By Larry Gordon
“Whose fault is this mess?” That question seemed to be the essential underlying theme of a session this past Shavuos that was supposed to shed some light on the issue of shidduchim and matchmaking in our communities. It was a raucous but interesting meeting where participants with diverse opinions traded ideas, criticism, and barbs.
The meeting took place at a wonderful yom tov program hosted by the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens. Families and individuals attend these yom tov and Shabbos programs for a variety of reasons, with one of them being that there is an array of matchmakers or shadchanim present to help facilitate the process for singles and their concerned parents.
So we looked at the program and the different sessions being offered one afternoon, and this particular meeting jumped off the page at us. I could not recall whether I had ever attended this type of presentation. I am fairly certain that I will not soon forget this one.
It seems that in the communal endeavor to coalesce our efforts and rid our community of what is today defined as a “shidduch crisis,” none of those involved are satisfied with what is going on. There is a bottleneck, or perhaps we can refer to it as a Van Wyck Expressway-type traffic jam, that has singles desirous of getting married and starting families or, in other words, getting on with their lives, stuck in the dating mode.
It was the first day of yom tov so I could not take any notes or record any of this, so I have to reconstruct events from memory. There were two shadchanim present, women who dedicate an inordinate amount of time to matching people and creating couples in the frum community. It is unfair to assign blame about inefficiency or lack of motivation, so to speak, because these individuals work largely on a volunteer basis.
So let’s address the issues at hand. There is a plethora of frum singles waiting around, many impatiently, for either these quasi-professionals, or anyone else for that matter, to come forward and suggest “an idea” for a suitable match for them.
One of the matchmakers said right up front that shadchanim do not make matches; they are mere emissaries, or facilitators might be a better description, as we believe that couples are created in the heavens by G‑d Al‑mighty. The puzzle of the mystery down here is to figure it all out with our mundane abilities, wade through the maze, and discover our intended bashert or destined life and marriage partner.
And I agree with that view for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that we are not going about the process wrongly or mistakenly. Obviously, something is being mishandled or done incorrectly; otherwise it would not be such a colossal life-altering problem.
The approximately 90-minute discussion, with the animated participation of those present, touched upon an array of sensitive matchmaking issues. Among the two shadchanim present and running the forum—Chana Rose of Brooklyn and Judy Bodner of Monsey—there was fairly substantive disagreement about some of the preliminary methods of making a shidduch.
Ms. Rose said she has been making matches and bringing people together for 27 years. She just about never meets the people she sets up. She examines their paperwork and sometimes speaks to them by phone, but basically depends on siyatta d’Shmaya to be successful.
On the other hand, Ms. Bodner said that she does not, will not, and cannot set up two people unless she first meets them. Now, no one present was doubting that in order to arrange such an intricate matter as bringing two people together to live happily ever after, a good measure of Divine inspiration as well heavenly assistance is necessary. It is just that we are human and, especially in this day and age, we are so terribly shielded from sensing that type of providential involvement that we simply have to do our levelheaded best on this most human of levels. Those involved in these processes call that shtadlanus.
There seemed to be a consensus in the room that the system as it currently exists functions in a stilted fashion and is probably the worst possible way to get shidduchim done. At the same time, there is an air of resignation that also says that however one may characterize this system, this is what it is and this is how it is going to be going forward.
Some added that while this system, or lack thereof, has been in place for quite a long time, instead of being improved from time to time things seem to be getting worse—if that is at all possible. For example, it was pointed out, in the past when a shadchan or a third party would suggest a shidduch, the young man would be given the young woman’s phone number and he would call her at an appointed time to set up a date.
While that is still the proper, formal way for these things to evolve, somewhere down the line, over the last decade or so, someone suggested that there was something idle or unnecessary about a boy spending time on the phone with a girl, where, in addition to setting up a time to meet, they may be forced to discuss mundane things like the weather and so on.
This is where the room at this particular session seemed to be divided right down the middle. Someone posited that the stated reason why the phone call is discouraged is that it is felt that if the young couple speak on the phone, they may have nothing to talk about when they meet. The concern is that both parties will empty their heads in one phone call and will be incapable of manufacturing any new thoughts or ideas or verbalizing any further pieces of information the parties might want to share when they meet.
Another session participant said she didn’t understand why couples often go to a lounge on their first date and sit opposite one another for three hours talking, but are urged not to spend five minutes on the phone prior to the date.
That was just one aspect of this wide-ranging and somewhat unruly discussion that seemed more like a loosely structured group-therapy session than anything else. Other aspects of the conversation were about why there are so many unmarried people in the community when there is supposedly a system in place that is intended to address that exact issue.
Aside from the answer being a shrug of one’s shoulders, the other response is that shidduchim come from above—and they do indeed (as everything does). But that doesn’t mean that humans down here cannot use their G‑d-given freedom and independent thought process to throw a wrench into the system.
This is by no means intended to detract from the outstanding work many matchmakers are doing. I think the question that needs a response more than any other is not why the older generation has cooperated in establishing this type of system or why the shadchanim—who are in such demand—have so much control of the market. The real question is why did and why does a generation of young people mostly in their 20s and 30s allow themselves to be subjected to such a flawed system that literally controls their future and that of their families? v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.