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?