They didn't want my daughter, but I knew the shidduch was bashert
he other day, I was sitting at a simchah beside a woman from ~my neighborhood who has a 26-year-old single daughter, and she was telling me how hard it is to get a yes from a good boy. “Just yesterday another boy said no to my Yocheved,” she lamented. “And this boy sounded so perfect for her! But I guess it’s not bashert. Besides, if they don’t want me, I don’t want them.”
I suppose this woman expected me to validate her high-minded approach, or at least cluck my tongue empathetically and murmur something about how impossible shidduchim are for girls these days. Instead, I responded by telling her a story.
ivky Kleinhart was the youngest of 11 children, a beloved bas zekunim. Her father had learned in kollel for about ten years after his marriage and had then become a third-grade rebbi, while her mother worked as a preschool morah. When the Kleinharts started marrying off their children, when Rivky was just a toddler, the need for more money became acute, and Rabbi Kleinhart decided to try his hand at business.
To everyone’s shock, Rabbi Kleinhart’s first business venture, a wholesale paper-goods supply company, proved to be a resounding success. After several years, he sold the business for a handsome profit, and with the proceeds of the sale he was able to not only marry off his children and help support them, but also to invest in the stock market. His investments prospered, and by the time Rivky graduated elementary school, her father was a wealthy man. At that point, he decided to become a kollel yungerman once again, managing his investments bein hasedarim and spending the rest of his day learning.
While Rabbi and Mrs. Kleinhart never flaunted their newfound wealth, Rivky enjoyed a very comfortable upbringing, one that was vastly different from those of her older siblings, who regaled her with tales of how they slept five to a room and didn’t know there was such a thing as clothing that came from a store and not from an older sibling or cousin. Rivky grew up in a large, well-appointed home, flew to Eretz Yisrael for vacation almost every year with her parents, and shopped in the same high-priced stores as the other wealthy girls in her class. By then, her mother was busy indulging her grandchildren in a way that she had never been able to give to her own children, and in the process she indulged Rivky, her bas zekunim, as well. By all accounts, Rivky was the pampered princess of the family (“spoiled,” as her siblings described it).
Rivky was also naturally artistic, and, unlike some of her older siblings who had shown similar tendencies, she had the luxury of receiving professional art lessons from the time she was young. She continued to develop her artistic talents, adorning the walls of her parents’ home with sophisticated oil and water-color paintings and opting for a career in interior design.
Most of Rivky’s older siblings married into yeshivish families, and she fully expected to do the same. She came home from seminary breathlessly awaiting her turn to be moser nefesh for Torah, dreaming of how she would singlehandedly manage to support her husband in learning, care for a family, and keep a simple but tasteful home.
Her parents had a somewhat different vision for her, though.
“Rivky, you grew up in the years of plenty,” her father told her. “We didn’t raise you the same way we raised your older sisters, and although we certainly want you to marry a serious ben Torah, we feel that you need a different type of family, more balabatish. You also have a strong aesthetic side, and we want you to have a husband who will have similar needs.”
To his wife, Rabbi Kleinhart said, “Rivky has an artsy neshamah, you know? I don’t think a typical yeshivah bochur is going to be able to appreciate or relate to that side of her.”
So firmly did Rivky’s parents believe that this was what she needed that they actually turned down two shidduch prospects that, to Rivky, seemed very exciting — one was the son of a local rav, the other a grandson of a leading rosh yeshivah.
“You won’t fit into these families,” Rivky’s father predicted. “You’re either going to feel guilty living a lifestyle that the rest of your husband’s family can’t afford, or you’re going to manage without and feel deprived.”
By this point, Rivky’s parents had already married off ten children, and she trusted their judgment regarding the type of family she needed.
One day, Rabbi Kleinhart bounded into the house with exciting news. “I found the perfect boy for Rivky,” he announced to his wife when Rivky was out of earshot.
Rabbi Kleinhart’s chavrusa, Sholom Mullek, had a brother living in a different city who was a respected cardiologist and whose wife was a professional art collector. Sholom was making a bar mitzvah that week, and Rabbi Kleinhart had met his brother, the cardiologist, in shul. More importantly, he had spoken in learning with Dr. Mullek’s 22-year-old son Binyamin, and he was convinced that Binyamin Mullek was the perfect match for Rivky.
“He’s a rare breed,” he told his wife. “A baal middos who’s serious about his learning but has flair and panache — and even knows what panache means. This is a boy who’s used to a certain standard of living and will make sure his family is comfortable, even as he makes Torah his central priority.”
“Sounds good,” Mrs. Kleinhart said. “Can you ask Sholom to suggest it?”
Rabbi Kleinhart sighed. “Sholom insists it’ll never happen. He says his brother and sister-in-law will not hear of doing a shidduch with a yeshivish family because they don’t want their son to be trapped in kollel his whole life or feel like a failure if he does something else.”
“Um, we’re not exactly your typical yeshivish family,” Mrs. Kleinhart replied. “Do they know that you have a seven-figure investment portfolio?”
“Sholom says they couldn’t care less how much money we have. They’re not lacking for money themselves and they don’t need someone to support their son — which, for us, is a good thing, because it means the boy will feel comfortable in our family. But the Mulleks see that I’m in kollel and that most of our kids are either learning or in klei kodesh, and they won’t touch us with a ten-foot pole. At least that’s what Sholom says, but I told him to redt it anyway.”
To no one’s surprise, Sholom Mullek called back the next day with a flat-out no. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “You’re way too yeshivish for my brother and sister-in-law. Maybe become a lawyer, then I can try to redt the shidduch again.”
Not one to be easily deterred, Rabbi Kleinhart began calling professional shadchanim and asking them to suggest the shidduch. But each one, in turn, came back with a no. Finally, he called Mrs. Bulkin, a shadchan who had earned the nickname “Bulldozer.”
“I can get a yes out of anyone,” she assured him. “The shidduch is as good as done.”
She was forced to eat her words, however, and report to the Kleinharts that the Mulleks had said no — “not now and not ever.”
In the meantime, Rivky went out with a few boys, but none of these shidduchim went past a third date.
One day, about half a year after Rabbi Kleinhart had first met Binyamin Mullek, he was talking on the phone to his oldest daughter, Faigy, and the conversation turned to Rivky’s shidduchim. “What a shame the shidduch with Mullek can’t happen,” he said.
“Why can’t it?” Faigy asked.
“Because they said no to every shadchan who tried to suggest it,” Rabbi Kleinhart said. “And trust me, I’ve sent quite a few. I’m ready to give up.”
“Tatty” — Faigy’s tone was incredulous — “when did anyone else’s opinion ever stop you? When people told you you’d never manage in kollel so long the first time around, did you listen? When people told you you’d never make it in business, did you listen? When people told you you’d make a lousy investor, did you listen? And when people told you it was crazy to go back to kollel in your forties, did you listen? So now you’re going to let a no from the Mulleks stop you from pursuing the shidduch you think is right for your daughter?”
Rabbi Kleinhart was silent. “You know what, Faigy?” he finally said. “You’re right. I guess I was just embarrassed to keep going after the shidduch, so I convinced myself that I had done enough. Too bad if the Mulleks don’t want me. I owe it to Rivky not to give up, even if it means making a fool of myself.”
The next day, Rabbi Kleinhart called Binyamin Mullek’s rosh chaburah, with whom he had learned in yeshivah several decades earlier.
“I need a favor from you,” he said. “Please, call up the bochur’s father and tell him you know Kleinhart. Tell him I’m hopelessly yeshivish even after making it big on the stock market, but my daughter is nothing like me. She’s classy, she’s artistic, she’ll fit right into their family. Tell him all you’re asking is that they should look into the girl herself and see if they like what they hear about her.”
Out of respect for Binyamin’s rosh chaburah, Dr. Mullek politely responded that he would have his wife check out Rivky. “But the shidduch has been mentioned numerous times,” he added, “and my wife and I are really not interested.”
Mrs. Mullek liked what she heard about Rivky, especially the fact that she was an accomplished artist, but she refused to hear of the shidduch. “Binyamin has no shortage of prospects — girls from nice, balebatish families like ours,” she told her husband. “Why should we say yes to this shidduch just because Kleinhart keeps chasing us?”
As it happened, however, Binyamin Mullek had just finished dating a girl that Mrs. Mullek had pinned high hopes on, and at that particular moment no one else was pressuring her to give a yes. “All right,” she told her husband with a sigh. “Let Binny go out with the Kleinhart girl. At least we’ll get her father off our backs.”
After hearing a yes from Binyamin’s rosh chaburah, Rabbi and Mrs. Kleinhart told him to wait a day, just to be respectable, before conveying to the Mulleks that they, too, were interested.
Until this point, Rivky had never even heard the name Binyamin Mullek. Her mother simply informed her that she had a date scheduled with him, saying nothing about all the maneuvering that had gone on for the better part of a year.
The day of Binyamin and Rivky’s first date, Mrs. Mullek wept. “Mark my words,” she told her husband tearfully, “this girl is going to be our daughter-in-law.”
Her words proved prophetic. Three weeks later, Binyamin and Rivky were engaged.
Rivky, who knew nothing of her in-laws’ opposition to the shidduch, was delighted to meet her chassan’s parents, and they, for their part, warmly welcomed her into the family, burying their initial reservations and embracing their new daughter-in-law wholeheartedly.
The Mulleks also embraced their new mechutanim graciously, never showing any hint that they were displeased with the shidduch. In fact, Dr. Mullek displayed tremendous reverence toward Rabbi Kleinhart, whom he referred to as “my mechutan the talmid chacham.”
Rivky developed a close relationship with her mother-in-law — a closer relationship, in fact, than Mrs. Mullek had with any of her other daughters-in-law, because the two shared an appreciation for art that none of the others quite understood. Several years after Rivky joined the family, she finally found out about her in-laws’ initial opposition to the shidduch, at which point she found the story hilarious.
nd they lived happily ever after,” I concluded. “I know, because I’m Rivky.”
The woman sitting beside me shook her head in disbelief. “How did your father have the guts to do what he did?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted. “And you have to realize — by the time I got married, he was already in his sixties, and was considered a distinguished talmid chacham and a respected gvir. I was still young, and plenty of people would have been thrilled to do a shidduch with my family, so my father had every excuse not to chase my husband. But he really believed that Binyamin was the right match for me, so he put his ego aside and doggedly pursued a boy whose parents didn’t want him as a mechutan.
“Ironically,” I added, “of all his mechutanim, my father-in-law gets along best with my father! They even learn together on the phone twice a week.”
Seeing that the woman was struggling to process what I had just told her, I fell silent.
Finally, she spoke up. “What your father did wouldn’t work for me,” she said. “Your father has money and he’s chashuv, so he was able to get away with that. But my husband and I — we’re just regular people, you know? We’re not movers and shakers.”
“Actually,” I objected, “I think my father’s prestige made it harder—”
At that moment, the woman’s phone rang. “Sorry, it’s my husband calling,” she mumbled as she pushed her chair back from the table and began scanning the room for a quiet corner.
As she hurried away, I heard her say, “Shloimy, I told you a thousand times, if they don’t want us, we don’t want them.” —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 766)
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