, never say no, and it never hurts to ask...

So girls, what do you say? Should we start asking them out?