Outdated Chapter Seven
Joe immediately regretted calling Sharon, even as the phone was ringing, but he was desperate. All Shabbos afternoon Daniela’s words to Aliza bounced around his head, leading him to review his entire relationship history and conclude that he didn’t know a thing about girls. Three years in college trying to find a girlfriend and all of Sharon’s advice didn’t get him anywhere. And when he reached out for help, she dismissed his concerns and gave him no hope. When he finally fell asleep around midnight, his last thought was that he was done asking Sharon for advice.
On Sunday morning he couldn’t fully concentrate on his davening. Instead of speaking to Hashem, he found himself getting angrier at Sharon, blaming her for his current conundrum. She had taught him everything about his religious lifestyle, and with her latest defection, he questioned what else she had told him that he had to reevaluate. When /Mr. Siegel’s business card fell out of his wallet as he took out a dollar to give tzedakah, he saw the scribbled number on the back and took it as a sign. He set an appointment with the matchmaker as soon as he got back to his apartment.
“If you’re free, come today,” she insisted in a thick Brooklyn accent. “We’re going to the Mountains any day now, and who knows what’ll be this week with my kids needing this for the end of the year and that for camp.”
He hung up. As he waited for the bus an hour later, his internal dialogue spoke out his thoughts:
I don’t have the money for this.
Don’t believe everything Sharon says.
Mr. Siegel wouldn’t suggest it without mentioning the money.
Still, I don’t need someone to find me a girl; I meet plenty of them.
But then what success have I had in getting a date?
What, I’ll never meet anyone? G-d would make me suffer when He really wants me to get married?
Maybe He wants me to find her this way, though. Plenty of religious Jews use this method and they’re successful.
But will she have any girls like me or will I have to change and be more frum than I really am? I have no idea what this entails, but I’ve already gone this far.
But how can I marry without really knowing her?
OK, slow down. It’s probably simply an interview of sorts, which I have experience with. All she’s going to do is suggest someone to meet, and that’s all. No big deal…
Joe listened on as he stood rigidly on the packed bus, his eyes roving about as he observed the other riders. One particularly boisterous pair of brothers, at most seven years old, attracted his attention as they spoke with each other in rapid Yiddish about something that appeared to be of great importance. He was envious of their enthusiasm, carefree to argue about complete nonsense without a care in the world. Joe, on the other hand, was stunned at how quickly he had made the decision. Without Sharon’s vitriol against shidduchim to prevent him, he not only called but was also on the way to meet her. He took a deep breath and was glad Sharon hadn’t blown his confidence by texting or calling him.
Finally, he got off the bus and walked up 13th Avenue, amazed at what he saw. While it was an avenue lined with businesses like any other in Brooklyn, the particular make-up of the heavily religious neighborhood made everything stand out. The uniformity of Hassidic men in their black felt hats and bekeshes and the conservative, modest dress of the women with wigs under their pillbox hats characterized the shoppers, eager to get their supplies for the upcoming sojourn to the Catskills. One newly-married couple attracted Joe’s eyes in particular: the husband stood out with his fox-fur shtreimel and a shining black long-coat contrasting his radiant white knee socks, while his bride had on her best Shabbos suit and a stylish kerchief adorning her short wig. Even the stores had a Jewish feel, either from the kosher menus or the tznius clothing or the business owners curling their peyos. The sidewalks were filled with young girls with faux Coach bags hanging from their elbow joints, mothers holding whining children as they talked on their cell phones, fathers pushing strollers and the occasional out-of-place person of color. It all reminded Joe of his Fridays when he was in yeshiva and he wished he had more time to simply walk up and down the avenue and soak up his nostalgia for Jerusalem, but he had an appointment to keep, so he gathered as much as he could before turning down 46th Street.
In the middle of the block he found the address, a two-family semi-attached square house smack in the middle of a whole row of similarly built houses. He walked up the few steps to the porch where a gas barbecue grill and four plastic chairs were locked to the railing with a serious metal chain. Two doors were at the right of the exterior wall and the doorbell under the right one had a named taped under it: “Rosenzweig”. Joe rang the bell and as he waited, he straightened the lapel of his coat and smoothed his pants, all the while looking over his shoulder as if he was already being scrutinized by her neighbors. After about fifteen seconds he heard footsteps and the door opened, revealing a ten-year- old girl staring up at him with a puzzled face.
“Is this Rosenzweig?” he asked, knowing full well what was taped under the doorbell. The girl nodded. “I think I have a meeting with your mother.”
Then the girl yelled up the stairs as loud as she could, “Mommy!”
A voice called to her, asking, “Who is it? Is it Joseph?”
Joe answered the question by calling up, “Yes.”
“Shoshanna, tell him to come up.”
The girl motioned to him and he walked up the stairs and found himself entering a large living room with parquet floors and off-white leather couches along the walls. To his right the room opened to a dining area with a large table and the kitchen off to the side behind it. Leading towards the back of the house was a hallway, the first doorway connecting to the kitchen, and more rooms further down. As he stepped in from the stairwell he could hear something bubbling in a pot on the stove, and after that the matchmaker’s voice: “Joseph, please sit and make yourself comfortable.”
Joe ignored her suggestion. He padded towards the big window that looked onto the street, but a large maple tree blocked the view. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he strolled towards the bookshelf, casually reading the titles of the seforim. Just next to the door, the wall was lined from floor to ceiling with carefully arranged books of all types: kids’ books, Jewish books in both English and Hebrew, two shelves of photo albums, and an open shelf with black-and-white photos of previous generations.
After a minute he realized he was being watched by a boy of about six, who was shyly tottering by the back of one of the chairs. Joe smiled but the boy continued watching him suspiciously.
Mrs. Rosenzweig emerged from the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish towel. She was dressed conservatively, a styled short wig covering her hair. Joe guessed her age to be approaching fifty. She was taller than he imagined but not broad. While still drying her hands, she scolded her son. “Shloimie, don’t stare. Go say hello to Joseph.” Shloimie smiled briefly at Joe before hiding in his mother’s skirt. “He’s a bit shy,” she said to Joe.
“It’s fine,” said Joe.
“So, you work for Stadler & Klein?” she asked. “You look rather young.”
Joe felt his cheeks warm. “I finished college after three years.”
“Oh,” she said with a nod. Then she motioned towards the table. “Please take a seat. Any chair is fine.”
He walked over to one of the side chairs while Mrs. Rosenzweig went into the kitchen. It then hit him that he was actually doing this, and the shock nearly made him miss the seat as he sat down. He didn’t know why he was so scared; he reminded himself that all he was doing was meeting a woman who might suggest to him a girl that he might meet and then might agree to marry. There were too many maybes before anything serious to be worrying this much. He was tapping on the table with his fingers as she returned with a pad of paper, a glasses case and a plastic box sized for index cards. Sitting at the end of the table, she removed the glasses from their holder and put them on, prompting Joe to sit rigidly in his chair to get ready for an interrogation.
“OK,” she started, looking down as she wrote. “What is your full name?”
“Joseph Charnoff,” he stated.
“Yosef.” Joe quickly glanced over at the hallway, convinced that someone was watching him.
“Are you a Kohen?”
The question puzzled him. “Does it matter?”
She looked up. “Only if you are.”
“Oh. No, no I’m not.”
She resumed her writing. “OK…where were you born?”
“Where was I born? Or where was I raised?”
She looked up at him and smiled. “Relax, dear. I’m not the FBI.” He smiled nervously.
“You could tell me both.”
“I was born in Chicago but raised in Potomac, Maryland, from age six.”
“I haven’t heard of Potomac,” she said absently. “Are there Jews there?”
Joe understood that “Jews” meant frum Jews. “There are a few shuls, but most Orthodox kids get bused to Rockville or Silver Spring.”
“Did you go to a Jewish school?”
“Yes.” He loosened his shoulders. “I attended Jewish Day School in Rockville through high school.”
“I see,” she said, resuming her writing. “Where did you learn after that?”
“Learn?” Joe glanced at the hallway and thought he saw the back of a head dart into a room. “Like, college?”
“More like yeshiva.”
“I spent a summer in yeshiva before college. I was in college for three years, and now I learn nights and alternate days at Ohr Eliyahu in Flatbush.”
“Alternate days?” she repeated.
He blinked rapidly. “I’m in graduate school and I only work part-time.”
Then she remembered. “Oh, that’s right, for Marty.” Joe assumed that she was referring to Mr. Siegel, whom Joe thought was named Moshe. “So what do you consider yourself—Modern, Hassidish, Yeshivish, Yekkish?”
Joe took a deep breath and started scratching his chin. “My parents are traditional—Conservative, you know, that’s how I was raised. I became a ba’al teshuva in Israel. I guess I’m more yeshivish but can’t really say I spent enough time in yeshiva to fit the bill. I really don’t like labels so much,” he admitted.
“I understand. We’re all Jews, right?” She raised her eyebrows and then smiled. “I wish.
Anyway, what about your parents? What are their names?”
He started tapping his cheek with his fingers. He was finding it strange how long she was continuing to look down at her writing. “Robert and Linda.”
“Dov Reuven and Leah.”
“What do they do?”
He leaned back in his seat. “My father is an accountant and my mother is a tour guide at the Holocaust Museum.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
Joe quickly turned and looked down the hallway, this time catching the little boy peeking from behind the breakfront. Joe smiled widely, which the little boy reciprocated before skipping into a room. “One older sister,” Joe answered. “She’s married and lives in Baltimore.”
Mrs. Rosenzweig continued to look down as she wrote. “How old are you?”
“How tall?” he repeated. What does this matter? “5-10, if I remember correctly.”
“That’s fine. So,” she announced, lifting her head and removing her glasses. Looking straight at Joe, she asked, “What are you looking for?”
Joe was stumped. He had thought that all of her questions would be similarly straight-forward inquiries. He scratched his head with his kippah. “What do you mean?”
“What kind of girl are you looking for?” she repeated herself.
Widening his eyes, he shrugged. “To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it.”
“Well,” she said pleasantly, putting down her pen, “I need some hint so that I don’t suggest someone completely wrong for you. You probably wouldn’t want to marry a girl who’s six-foot-six.”
“I guess that’s true,” he conceded.
“So you have some criteria. Some guys might be all right with a girl who’s tall or big or whatever. I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it. What time is it?” She glanced at her watch and did a double take. “Gosh! Excuse me for a moment.” She stood up and started walking towards the hallway. After a few steps she stopped and turned back to Joe and smacked her forehead lightly. “Where is my head? I’m not being a great host.
Shoshanna!” she called out.
When the little girl popped up from the couch, Mrs. Rosenzweig told her, “Bring our guest some of the babka from Shabbos.” She then went into a back room and closed the door.
The obedient daughter went to the kitchen and brought Joe a large chunk of pastry and a glass of orange juice. He thanked the girl, who watched him and then skipped off.
While he ate, He thought about what sort of girl he was interested in meeting but didn’t arrive at any answers. How can I generalize what preferences I have? Why reject someone because of a trivial characteristic that won’t matter in the long run? Sure, I don’t want someone too different, but how different is too different?
The shadchan returned shortly after. “Isn’t it delicious? So moist! Better than any bakery. What a daughter-in-law I got. So, what did you come up with?”
Joe drank from his juice to cleanse his palate. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but you’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Look, to be honest with you,” she said as she returned to her seat, “I already had a girl in mind once you called and told me that you worked for Marty. But if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll have your details and won’t schlep you back here. It isn’t too complicated. For example, do you want a girl from a big family?”
“It really doesn’t matter,” he replied as he took a forkful of babka.
“Should she have gone to college?”
He swallowed before answering. “I guess that would be more compatible.”
“What about seminary?”
He furrowed his brow and leaned forward. “Does that matter?”
She looked away. “Some people think it’s a good experience…”
Mrs. Rosenzweig tapped her pen on the pad as she waited for him to answer. He shook his head uncertainly. “I really don’t know.”
“It’s fine,” she said shortly. “I can tell that you’re just looking for a good girl that you can talk to, who’s similar in hashkafah and will accept your background. You don’t care where she’s from or what her family is like or whether she’ll support you. Am I more or less correct?”
“More or less,” he agreed with a nod.
“No, seriously, don’t just humor me.” Joe felt his face freeze up; he hadn’t expected her to scold him so. “I’m trying to help find the right girl for you. Some of these things are major details. Do you want to learn or are you particular about working?”
“I work now,” he said, moving around the crumbs on his plate. “I’m finishing a Master’s degree. I don’t have experience sitting and learning, so I can’t say for sure that I could. I enjoy learning, but all day…”
She cut him off. “That’s fine. I’ve heard enough.” She opened the index card box and started shuffling, focusing on one and taking it out. “So I have a girl who might be matim. She just turned twenty-three, so she’s not too much older, graduated from Stern, living in Washington Heights and working for a school in the city. She’s from St. Louis originally, but she boarded here since high school.”
Joe glanced at the card and noticed a small picture at the bottom corner of the index card.
“You have a picture?” he asked her.
“I have a picture of every one of my clients,” she replied, turning it away from him,
“which is for my purposes only. I’m going to take yours shortly with my new digital camera, which my son Mendy will shrink and copy for me, because I am completely lost with this machine. Anyway, I think it might be a good shidduch, but in the end I don’t make that decision. Now,” she handed him an empty card, save for his name at the top. “Please write down your references at the bottom, how to reach them and what relationship you have with them.”
“Yes. The family will want to know more about you than just what I can tell them. Put down people who know you best. Three is enough.”
Three? Thinking who he wouldn’t mind knowing he did this, he anxiously put down Mr. Gruberman, Rabbi Josh, head of the morning program at Ohr Eliyahu, and the rabbi at NYU whom he still saw occasionally. He thought to put down Mr. Siegel but didn’t. Then he gave the card to Mrs. Rosenzweig, who read the names and put the card at the front of her box.
“Now,” she said, “I will give these names to Rachel’s parents—her name is Rachel Rosen, like half of my name—and they will get back to me if they are interested. Here,” she showed him a list of names and phone numbers. “These are her references. Do you have anything to write them on?”
When Joe shook his head, she flipped to a clean sheet from her notepad, tore it off and handed it to him. Since she was expecting him to do something with them he might as well have them. After he wrote them in silence, he looked up to see her smiling pleasantly.
“That’s it?” he asked.
She nodded slowly. “That’s all we can do. The rest is up to you two…and Hashem.”
“Right.” Joe bit his lip before asking, “How much do I owe?”
“Owe?” She chuckled. “No, dear. I don’t collect any fees until you close a shidduch.”
He looked at the table. “How much will that be?”
She inhaled quickly. “There’s a standard amount that all shadchanim take. Discuss it with your rabbi if it becomes relevant.”
“Oh,” Joe said as he stood up. He breathed deeply. “Well, thank you then for meeting me on such short notice.”
“It’s better this way. We don’t push off mitzvos. Besides, I’m kidding myself about all this rush to pack. The truth is that it isn’t like when we used to go up. I got two kids married and now it’s just five of us up there, but we still seem to bring up just as much!”
Joe laughed and stepped towards the door. “Don’t forget an after-berachah, sweetie,” she reminded him.
He sat back down slowly and quietly murmured his berachah. “Thank you twice,” he said with a blush.
“My pleasure,” she said. “Shoshanna, go see Joseph out. Do you prefer Joseph? What should I call you?”
“Joseph is fine,” he decided.
“Great. Bye,” she said, walking into the kitchen. Joe was already halfway down the stairs before she called him back. “Wait, I need your picture!”
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