Explanation Requested

Can someone please explain to me why people want to know in which shul my parents daven when doing shidduch background checks on me?

This question is inconvenient to answer because, living in Brooklyn, they are thoroughly surrounded by shuls, which pop up not just in large edifices with stained-glass windows, but also in random basements and converted houses on residential streets. Aboding as they are in this Garden of Shuls, they take full advantage of the smorgasbord. My vague understanding is that my father rotates between three preferred locations, although I don’t know if this is divided by “shacharis, mincha, ma’ariv,” or “Shabbos/weekday,” or is on some kind of weekly rotation.  The womenfolk in the family stick with only one (it being equipped with a balcony).

I honestly couldn’t name all relevant synagogues. Nobody calls them by their names anyway; rather, by the name of their rabbis. Most of whom slip my mind at the moment. And who aren’t even known in the first place by the vast majority of Jews in Brooklyn, let alone OOT.

Truly, it doesn’t concern me from where my father comes home from shul, so long as he does arrive. And most weeks, it doesn’t concern me at all. Because I’m not there. And haven’t been. For a while.

So what does it have to do with me?

Bad4 Hits the Phones

I recently had the privilege and fun of making some research calls on behalf of a friend. I volunteered for the job; I thought it would be fun. Instead, I discovered that I did not miss my calling in undercover spy work. Subtly extracting information from a suspecting subject is not my strong suite.

Below, “She” is the Single on behalf of whom I made the calls. Her line is the information that Single requested I get about the subject, Mr. Adam Adamson.  “Me,” my name, I call myself. My line is what I say to the reference on the phone. “Re” is the reference I was calling.  Her/his line is the gist of what I extracted. Me to She: what I relayed back to Single.

 

She: “How does he spend his free time?”

Me: “So…tell me about Adam Adamson.”

Re: “Well, he’s a great guy, a wonderful learner, just back from Israel. Always up for anything and always busy with something. You know, he always keeps busy on the side earning a little. Working in a store, delivering groceries, giving rides…”

Me to She: “He doesn’t waste a second. A masmid of life.”

 

She: “Find out what he plans to do with his life.”

Me: “…so, he seems like a pretty motivated guy. Where’s he heading?”

Re: “Well, right now he’s still learning and plans to do that for a while. After that, I haven’t heard.”

Me back to She: “Got none.”

 

She: “Find out if his family is normal.”

Me: “So, you know the Adamson family very well?”

Re: “Oh yes. A warm, wonderful, loving family.”

Me back to She: “Sounds a heckuvalot nicer than your family.”

 

She: “Find out if people like him.”

Me: “So how do you know Adam?”

Re: “He’s good friends with my son and he comes over often. Such a nice boy. He runs errands for us all the time. I’d set him up with my daughter, but he’s so close with my son that it would be weird.”

Me back to She: “His reference likes him. That’s good enough, right?”

 

She:  “Find out if he’s chilled or uptight.”

Me: “Er….” “Um….” “So.” “How is working with him?”

Re: “He’s great! He’s up for anything. But if he thinks something is over the top he can stop it without sounding disrespectful.”

Me to She: “I dunno what kind of camp he worked in, but it sounds like da bomb.”

 

She: “Find out if he’s a mensch.”

Me: “So, is he a mentsch?”

Re: “The definition of the world.”

Me to She: “This is harder than I thought.”

 

Me to She: “So? He sounds amazing. If he was five years older I’d date him myself. When are you going out?”

She to Me: “Not interested.”

Repost: Why the Pre-Date Interview Should Be Instituted

While, in theory, I understand that people do rigorous research to defray the expenses of dating, sometimes it just gets ridiculous. Calling a dozen neighbors and formers teachers to ask questions they are not qualified to answer is just an effort in self-inflicting headaches. Also, it’s a pain in the neck for my friends, people who used to like me before they had to start answering detailed questions about my psyche.

Which is why I once petulantly suggested that mothers with tough questions ask me, instead of pestering my poor references. I still think that’s a good idea. If you’re going to be a difficult mother (or the mother of a difficult son, as was this case), just go straight to the source, and spare the collateral.

Of course, some questions are difficult to answer for more innate reasons…

20,000 Dollars Under the Sea

More Monday-morning controversy for y’all. Dig in.

“…and how they’re going to pay their rent with her in college and him in kollel I don’t know. And pay off those loans. I love my son-in-law to pieces, but next time we’re going to ask about student debt in the research stage.”

I overheard this line many many years ago at a friend’s sheva brochos. It brought to my attention a potential Big Issue. You know, the kind of thing you red flag in a Potential from the start, along with his/her attending 4+ high schools  or collecting shoulder-mounted SAM launchers as a hobby.

Yeah, I’m talking about those student loans.

Maybe this is not the place to go into Bad4’s Theory on Borrowing, but I’ll sketch it out in brief. There are two types of investments. There’s the gamble investment, like the stock market. You only put in money that you don’t really need. Then there’s insurable investments, like a house or car, that have some intrisic value (they keep you warm and dry). You can borrow against their value, which can also be insured.

College, imho, falls into the gamble investment category. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a job simply because you’ve got that piece of paper with the synthetic parchment grain. (Ask everyone who has gone on to graduate school [more debt] because they couldn’t find a job.) The knowledge is worthless without many other qualities that make you hireable. And it has no intrinsic value; try burning it for warmth or holding it between you and the rain. Try buying insurance for it. For what?

(I make a small exception for doctors, surgeons, and anasthesiologists, for whom unemployment exists only as the sort of fairy tale old nurses tell young interns to scare them.)

Yet, many people go fathoms deep in debt for a college degree. Debt that could take them years and years and year to pay off, especially if they have a home and family to support. (And car payments and a mortgage.)

Which brings me ’round to the question: should student debt be up there in the FBI question list? One of those things you ought to know before you go (out)? Is it a Fourth Date Question – for when  the skeletons start coming out of the closet?

Me: “Well I’ve got a blog.”

Him: “I’ve got six digits of students debt.”

Me: “Take me home now.”

Him: “Hey, I was okay with your blog!”

I thought it was just me who has a pathological fear of debt. Certainly everyone seems to think I’m completely nuts for avoiding it like chopped liver. Rationalizations I’ve gotten range from “Well what can you do?” to “It’s the cheapest loan you’re ever going to get! Enjoy it!” So I kept my distates for things with APRs under wraps, along with all my other weirdnesses, like my preference for warm winter jackets and life without a cell phone.

Then I saw this NYTimes article, linked through Orthonomics. Discovery: there are others like me! Someone even broke up over it! I’m out of the closet, folks.

Hi, my name is Bad4, and I have a pathological fear of irrational debt.

When I hear that someone has racked up $50k+ in student loans, I automatically place their IQ a standard deviation left of the mean. Perhaps it’s unfair, but I’d probably need to rack up $50,000 in psychologist bills to eradicate the creepy-crawly, raised-hairs-on-back-of-neck feeling it gives me, and that’s definitely not an investment worth making.

So, is this a serious shidduch issue, or should couples just bite the bullet and figure it out post-chupah?

But You Never Even Met Me!

Does anyone else find it mildly insulting to hear that someone is looking into you… and then never hear from them about a date?

I always wonder about those. Particularly about who was the last person to speak to them.

Not that I think someone is turning them off me with negative information. It’s quite possible they simply realized that we weren’t compatible. But still…

Hall of Fame: Even Unto the Fourth Generation

I’m a third generation American with roots in New York back to the 1900s, shomer Torah umitzvos straight down the line. I’m rather proud of that – I would like to think I’ve inherited some of the character and strength of conviction that kept my forbears religious 35 years before the shtetl transplanted itself to Brooklyn. But I wouldn’t bank on it. I wouldn’t bet on my inheriting much of anything non-genetic from my great grandparents, and even that’s been pretty well diluted.

Which is why I was tickled to hear that someone looking into my brother asked, among many other equally pertinent questions, “Why did his great grandparents come to the United States?”

I’m grateful they asked, because otherwise I would never have learned the answers. As you shall see, they are quite relevant, and you will be able to predict my own behavior based on their reasons:

Great grandfather #1: He was living in the spiritual oasis of the Russian army, when one day, while parading through St. Petersburg, he had enough. The parade of soldiers wheeled left at the corner, and he kept marching straight, and didn’t stop until he put a continent and an ocean between himself and a court martial.

Great grandfather #2: He was collecting money in the United States for Telz Yeshiva when Telz Yeshiva ceased to exist. Since the circumstances surrounding the abrupt non-existence of Telz weren’t exactly pleasant, he brought over his family and settled down.

Great grandfather #3: His father took a look around at what was happening to Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe under Cossack reign, and noted that the life expectancy was astoundingly short. Decided to follow the divine commandment of “vichai bahem” and took off for more salubrious parts.

Great grandfather #4: Ran to the United States from Jerusalem to escape the Turkish draft during WWI. He settled down, opened shop, and started sending money back to the yishuv in Yerushalayim. After the war, they told him not to come back because his checks were more valuable than his physical presence. Additionally, the haskala was thoroughly ravaging the Yerushalmi “shtetl,” and in terms of spirituality, the United States was probably better than the Old City.

I find these snapshots of history very interesting, but I’m not sure how much they say about me or my brother. (Especially since I didn’t even know them until yesterday.)

However, as scandalous as my great grandparents were, I know of at least one great, great grandparent who was far worse, so it’s a mercy that these shidduch researchers, like God, stopped at four generations. My Yerushalmi great, great grandfather got tired of watching his wife starve and his children go barefoot, so he took some spare change and lit out for the territories. He traded with the Northern Plains Indians for a year and returned to Yerushalayim with enough gold napoleons to last him six years, and that included some serious real estate investments; he bought back most of Har Hazeisim from the Arabs. After six years, he returned to the wild Midwest for a second go ‘round. He rode all day, and slept at night with his tallis and tefillin under his head. While I would like to think he never missed a minyan, I am forced to contemplate the possibility that he might have missed just a few. Which is why I think it’s best if we keep this relative under wraps. Who knows what people might think? It would be badforshidduchim.

Of course, if he’d left those gold napoleons for my dowry, they might, like Hashem, have counted the good for a thousand generations.

Or at least until the gold ran out.

But Nooo Doctors

When I was little, one of my mother’s favorite picture books was But No Elephants. It was not my favorite. Too much of it stretched my childish credulity about how people act.A salesman with a car full of animals sells a granny-type, Tildy, a beaver as a pet. The beaver is useful; she appreciates him. The guy keeps coming back selling her more useful pets, like a woodpecker, etc. And each time she grudgingly agrees to take the pet with the stipulation, “But no elephants.”

That’s where I began not understanding. Yes, elephants take up more space and eat more, but they’re also stronger and have those wonderful trunks. Every animal has its pros and cons; why wouldn’t she even consider the elephant?

When it comes to shidduchim, there are some things that people just won’t accept, because all they can think of are the cons. Which is why the average Mr./Miss Premed has serious issues getting a date. Everyone assumes that Doctor Mommy is somehow an oxymoron, or that it’s impossible for a frum person to make it through medical school spiritually healthy.

I’ve got a neighbor who’s a pediatrician. He works from 8 am to 10 am and from 4 pm to 6 pm, because that’s when most kids discover that they’re sick. The rest of the day he learns. There’s a female pediatrician who zips around all the male-run private practices doing annual checkups for the squeamish teenage girls. How’s that for flexible hours? And hospitals do run on shifts. Once you get over the killer interning/residency years, it’s easy street in terms of choosing hours. (OK, sort of.) My point being: there are many types of doctors out there, and a physician has some leeway in choosing when he or she works.

Just for reference, your average physical therapist also works 9-5. They can only go into that much touted “private practice” business when they’ve built up a clientele, and even then, they’re not really choosing their own hours; their clients choose for them. And for most clients, weekend and post-5pm on weekdays is when it’s convenient.

So how do premed students go about getting married? Well one Miss PreMed tells people she’s “going into the medical field.” People automatically assume “physical therapy,” because that’s so much more appropriate than doctor. Heck, dissecting a dead and defenseless guy or taking off one’s shirt in class to look at back muscles is all in a day’s work for an aidel maidel—and that’s just Gross Anatomy class.

Of course her real goal comes out eventually over the diet coke. And that’s when things get interesting. One guy, upon hearing that his date intended to go—pardon my language—to medical school [rinse out mouth with soap], got wide-eyed and said,

“Um, I just remembered, this isn’t such a good night for a date. Let’s go.”

Gotta give him credit. This guy’s got finesse.

“Why a doctor? Why not a nurse?” Some feel the need to ask. “That’s also helping people.”

Aw c’mon, folks. Some people are meant to be in charge. They’re too smart to spend their life changing bedpans.

“I asked my rav and he said it’s OK for me,” Miss Premed complained. Being exceedingly bright and capable, she feels confident that she’ll be able to balance family and schoolwork, but if not, she knows her priorities, and it’s not the degree. Why doesn’t anyone give her a chance?

Oh yes, and it’s essentially the same thing with lawyers.

Hilchos Dating – Dibur

 

Ah… the first date. The halacha dictates that this date takes place in a hotel lounge over a diet coke or bottle of water. Talk should be light but discerning.

Um… light? As in what exactly? Anything conceivably “light”—as well as many things that are quite “heavy”—you tend to know already. Sometimes to the point of idiocy.

A friend of mine didn’t want to date until her older sister was engaged, so when someone redt her a fellow she insisted on knowing everything down to the color of his socks (black) before agreeing to go out. He, for his part, was jaded from being redt the wrong sort of females, so he insisted on knowing her entire biography, including the part that hadn’t happened yet, before agreeing to go out. Their first date must have been like an old reunion. As the parents shut the door behind them, he probably said something like, “I’m glad to hear you did well on that history report.”

“Yes, especially since I didn’t have much time to work on it…”

“Well you were busy with more important things.”

“True. But still, I like to do a good job on my work.”

“I know.”

“I hear the flu is going around Lakewood—I hope that’s not what your chavrusa caught.”

“Oh no, no way. It’s just strep—he found out this morning.”

“That’s great! So he’ll be back to learning with you tomorrow! How are you finding Yevamos?”

Etc. etc. Since they did all the dating before the dating, they were ready to get married after two dates (I kid you not), but hung out for six for the sake of propriety. (After all, what would people say? Not like it matters once you’re engaged.)

Then there are some really gauche ways to handle the first date. Here’s what one shlimeil did to a friend. He handed her a diet coke, cleared his throat, and said, “Why don’t we take turns telling what we know about each other and then we can fill in the blanks?” That did not go over well. Especially since her parents had neglected to inform her that she was going on a date until one hour before it was supposed to happen, and she wasn’t even sure what his name was.

Rov poskim agree, however, that you should either ignore those topics or rehash them while pretending you don’t know anything about them. If he provides information that contradicts what you’ve heard, things can get exceedingly interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to contradict. A friend went out with a guy who she was told was accepted to Columbia. He nonchalantly admitted that he’d applied to the engineering program, which has a ridiculously high entrance rate, just to keep his parents happy, but had no intention of attending. (“Engineering? Me? Are you kidding?”)

Me, I try not to get too much information beforehand, which suits my parents, who don’t enjoy collecting it. I’d rather find out the truth from the horse’s mouth than a lot of fantasy from his neighbors who want to marry him off because “he’s such a nice boy.”

There’s a whole ‘nother sefer-worth of “halacha” about how long the date is supposed to be (one date asked me if it was OK to return me home 15 minutes before the minimum) and how long to keep them hanging before approving a second date, and on and on ad nauseum.

At this point, I just declare that hidebound regulations are “not our minhag” and get on with whatever feels right. Who has time for this nonsense?

Miss Special, Meet Mr. Best

My brother was complaining about the huge amount of special girls out there. He says he gets a small amount of information about each proposed match, and too much space is wasted on how special she is. “They’re all special! There are too many special girls and too many best bochurim.”

At first, I wasn’t sure why he cared about the best bochur business. Then I realized. Being a best bochur himself, he resents the flooding of the market and the dilution of the name.

Not that being a “best bochur” should be such a big deal. One Shobbos in Israel I ate with an entire yeshiva. Yep, all four students. It can’t be too hard to be the best bochur in that place. In fact, they can even rotate it, depending on who’s dating that week. “Best” is a very relative term. Who cares?

And what’s with this ‘special’ business? It’s gotten to the point where you’re most conspicuous if you’re not special. And I’m afraid I’m not. If anyone has ever called me “special” they need their head checked. I assume that “special” is a way of saying “aidel” without saying it. Or else it’s a way of saying “there’s more to her than meets the eye.”Which is another way of saying, “she looks incredibly boring and ordinary, but since you won’t go out with an ordinary and boring person, let me assure you that she’s really got something more to her. Just don’t ask me what.”

“Special” sounds slightly vaguer than “sparkling.” Someone once tried to set me up with a fellow who, in his long list of must-haves in a mate, included “a sparkling personality.” My personality doesn’t sparkle, glitter, twinkle, or coruscate. It just plods on steadily, day after day, except when it decides to sleep late and then you don’t want to meet me. I can count on exactly one finger the number of definite sparklers I know. She was engaged a few months out of high school, broke the engagement, and was engaged again a few months later. Which should let you know how in-demand those sparkling personalities are. Shucks for the rest of us.

(By Mr. I-Want-a-Sparkler’s list, he seemed to require a butterfly who would flutter solicitously around his flame and “help him achieve his full potential.” Aside from having a husband who has achieved his full potential, I couldn’t see what was in it for me, so I said no thank you. He is now happily married and I am still happily single. Life works out very well if you give it a chance.)

Back to my point, if I had one: does anyone know what “special” actually means? And does “best bochur” have any meaning at all?