| Double Take |

Cool Reception

There were no extras at this simchah, so why was Uncle Heshy giving me the cold shoulder?

In our community, there are things you just have to do. I found that out the hard way when my daughter became a kallah and the first credit card statement came through. Believe me, there were no extras at this simchah, so why was Uncle Heshy giving me the cold shoulder?


Ezra: We made the most basic wedding we could, considering our community’s standards. Sure, I stretched beyond my limit, but did I have a choice?
Heshy: I happily gave you funds to cover basic costs, but I’m in shock. How could you spend a fortune on frivolities with other people’s money? 



Perhaps if we lived somewhere else, things would be different.

But moving is not really an option. We have a home, jobs, and kids of all ages and stages settled in their various schools and yeshivos. We have a shul and a rav, wonderful neighbors, and we’re part of a beautiful community.

So yes, there’s a downside: the high costs of living, the standards that have become the norm, the housing crisis, the tuition costs, and the expectations that have only grown over the years.

It’s a small price to pay — haha, pun intended — for all of the brachah in our lives.

That’s the little speech I give myself on a fairly regular basis. We love where we live, the kids are amazing, and they’re growing up in a wonderful environment. It’s just all a little… costly. And as they get older and we have a houseful of teens, plus several younger ones, the expenses mount faster than fresh potato kugel disappears on a Friday afternoon.

My wife and I are both in chinuch, which is basically all you need to know about our income. In the past, we managed nicely. These days, it’s not such smooth sailing anymore. The needs are just too much and too many, and even as we think twice or three times about each purchase, even while we still say no to more things than I’d really like, there’s still so much that our children do legitimately need.

And then there are the luxuries that feel incomprehensible to me, but somehow mean the world to my kids.

Like leasing a car. We had our own car for years, a jalopy if there ever was one. Broken door handles, windows that didn’t open, a tendency to break down at the most inconvenient times (it had a particular preference for Erev Yom Tov crises), and eventually, a repair bill that amounted to more than the whole car was worth.

When we had to get rid of the car, I thought I’d be able to buy a new one — well, a new old one, a second-hand model a few years old. But when I started researching prices, I was in for a shock. They were…                                                                                                                                                                        . Higher than high. Unaffordable. And this was for a second-hand car, which would probably need repairs, and there was no guarantee how long it would last, or whether there was some issue lurking inside the engine to haunt me after I paid for it.

I did some more homework, and a fellow from shul recommended a car leasing agency to me. The prices were… well, decent, I guess, comparatively. And the cars were something else — sleek and shiny and elegant, with door handles that opened the doors and windows that purred gently opening and closing, just like they were supposed to.

Oh. So this is why leasing was such a thing.

“You’ll save all the money on repairs, make sure you account for that,” my yeshivah bochur reminded me.

As if I could forget.

I ended up signing the lease. The first time I got into the Honda Odyssey I was almost nervous to touch the steering wheel. It was all so fancy and spotless and new. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t us, our family.

But I reminded myself as I gunned the engine and leaned back into the upholstery — this is what I had to do. We didn’t exactly have a choice.

One bonus of the new car was my kids’ reactions. For the first time in years — maybe ever — they were actually excited for me to drive them to school. One daughter, who has insisted on walking to school for the past two years, decided that she was actually willing to be seen climbing out of a car that is not an eyesore.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Why did the car model mean so much? What was our society coming to? And yet, our society is beautiful and filled with values that we so much want our children to grow up with and live by. The downside is the peer pressure, the tight community vibe that makes everyone want to fit in and make the cut. But really, really, community is a good thing. A great thing.

And if they were really so embarrassed by the old car, if they really felt like their friends and classmates thought it was strange… well, a lease wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Like I said, we said no to our children pretty often. This was a way to make them happy, and as a bonus, I could finally enjoy driving without worrying about the car stalling mid-journey.

So we got by, figuring things out, stretching our meager paychecks and trying to balance needs, wants, luxuries, priorities, and just the expenses of day-to-day living.

It was working — sort of.

And then my oldest daughter got engaged.

Marrying off a daughter, I quickly discovered, vaults expenses into a whole new league.

If I’d been grimacing at the credit card bill before, trying to shave down our expenses by a few dollars here and there — now, I realized, I might as well just give up completely.

The vort alone — the most basic one we could put together, according to my wife, whom I trust implicitly on these things —was enough to throw us into the red. And once we started on chassan gifts, kallah shopping, wedding plans — the expenses were simply… crippling. Overwhelming. I looked at the lists and the bills and felt like I was drowning.

The hall. The gowns. The makeup artist for the day of the wedding alone was several hundred dollars. And that was apparently normal.  How were we supposed to do this? How did everyone else do it? How was it meant to work?

My wife Raizy worked really hard, running around, price-comparing, getting the best options for takanos halls and gowns from a gemach. The latter apparently barely existed anymore, and we’d have to look into rentals, for several hundred dollars a gown (for one night!). But even with all her efforts and savviness, we were mounting up a terrifying expense list.

And when I saw the price of a sheitel in the local salons, I almost fainted. Raizy hasn’t bought herself a new sheitel in maybe ten years, and whenever I’d pressed her to treat herself, she’d laughed grimly and said, “You don’t really want me to.”

Now I could see why.

“What should I say?” Raizy sighed to me. “This is just what it costs. This is what people spend. Bracha needs sheva brachos clothing, we need to shop for her apartment in Eretz Yisrael and put aside money to send with them to buy the heavy housewares when they get there, and a chasunah is…  look, we can’t go back to shtetl days and do a Friday night meal for ten men. We need to do what’s normal, and believe me, this is the very cheapest of all the options I’ve been looking into.”

I heard her. It wasn’t Bracha making the demands here — she was endlessly sweet and easygoing and kept telling us to go for the easiest options — but she was getting married. She deserved to have what was mainstream and normal, however insane “normal” had become, even if we were on the lower end of that normal. Bekavodig, I kept reminding myself, is not a luxury.

I just didn’t want to think about what this would all mean when I’d have to pay off the credit card bills. I didn’t want to think about the commitments I’d made for after the wedding. Yes, they were relatively small, just a minimal monthly stipend to help the young couple. We were lucky the mechutanim were unspoiled and understanding people and hadn’t demanded more. But even that was a lot more money than I had available.

When Uncle Heshy called with an offer of financial assistance, I couldn’t have been more grateful. I would never have asked — Heshy had done more than enough for us back when I got married, and then my siblings — but he called, and offered, and even seemed mildly offended that I hadn’t asked.

“Ezra,” he boomed into the phone. “I want to help you out. That’s what I would do for my own children, and there’s no difference, okay? So just give me your details, and I’ll wire you a little something to help with the chasunah expenses.”

I thanked him sincerely for his generosity, though his words did sting a little bit. Uncle Heshy had been amazing to us ever since my father had passed away, tragically and suddenly, when I was 15. And yet I wish I didn’t have to rely on him, didn’t have to always be the taker, the one who needed an uncle to step in and take care of him.

The sting, however, was quickly replaced by utter relief. When I checked my account later, I saw that Uncle Heshy had been very generous. It wasn’t nearly enough to cover the entire chasunah — not by a long shot — but it was enough to take a huge weight off my mind. We could put down the deposits on the hall and the apartment. My daughter could do some kallah shopping worry-free. And just like this money had come to us unexpectedly, I worked on my bitachon that Hashem would take care of the rest just as easily.

Somehow, we pulled through. My mother insisted on giving something small, even though I was reluctant to take anything from her. As the wedding date drew near, I took a gemach loan for the rest of the expenses, trying not to wince as I added a hefty repayment to our upcoming expenses. What would be when our next daughter got engaged?

Hashem will provide, I reminded myself. Now, I just have to enjoy the simchah.

Iworked hard to put the worries and anxiety out of my head, and to throw myself into the chasunah when the day arrived. It was a very special simchah — my daughter was marrying a budding talmid chacham, we had a beautiful family, there was so much to be grateful for.

I found myself choking up under the chuppah, as the violinist — a special touch, an old talmid of mine who offered to play free of charge — stroked out the first notes of a stirring melody. Every sacrifice, every bit of financial pressure, all the years of struggling to make things work, it all seemed worth it at this moment of moments — marrying Bracha off, setting her up to start a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael of her own.

This is what it was really all about.

Wasn’t it?

Uncle Heshy was there, of course; he was given a brachah under the chuppah and a place of honor at the dinner. He wished me a hearty mazel tov, but I noticed him looking around, pursing his lips a little, looking… displeased, somehow.

I wondered if the takanos hall with the fake flower arrangements and one-man band seemed luxurious to him. He and Aunt Debra lived way “out of town,” and while he was considered well-off — he had a successful business, and gave a lot to tzedakah — they lived simply.

Still, I hoped he realized this was not considered fancy in our circles.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to my uncle until much later. When the second dance came to an end, I found myself within talking distance of Uncle Heshy.

“I have to thank you again,” I said to him. “I can’t even describe how much your gift helped us out. And it came at just the right time, too.”

My uncle hmm-hmmed, waggling his eyebrows a little. “It’s a… very nice wedding. Looks like you managed nicely, in the end.” His tone held a clear note of disapproval.

I looked around, trying to see it from his point of view. Yes, it was a nice hall, but this was one of the smallest wedding hall options in the area, and was part of the takanah package. Yes, we had beautiful centerpieces and a floral backdrop, but every bit of it was fake flowers, part of the takanah package. And the kallah and family looked beautiful — baruch Hashem, because that’s what they needed. That was part of making a wedding, and goodness knows we’d done it on the very tightest budget possible, even if that very tight budget had had to stretch to cover thousands of dollars in hairstylists, makeup artists, and rented gowns (having six daughters, apparently, is expensive).

What did he think was extravagant here? The videographer? The one-man band? The fact that there were 300 guests at the dinner?

This was the basics, the minimum. We were working with the cheapest caterer, the most economically priced packages. But we still had to make a wedding for our daughter that fell into the category of “normal.”

Besides, I thought with a tinge of resentment, if he had given us the money, shouldn’t it have been unconditional? Why was he commenting about how we chose to spend the money? Uncle Heshy knew me. He knew I would never have taken money I didn’t need. We desperately needed the help — as it was, I was struggling with the debts I’d have to repay, the commitments I’d made for after the wedding. All I’d done was use his gift in the way that we needed it most.

If I could tell Uncle Heshy one thing, it would be: In the community where we live, these so-called “luxuries” are standard, not optional.



MY older brother, Zalman, was niftar young, leaving behind six children. The oldest, Bashie, was newly married, and the rest were in their teens, with the youngest, Sarale, just eight years old.

Zalman and I had always been close, and of course, I stepped in to help his wife and children. Quietly, behind the scenes, I’d sent over a monthly stipend, offered extra help before Yom Tov, and pretty much fully financed the weddings of my nieces and nephews.

And now Zalman’s oldest son, Ezra, was marrying off a child.

The thought made me emotional, happy and sad all at once. Emotional because it seemed like just yesterday that Ezra himself was getting married, a heart-clenching moment where pain and joy interlocked — this brave young man walking to the chuppah without a father, but with so much hope and courage to start a home of his own. And he and Raizy had done a beautiful job raising their children, and now — in the blink of an eye, it seemed — they were making a chasunah of their own.

I was happy that Zalman, in Shamayim, would have this nachas. But there was always, always that lingering sadness that my brother wouldn’t be here with us for this monumental occasion of seeing a grandchild walk to the chuppah.

I drove four hours to attend the vort. It was the least I could do. When the party was over and the guests had left, I lingered, waiting to speak with my nephew. He was in chinuch; how would he manage the expenses of marrying off a child? He didn’t have a father to turn to for help, to lend him money, offer him something to offset the costs.

When I did get to speak to him, though, it didn’t seem like the right moment. Ezra was flushed with elation. Mentioning finances would ruin the moment. I wished him a hearty mazel tov, told him how proud he was surely making his father, and decided to call him in a few weeks’ time with my offer.

Part of me wondered if my nephew would reach out to me first. I knew that Ezra and Raizy didn’t have much money, and over the years, I’d helped them out here and there.

But he didn’t call, and I wondered if he was embarrassed to ask. I had no problem with making the first move, though. Once the initial excitement of the engagement died down, and I knew that the kallah and her family would be in the thick of preparing and shopping, I gave Ezra a call.

“How’s everything going? How’s the kallah?”

Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem.”

We exchanged small talk, how are the kids, how’s Aunt Debra, the usual.

“I know making a wedding is a big deal, so I’d like to send something over to your bank account, okay? Just to help out. I know the expenses pile up and it can be challenging to cover everything.”

I steeled myself for a round of polite refusals, but instead, Ezra sounded deeply grateful. “Oh, wow. Thank you so much, Uncle Heshy. I can’t tell you how much we need that. I really appreciate it.”

If my nephew wasn’t even trying to pretend he didn’t need the help… well, he must really be in a crunch. I was glad I’d reached out to make the offer. Still, it was a shame he hadn’t given me a call. It would have spared him a few weeks of stress, as I could have sent him the money earlier.

“Ezra, you know that I want to help you out, and that I’m here for you, right?” I chided him. “I’m doing for you what I’d offer my own children. So I’m sending something over to you, and if you need anything else, or if you’re struggling, give me a call.”

I didn’t hear from him again though, other than a thank you call when the money came through, and, of course, the wedding invitation a few weeks later. I took that to mean that things were going smoothly, and to be honest, they should have been — I’d sent him a very generous sum. Contrary to what I’d told Ezra on the phone, it wasn’t simply some financial help like I’d offer my own children. For Zalman’s children, I always felt like I had to go the extra mile — they struggled so much, and honestly, I felt like I owed it to my brother to step in for them.

When calculating how much to send Ezra, I’d tried my best to make sure it would be a sum that could cover the basic expenses of the simchah. Maybe there would even be a small amount left over to set up the young couple’s apartment. The sum wasn’t small, but if I was doing this, I wanted to do it properly — and give Ezra and his family something that could significantly ease the burden of making a wedding.

To me, helping my late brother’s family was the best investment I could make with my money. After all, when it comes to giving tzedakah, family comes first. And this was family who really needed the help.

I was grateful that I had the means to give it to them. And, of course, I was looking forward to shepping nachas at their simchah.

WEarrived at the hall promptly — apparently, too promptly, even though we’d driven in from out of town. It didn’t look like things were running quite on schedule, but Ezra greeted us warmly, Debra rushed over to air-kiss Raizy and the kallah, and I took a seat at the chassan tish to get to know the newest member of our extended family.

The chassan looked young and serious, and his father sat beside him, talking quietly. Aside from me, I saw Raizy’s father there, Ezra’s children, one or two of his brothers and brothers-in-law, and some unfamiliar faces that must have been from the chassan’s side. I struck up a conversation with a couple of them, introduced myself, and we schmoozed about the simchah, the young couple, the usual.

“So, Shmuel’s learning in yeshivah here, right?” I asked his older brother, who introduced himself as Tzvi.

“Well, he was, but of course, they’re moving to Israel after the wedding. You know how it goes, doing their year or two there before they come back to real life.” He winked.


I knew it was fairly common among newly married couples, this year-in-Israel that sometimes, somehow stretched to many years, or even for life. But I hadn’t imagined that Ezra’s daughter would be doing that. Who would finance such a thing? Rentals in Jerusalem were exorbitant, and Shmuel wouldn’t be making much money. And wasn’t Bracha still studying for her degree? What would she do, babysit in her house? How were they going to support themselves?

“I didn’t realize they’d be starting off in Israel. That’s a big deal,” I said to Tzvi.

He shrugged. “Look, Shmuel always wanted to, he says learning here just can’t compare to learning there. And it’s the experience, you know? Nothing like a year or two in Israel to give a really special start to married life. We did it, and I’m so grateful now that my parents and in-laws made it possible.”

“So… so I guess, your parents and Bracha’s will help the young couple out,” I said-asked, before I could stop myself.

Tzvi looked at me a little oddly. “Well, I don’t know the exact details. And you know, neither side of the family is exactly wealthy. But yeah, they’ll probably each give something, and Shmuel and Bracha will figure out the rest.”

I knew that the families “weren’t exactly wealthy,” as he put it. And that’s why I was… surprised. If Ezra was struggling so much to make a wedding, why on earth was his young couple galavanting off to Israel for an extended honeymoon? Wasn’t that something you did only if you could afford it?

Then I started noticing some other things.

Like how… fancy… it seemed.

The chassan tish was a veritable kiddush, complete with hot food and expensive whiskey. The kallah’s bouquet perfectly matched an exquisite floral backdrop — how much did these things cost? There was a violinist at the chuppah and everything just seemed… grandiose, overdone.

I had been expecting a simple wedding. Something in keeping with what I knew, that Ezra was struggling desperately to make ends meet, and that this simchah was mostly funded through others, my gift, and probably a bunch of gemach loans.

I’ve seen my share of fancy weddings and I have nothing against them. What bothers me is seeing people spend beyond their means — especially when it’s not their own money.

When the chuppah was over, Debra met me in the lobby. “Doesn’t Bracha look beautiful?” she said, but she was shaking her head a little, like it wasn’t just a compliment. “All of them, really. Something else. It looks like Ezra and Raizy managed pretty well. Their girls look like princesses, whoa. And they really made a beautiful wedding, don’t you think?”

I nodded. I didn’t want to say anything about what was bothering me. But then Debra lowered her voice and said, “You know, I was talking to Chana just before. She told me that she gave some money toward this simchah, that Ezra was really struggling. I didn’t say anything, but I know you gave a lot of money, too — isn’t it interesting that even that wasn’t enough?” She glanced around. “I don’t really get it — if they’re struggling so much, why the incredible gowns and the professional everything for the girls?”

Chana gave them money?” I was shocked. My sister-in-law, Zalman’s widow, has nothing. If she had felt compelled to help out, Ezra must have painted the picture as really bad.

And yet I had provided him with a sum that should have been enough for basic wedding expenses. Why hadn’t that been enough? How could he have upped the standards at the expense of his mother?

AS the evening wore on, more little things kept hitting me — coalescing into a picture that left a sour taste in my mouth. Debra, seated at a place of honor on the family table, heard all about the makeup artist (upwards of $150 a person with a minimum of four faces, and double for the bride?! Did she have double as much face? Did they use double the makeup?) and Bracha’s goooorgeous Tzirelle sheitel. The menu, to my uneducated eye, seemed to be a definite upgrade from the basic standard I knew from my own community — where anyone who wasn’t a big earner with a solid business kept things nice and simple. And the guests! It looked like Ezra and his mechutanim had invited half the community. I knew that they both had large families, and they must have colleagues and friends and fellow shul members and whatever — but this was an event catering to hundreds of people. How, in good conscience, could they do that, without being careful with the money they didn’t have?

Debra was a little quiet on the drive home. I knew exactly why.

“Do you remember Mimi’s wedding, the one that we made when my business was going through a bit of a downturn?” I asked.

“That’s just what I’m thinking about,” she replied quietly.

So we were thinking the same thing.

I remembered how we’d made a more modest affair than we’d really have liked to. I remembered how Debra and the younger girls had done their own makeup, and only the kallah used a professional makeup artist.

“Those gowns… Ezra’s daughters. I don’t want to judge, but… I asked Raizy where she got them from, thinking maybe Mimi could borrow them for her girls, they have that wedding on the Brickman side in a couple months. And she told me they cost a few hundred dollars each, and they were rentals. Like, a total of what, a few thousand dollars for her and the girls? Rented gowns?”

I felt sick. That was a huge sum of money. My money, that I’d sent to cover the entire simchah. Instead, it had probably barely covered the clothing, while Ezra had scrounged from his mother, friends, and gemachim to cover the rest.

How was that okay?

I remembered that for Mimi’s wedding, our girls had borrowed gowns from friends and had a family friend do their hair. How we’d gone with a simple hall, smaller guest list, and lower-key centerpieces, maybe some candelabras from a gemach instead of full flower arrangements.

We had the money we needed; it wasn’t that we were poor. Baruch Hashem, we’ve always had what we needed, and have been able to help others, too. But we didn’t spend beyond our means. A wedding is expensive enough even without the frills, and we planned it carefully to ensure it wouldn’t break the budget.

Several years later, when Tamara got married, things were different, and we were able to afford a nicer standard. At the time, we’d spoken to Mimi, worried she’d be hurt or upset by the difference in the two weddings, but she was completely understanding.

“You can’t spend more than you have. And now you have the means to do something special for Tamara, I’m happy for her,” she said sweetly.

It was special to hear how mature and thoughtful she was, but it also was a source of pride for me that she’d absorbed the value of not spending above one’s means.

“I said something to Ezra,” I told Debra. “Just that the event looked pretty nice. I think he understood what I was trying to say, because he tried to explain himself. He said this was the community’s standard and he did the minimum that he had to do.”

“The minimum? Really?” Debra looked mildly surprised.

I shrugged. “I know. I thought so, too. Does every single person in the whole town make a lavish affair? According to Ezra, this was just the basic, basic standard.”

I know fancy weddings. I’ve been to plenty, in town, out of town, within the community, and without. I have plenty of business associates and receive many invitations to extravagant events.

But the difference is, these people could afford the luxuries they were paying for. And they weren’t using other people’s money to fund them.

If I could tell Ezra one thing, it would be: I’m giving you money for the bills and the basics, not to feed into your kids’ desire for extra luxuries. 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1017)

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