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A Weekend Away

Our ALL WEEK OF LIVING it up (AWOL) trip. For singles who need to get away, all coordinated by yours truly


Life is not great today. I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty much done. Chaim Levine said no. After three very pareve, neutral dates, he said no. Listen, it’s not like I wanted to marry him either. But I’ve kind of reached the point that if his parole officer doesn’t pop up in the middle of drinks at the Marriott, I’ll give it a go.

Then Mrs. Pepper, Bayla Taub’s mother, came in for a root canal and stood there — with Dr. Abrams just waiting for her — telling me all about how Bayla is in from Israel for her brother-in-law’s wedding and I must come by and see her and the kids, she knows Bayla would love that, can you believe the twins are seven? And the other two are little carbon copies of Bayla, you must come see.

Yeah, I’m running.

Especially since I’m pretty sure her brother-in-law is, like, 14.

Then my mother texted to tell me that my baby sister, Rena, has something to tell me, and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the reason why she ran out of the Purim party to throw up. I mean, she wasn’t the one drinking excessively. That had been her adorable husband, Moishe, who is 21 years old, I kid you not. So there’s all that, but I’m just going to shove that into the darkest recesses of my mind until I have time to process.

And then, on top of everything, I got a hefty parking ticket. Which isn’t on theme but is just annoying. Especially since Dr. Abrams told me when I took the job three years ago that he would arrange parking for me.

I crumple the ticket into a little ball, squish it for good measure, look around to make sure only Hashem is watching, and then I bang my head down onto the steering wheel.

“Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,” I moan into the cool leather.

My phone beeps.

I pick up my head. Did my steering wheel just text me an answer?

Nope, it’s Elana. Ten more days!

And maybe it really is the answer, because a reluctant smile tugs the edges of my lips back.

Yes. Ten more days until our ALL WEEK OF LIVING it up (AWOL) trip.

For singles who need to get away, all coordinated by yours truly.

With Elana’s help, of course. A weeklong trip to Europe for singles who get it.

That’s it, they get it.

And if you have to ask what “it” is, well, then, you’re not one of them.

I remember walking into the lobby at a singles’ shabbaton three years ago. Hair blown to perfection, shoulders back, spine straight, chin up. There had been shadchanim there all Shabbos, watching your every move, writing you off for Shmuli or Ezra because you were too quiet at the kiddush, or you didn’t sway when you davened Mussaf.

So I began AWOL. And the next year, I’d invited 15 single friends to travel with me to Europe. We daven at kevarim, sure, but mainly, we enjoy the company of people we don’t need to hide our pain and fear and hope from.

It was the best Shabbos of my adult life, and so was the one the following year. Now, I would give everything I own to be on the Other Side by this next one — but since I’m currently date-less, that would mean a very quick dating and proposal-ing. In other words, highly unlikely.

Can’t wait, I text Elana. And I sit back up in my seat, pull back my shoulders, brush my hair off my damp face, and raise my chin as I shift into drive.

Just in case any shadchanim are parked nearby.

Packing is always a big deal; you want to look good but not intimidating, and that’s a delicate balance. One thing is for certain: I’m not packing a single pair of heels. In a moment of reckless abandon, I almost decide not to pack my blow dryer, but after deliberating with Elana, who came over in the afternoon so that we could go to the airport together, we conclude that might constitute shidduch suicide, and I reluctantly pack the bulky thing.

Finally, my wheelie is packed, my neck pillow is hanging on the handle, and Elana is in the pull-out bed, fast asleep.

I should really pass out, too; my body is screaming for sleep. Coordinating this trip was no easy feat. All of our attendees — ages 25–35 — are busy, with professional responsibilities and active social lives. There were sooo many schedules to coordinate and jobs to work around. But I did it, baruch Hashem. Elana helped, but I mean, come on, I did most of it. And to be honest, I enjoyed it. Hmm, maybe I should quit Dr. Abrams and become an itinerary creator? Oh, the shadchanim would just looove that.

We need to get up early to drive to the airport. I drift off to sleep at long last, a smile on my face, dreaming of tea rooms and floating weightlessly around the five-star grounds — only to be awakened what feels like 30 seconds later by my alarm clock blaring. Is it even legal to get up at four thirty a.m.?

We head out at four forty-five for our nine o’ clock flight, singing at the top of our lungs most of the way there. We play “Translate that Cliché!” with winners such as, “He realizes he needs something different” (anybody but you); “He definitely wants to start off in learning, but go out to work as soon as it’s necessary” (he might be there for chavrusa tumult, but that’s about it); “He really liked you, but just didn’t feel the click” ( he told me that he fell asleep on the date, and has perfected sleeping with his eyes open).

We’re both crazy hyper by the time we reach the airport parking lot. We wipe away a few tears at the exorbitant parking fee, then head inside. I already spy members of our troupe as we pass through security; Shana Langer bounds up behind me, and Chevi Poupko waves from under the awning. It’s a mixed bag to see old AWOL friends. On the one hand, it’s great. On the other, last year, I’d kind of hoped that the trip would be their last one. Would be my last one.

We all schmooze as we wait at the gate, and then spend most of the flight sleeping. I startle awake at one point. The plane is dark, it seems like I’m the only one awake. I glance next to me. Elana is fast asleep, eye mask securely fastened. And next to her is Shana, face buried in Tehillim. She seems to be in a different world; I can’t hear her over the steady thrum of the plane, but I recognize her body language. It’s the bent shoulders and tightly closed fists of someone who has reached their limit.

I’ve seen that, I’ve been that.

I lie back down, firm in the realization that if there was ever a time to get away, this is it.

WE arrive in Venice on Thursday evening.

Beautiful Venice of the canals and gondolas and beautiful mosaics. We breathe it all in. Already I feel pounds lighter — ha, wouldn’t that be nice — and there’s a hyper energy in the air.

We’d gotten five rooms at a boutique hotel right near the Chabad.

Friday, after a day of shopping and gelato, Faigy Mann and I return to the hotel, deep in conversation over the worst dating experience we’ve ever had as we head to the front desk for our room numbers. I almost don’t see Bayla Taub and her seven-year-old twins plus two carbon copies.

I freeze.

That can’t be right. I turn around slowly.

Yup, there she is. I haven’t seen her in four years, but she looks exactly the same, only maybe more tired. But she has that look, the one that married people don’t even realize they have, the one that says, “I know things you don’t.”

Her two little ones truly are her clones.

And I’m leaving.

I pinch Faigy on the arm.

“I’m leaving,” I say softly.

Faigy pulls me over to the side, eyes bulging. “WHAT are you talking about?” she hisses.

I make alarming eye motions in Bayla’s direction.

Faigy’s nose wrinkles. “You know her?”

I nod and mouth, “Old high school friend.”

Faigy takes in the sheitel and bags of Bamba. “What on earth is she doing here?”

Is it hot in here? I gulp in air. “I have no idea, but I’m going home. This all means nothing to me anymore.”

Elana comes and joins us. Faigy fills her in quickly.

Elana puts her hands on my shoulders. “I hear you, Chelli, and I’m totally maskim, except that home is an eight-hour flight away and Shabbos is in—” She checks her watch “— two.”

Solid point. I stand there, taking deep breaths, Elana instructing me to just focus on the good, and to pretend I don’t see my old classmate and her posse of tiny people. I’ll try, but everything’s different now. This whole trip, the AWOL mission statement.

This is no longer an oasis from the world.

The world has somehow followed me here.

“Chelli,” Bayla calls out suddenly.

I grit my teeth and turn around slowly.

“Bayla! Omigosh, of all places!” I say in a terribly perky voice that I hope to never use again.

She laughs. “How on earth are you? You look amazing, who are you here with?”

I wrinkle my nose. “Oh, just some friends. You?”

“Long stopover back to Israel — cheapest flights, but hey, we get a little vacation out of it. And it’s been such a long winter zeman, so we figured….” She trails off.

I cough. “Oh.”

An awkward silence stretches. “Well, good to see you,” she says at last.

I nod, force a smile, and turn away.

The hostess, Paulina, comes over to me after candlelighting.

“Happy Shabbat,” she says, smiling cordially.

“Happy Shabbat,” I say back, mentally filing the greeting away in my Good Dating Stories file.

“Question: I know you requested the private dining room for the weekend, but there is one other family celebrating Shabbat here, and they asked if they can join you. Otherwise, they’ll just be eating their meals in their room.”

I bite my lip. Bayla.

No problem. The words tremble in my lips and then I suck them back in. She wants to eat in our dining room? A roomful of singles her age, and she wants to eat with us, with her four beautiful children and normal, menschlich learning-all-long-winter-zeman husband?

Is she crazy?

Does she think she’s doing us a favor, saving us from having to make Kiddush by ourselves, poor older singles doing all the man-jobs? She’ll just swoop in and help out? And then what? No talking, no heart-to-hearts and spilling of guts about how draining this all is, day in and day out. No singing. No kumzitz, no random screeching and laughing and crying because we have to appear normal in front of the nice family, not scare the children and all that.

“I’d really rather not,” I tell Paulina. Honestly, why can’t they just go to the Chabad next door?

Professional that she is, Paulina just nods smoothly and backs away.

I bite my lip. Did I just make a chillul Hashem… for both Paulina and Bayla? I want to be a nice person — I am a nice person, generally — and I really do understand that it’s hard to be cooped up with four kids in one room, but she decided to come here knowing what it’d be like, and she made the choice to come here anyway. Should I really allow her to destroy the annual oasis we’ve created?

Bayla’s lack of sensitivity really put me in a corner, and I’m not really sure there was anything else I could have done.


Contribute to this column as a Second Guesser! Email your response, including your name as you want it to appear, to familyfirst@mishpacha.com with Second Guessing in the subject.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 887)

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