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Information, Please

Margie Pensak

Sherlock Holmes, move over! Make way for many a Yiddishe Mama and Tatte who can compete with Scotland Yard’s best when it comes to “checking out” a potential shidduch for their son or daughter. Parents around the world share their investigative methods — as well as their hardest, nuttiest, and best experiences, along with several experts who convey their own take on the information-gathering process.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not withstanding the unusual research methods of our stalwart friend, most people conduct their inquiries through the telephone. Yet these investigative sessions aren’t the usual chats. They can carry fateful implications, and should be carefully planned.

The first consideration is Sherlock him- or herself. Who will be doing the investigations? In some families, there is one parent who takes on the job, due to his or her conversational skills, detective abilities, schedule, or connections. Other parents split up the investigations between themselves.

If you are playing Sherlock on behalf of your own child, you must first gain a clear idea of what kind of shidduch would or would not be appropriate for him or her. If there is any particular trait or point that is truly important to your child, make sure to find that out before you begin. You will also need to understand and consider your family’s sensitivities.

Not everyone has parents who are willing or able to check into shidduchim for them. In that case, singles are often more dependent on their well-meaning friends who may suggest ideas for them, without conducting the requisite research. In the case of Mindy,* an older single who had no relatives who were able to pursue shidduchim for her, she turned to her friends. This is what Mindy’s friend shared with me:

“Mindy is from a large and somewhat insular group,” she told me. “She was a stellar student, and many of her seminary teachers had shidduch suggestions for her, including a young man from ‘a very good family.’ In part, because of the customs of our community, and the social standing of the boy’s family, there was not a lot of investigating. There was a big wedding, and Mindy was soon expecting her first child, who was born with major developmental problems. It seemed that the ‘model family’ had been deliberately hiding a serious genetic illness (and an institutionalized relative) that could have been detected in a prenatal test. They knew that no one would dare say anything about it because of their prominence in the community. By the time Mindy’s first child has been diagnosed, she was almost ready to deliver the second. The lesson here is: if money is talking, you have to listen even more carefully for what may get drowned out in the background. I think the larger lesson is that you must do your checking!”

Of course, not every such story has the same tragic conclusion. Some mothers might find that they are too close to the situation, and their over-involvement tends to work against them. Just as treating family members — and others that they are close to — may be unwise for a physician, because emotional involvement interferes with his or her ability to be objective, a parent’s ability to be objective may negatively influence a good shidduch idea. If this description sounds too familiar, it might actually work to your advantage if you can hand over the reins.

I know of one yeshivah bochur who was smart enough to recognize that this conflict was hampering his well-meaning mother. He got his former roommate and close friend involved in his shidduchim, and left his mother out of the picture (and happily so!). This wise yungerman knew this bochur well — perhaps even better than his own parents. After all, their son had been away in an out-of-town yeshivah since he was thirteen, and he roomed with this young man for three years. It was the yungerman who grilled the references and found the right kallah for his friend — something his mother might never have succeeded in doing.


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