Asher’s wardrobe divided easily into two colors: black and white. He considered this one of the many nice things about yeshiva, the simplicity. It’s a life pared down to essentials; not that he was totally oblivious to fashion. A talmid hocham had a dignified appearance, so Asher’s clothing was of excellent quality. He had shirts from Brooks Brothers and pants from Banana Republic and J. Crew, purchased by his father on his trips. Nonetheless, Asher’s taste was conservative, simple. He wore the same shirts and pants and suits over and over again, freeing his mind up for more important matters, like learning gemara. Although that morning’s learning had been more demanding than usual, it wasn’t on his mind right now.
As he loaded the washing machine, he thought about Dena Maisels. What had his mother been thinking? How could she fail to realize that Dena was too short and too loud and that her family lived too close? He hated himself for blaming his mother. She loved him. She meant well and she was so sincere, to a fault. He admired her courage and her honesty in seeking out a religious life and by moving to Israel: those were gutsy moves. If he’d been planted in a different country and culture, would he have made those kinds of changes? Probably not. Yet, having ba’alei teshuva for parents had its downsides. He’d long suspected his mother was clueless about shidduchim and she’d now confirmed his fear.
Dating was on his mind. It was on everyone’s mind. Just last night, his roommates spoke about their wish lists and everyone had different ideas.
“Rich,” said Ezi Pollack, a large, strapping guy with dark wavy hair, a thick neck, and a barrel chest. Ezi was Asher’s morning study partner. “I don’t care what she looks like.”
“Really? How ugly can she be?” asked Itamar Levy. At twenty-five, Levy was an alter, the male equivalent of an old maid.
“You can buy good looks with plastic surgery or makeup. I want her to be so rich that I can buy steaks, buy fancy yogurts, and go on trips. I want to go to Switzerland. I want to order my clothes from America. I’m tired of the Turkish junk they sell here.”
Everyone laughed heartily, since they all knew Ezi’s declaration was purely theoretical. He had four older unmarried sisters and his parents insisted that he should wait for them to get married before he did.
Asher didn’t say what he wanted, but he knew. Perhaps because his family was well-off, he wasn’t overly concerned with money. What he was seeking were good looks; not to show off, but he wanted to be attracted to his wife and not be tempted by other women. He also wanted yichus. She didn’t have to be the daughter of the Gadol HaDor, but at least the daughter of a talmid hocham.
It says in Pirke Avos that it is preferable to marry the daughter of a talmid hocham and he wanted a father-in-law with whom he could discuss his learning. He loved his father, but he had never studied in a yeshiva. He also wanted to become part of a large, extended clan of FFBs. Other than his paternal aunt’s kids in the US, he had no cousins, no-one to visit on vacations or Hol HaMoed. How could he say this to his parents without hurting them? Maybe one of his yeshiva friends would suggest a match: a sister, a cousin. His friends would get it right. Then he wouldn’t need to drag his mother into his private life.
The next morning, Molly rose early to bake the muffins. As she took the baking powder out of the pantry, Esther, the matchmaker, called.
“Sorry, bad news,” Esther said.
“Huh?” The words caused Molly’s heart to pound.
“It’s not happening. Dena is busy.”
“Busy? Why did you suggest her if she was busy?”
“I wish I could let you see one day of my life. You can’t imagine how many calls I get. I can’t keep track.”
“But aren’t you supposed to know if a girl is available?”
“I wish I could. Until someone invents an app for it, I can’t. There’s just no way for me to keep track.”
Molly furrowed her brow. Esther’s tone was unconvincing.
“Is she really busy or is it something about us?”
“Don’t go there. Just accept it. It’s just not bashert. Forget it. Forget it.” Esther was shouting.
“How? What if I meet Evelyn Maisels in the elevator?”
“Forget about it. It’s not for you, but a thought has come to me. I’ve got a sixth sense about this. It’s not me, of course. Hashem gave me a gift. Do you know how many matches I’ve made? 200 and I’m not counting.”
Molly frowned and took a long sip of coffee. It sounded like Esther was offering her a consolation prize.
“I can feel this one coming through. Have you heard the name Ayelet Gold? You may know the family, Ellie and Shmuely Gold. Big yichus. Thirty generations of rabbis. The family tree in their living room takes up the whole wall.”
Asher would like that. “And she’s a Bais Basya girl.”
“I wanted to send Bella there.”
Molly had dreamed of Bais Basya for her only daughter. At Bais Basya, the girls were encouraged to verbalize their questions, no matter how outrageous. Bella didn’t make the cut; she was barely treading water at Bais Rinah.
“Are the Golds English speakers?” Molly asked.
Though she’d lived in Israel for more than a quarter of a century, she lived among other English-speaking immigrants.
“Mom is from Cleveland, Dad is from Cincinnati.”
“Oh, I’m so relieved. It’s not that I don’t speak Hebrew, I just can’t imagine Israeli in-laws. Their mentality is just so different.”
“I get it. Now grab a pen. I’m going to read out the references.”
References? This conversation was getting even stranger. Why did one need references for love, for marriage?
As Esther dictated the long list of names and phone numbers of Ayelet’s teachers, friends, and neighbors, Molly scribbled it all down, like an obedient schoolgirl.
“I’m sure you’ll be impressed.”
“What do I do with all this information?”
“You call them and ask them anything you want to know about Ayelet.”
Molly’s mouth opened. “Are you telling me to call people that the Golds don’t know?”
“Trust me. Everybody does this.”
Matchmaking went on all the time. Hardly a day passed that the Tumims’ mailbox didn’t hold a wedding invitation. Molly had regarded it as a natural process, like birth or death. She had no idea how it was done.