| Calligraphy: Succos 5784 |

Living the Dream

“But what if he wants his wife to be everything?” Atara said. “I think that’s what he wants”

“Thanks so much for coming by. I’m just going to start on the meatballs for supper, you can have a seat,” Aliza said as she led Atara to the kitchen.

“You can put your stuff down here,” she added, waving vaguely at the couch that separated the kitchen from the living room area; it was piled with folded laundry.

Atara shrugged and waved her phone. “All I brought,” she said quietly.

Atara slid into the barstool. Yes, Aliza thought, it was the perfect purchase. Meir couldn’t understand it — “There’s a table right here, why would someone want eat at a counter?” — and she wasn’t going to have her kids eat cereal at the “breakfast bar” or whatever you called an awkward slab of something from an early ’90’s kitchen. But the barstool was perfect for when people came by to “help” her cook.

The ground beef was mostly defrosted. Aliza stabbed it with a fork to mash it up. It was harder than she expected.

“How’s it going?” she asked Atara lightly. She wasn’t sure why Atara had asked to come by. She’d had shaychus to Aliza in high school and kept up since, but her life was good — vanilla problems — so Aliza didn’t know her as well as she knew the students who’d reached out often over the years.

“So.” Atara paused and watched Aliza mash the beef. “So,” she tried again. “I’ve been dating this guy. We went out like five times. Everything is great — really. I like him, he likes me, he’s fun and funny, and considerate, and smart, and really everything I ever wanted.”

She paused again; Aliza knew a but was coming.

“And I know this sounds so dumb, but like he’s really into working with kids at risk, and it’s beautiful and genuine and everything. I totally respect that.”

Aliza reached for the cornflake crumbs and started pouring, still waiting.

Atara looked at her, deer-in-headlights moment. “I don’t want that.”

Aliza nodded. “Tell me more,” she prompted.

“I think it’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. But, like, I’m more of a give-money-to-an-organization type. Maybe I’ll stuff your envelopes.”

“I hear,” Aliza said — and she did. She needed Atara to say more, though, both for herself and for Aliza’s understanding. “Tell me more about what you think he wants, and how that’s different from what you want.”

Atara went long-winded with stories he shared of him saving the day, and how she wanted her privacy.

“Did he say anything about what he hoped his home would be like?” Aliza asked.

“No — but it’s expected. Like, that’s the life.”

“It’s what you’re assuming,” Aliza corrected gently. “Can you pass me the salt?” She found that giving people directions about matters other than what they were discussing often let their mind process more. Atara passed the salt, and Aliza measured half a teaspoon studiously even though she was usually an eye-baller.

“You think I should ask him what he thinks, like, for real?” Atara asked.

Aliza let her answer her own question.

“But what if he wants his wife to be everything?” Atara said. “I think that’s what he wants.”

“So you won’t ask him, because you’re scared he’ll confirm what you think?” Aliza probed. “And if he confirms that, yes, he does need a kiruv partner, then you’ll have to let go of your relationship?”

Atara went quiet, then gave a small, “Yes.”

Aliza turned to the cabinet behind her, scooped out the garlic and onion powder, and spiced the meat mixture. Atara watched. Aliza didn’t say anything. This was time for Atara to think.

“Okay,” Atara finally said. “So I have to have a real conversation with him. But what if it’s everything I think it is?”

Aliza gave her the, “there’s no right or wrong, but it’s a choice of competing priorities” bit. Then she guided Atara to run her hands underwater and form perfectly spherical meatballs, a process that a) produced pretty meatballs b) absorbed her attention, allowing her to engage and let her guard down.

The hardest part was over, and the two spent the next 30 minutes shaping the balls, making the sauce, boiling pasta, and cutting up a salad.

What would happen, Aliza didn’t know — that wasn’t her concern. Her job was to redirect and reframe, show her girls that they had the answers within them all along.

Later that night, when she sat alone with Meir watching him eat reheated meatballs, Aliza shared her day. She lingered on Atara.

“It’s such a brachah that I get to do this, I love it. Don’t get me wrong, it can be hard, I never know what will show up, but the sipuk in guiding people to what they kind of already know never gets old.”

She knew she sounded cheesy, but she meant every word.

Meir looked up with a grim smile. “That’s really amazing.”

He cut a meatball in half and pushed it around his plate like a little kid. Then he sighed and looked back up at Aliza.

“I spoke to the caterer, he said he needs a deposit within the next three weeks, or we lose the slot. He can’t hold it or guarantee the prices longer.”

“How much is the deposit?”

“Five hundred dollars.”

Aliza swallowed hard.

She knew the answer to all her questions of, “Why now, the bar mitzvah isn’t for another year?” Ohel Tzvi was the cheapest hall-and-caterer combo, so it got booked way in advance. If they didn’t reserve it now, someone else would.

Aliza felt bad for her husband. Yes, they were in this together, but ultimately the burden was on him. He pushed another meatball around his plate. Aliza knew he was wondering what he could pinch, what he could tap, what he could do to pay for the deposit.

“Don’t people pay good money to dating coaches for what you did with Atara?” Meir asked suddenly.

“Yeeees. Why?”

She’d looked it up once, $150 for an hour-long session. Her stomach had dropped when she’d read that.

“Did you ever end up finishing the life coaching assignments? Did you graduate the course?”

“Yes.” She had taken it five years and two kids ago, when things were simpler and more manageable. What was he getting at?

“So why don’t you charge for this stuff?”

“Are you serious?”


Aliza inhaled slowly, methodically shredding a paper napkin before responding.

“You’re a rav, do you charge to speak to your mispallelim?”

“That’s different!”

“Why? These are my former students.”

“Meeting people is part of a rav’s job description. For a twelfth-grade teacher, it’s extra.”

“I can’t charge.” Aliza switched tactics.

“Why not?”

“It would ruin the whole relationship, the dynamic.”

Meir was quiet. “It would be different, yes,” he said. “Ruined? I don’t think so.”

“You really think this is the best way to make five hundred dollars?” she countered.

“Aliza. It’s five hundred today, and ten thousand next year for the rest of the bar mitzvah. And a million other things that we need that we keep pushing off.”

She bit her lip. He was a shul rav, a tenth-grade rebbi, and a second seder shoel u’meishiv. She was a twelfth-grade Chumash teacher, a mechaneches, a special activities coordinator, and a camp mother. Together were parents of six — and they loved it, they loved all of it. But loving something doesn’t mean it pays. And living their dream was costing more and more each year.

“I can’t charge my students,” Aliza said again. “I chill, I make supper, I play with the kids when I talk to them. It’s great that they get something out of it, but it’s not like something I can charge for.”

“And what about when they keep you on the phone for hours?”

She didn’t fight back. She didn’t want to fight. They weren’t going to argue about money, she’d never allow her marriage to fall to the most common denominator.

“Think about it.” Meir said. “Maybe not your students, but there are other people you can charge.”

Aliza didn’t answer at first and instead closed her eyes, remembering the text she’d received earlier that day.

Hi Mrs. Blumkind. I got your number from Devorah Stein, we’re good friends from camp. I have something I’m dealing with dating-wise. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Nope, nope she did not. And she felt bad every time she got texts like this, because it was often, at least once a week. Her time and headspace were so stretched with all her obligations that the people with prior relationships got priority, and after priority, there wasn’t anything left.

She opened her eyes. The dining room table was still a hand-me-down, and the chairs were still long due for reupholstering.

“Okay,” she finally told Meir. “I’ll find a way to charge for some of it.”

Meir nodded gratefully and took a deep breath. “Do you think you can take point on the five hundred dollars? Maybe not all of it, but most of it.” He finished speaking and immediately took a bite of spaghetti, as if he had to get the taste of those words out of his mouth.

Aliza wasn’t sure how she was going to do it, but she found herself saying, “Okay.”

* * *

The restaurant was brightly lit — no mood lighting for this party. Which was a good thing, because some people did not look the same after all these years, and Aliza needed all the light and maybe her glasses to recognize everyone. Fifteen years is a long time, though she felt like she just graduated high school last week.

Aliza found a seat on the side and settled in. An appetizer was set by each plate. Could she pick at the salad yet, or should she wait for more people to arrive? It was a good thing she had paid for this event a while back, otherwise she would never have considered going. Even now she thought about the $50 cover charge, and what she could have done with it this week.

Aliza selected a crispy crouton from the plate and popped it in her mouth.


She looked up. “Rivky Gross?!”

“Katz now, but yes,” the woman with the short, blunt sheitel answered.

“Omigosh! I haven’t seen you since high school,” Aliza gushed.

“I know, I was still living in Israel during our ten-year reunion.”

Rivky sat down next to Aliza. Then the rest of Rivky’s friends joined them.

Aliza glanced at her seatmates, Rivky’s chevreh. This was not who she thought she’d be sitting next to at the reunion. She and Rivky were an odd couple. They had always been the first students to show up to school each morning, schmoozing while waiting for everyone else to trickle in. And while they’d never become official friends, they knew a lot about each other, and each respected the other.

“What are you up to these days?” Rivky asked, and the table listened.

“I teach high school Chumash, umm, and I’m the rebbetzin of a shul,” Aliza said, trying to hide her pride. Her internal monologue said, Tell them you do life coaching, dating coaching, too. Market yourself, let people know, this is hishtadlus.

“I’m also a dating coach,” she added hastily.

“Wow, that’s so cool.” Rivky sounded sincere. “I’ll bet you’re amazing, you were always so wise.”

The other women nodded and smiled generously.

Aliza blushed and mumbled a thanks.

Then Rivky’s attention got diverted, and Aliza sat back and took in the other women schmoozing.

“…it’s a good thing my husband works from home since Covid, ’cuz I can’t leave my cleaning lady alone, but I need her every day, and I have to take my Zevi to therapy every other day…”

“…I stopped working after my fourth. It was just too much. You can’t have it all, and I had to choose between wife, mother, and career. I know it’s the right decision, but it’s hard sometimes…”

“…sleepaway camp registration is way too early; I get so annoyed every November…”

Aliza focused on her meal. The blackened salmon was moist, the skin crispy. She tried to remember the last time she’d bought salmon. It must have been two Shavuoses ago — so expensive, and not filling enough.

She looked around the table. Most of the women had fresh sheitels and manicures and were delicately picking at their food. She didn’t begrudge them. Nothing was over the top — even their kvetches weren’t entitled or out of touch — but they were still so out of reach for her.

Aliza pulled out her phone and pretended to read and respond to a text. She pushed her chair back.

“Something just came up, I gotta run.” She looked at her unexpected seatmates. “It was really wonderful to see all of you.”

The women faux protested: she’d just arrived, the program hadn’t even started, couldn’t she stay a little longer. Aliza smiled and shook her head; she wasn’t staying. She walked down the hallway from the restaurant’s party room in the back to the general seating area.

“Aliza,” a voice called after her. She turned. It was Rivky. “Can I have your number?”

Aliza started reciting her cell, though it felt more like a “you and I both know we’re not keeping up.”

“I know a lot of singles.” Rivky tacked on.

Oh, well that shifted things. “Thank you.” Aliza smiled. The unease and dread that had been building in her gut all night receded. She’d always liked Rivky.

* * *

Aliza sat in front of her computer readjusting her screen, hoping the camera angle was right. She glanced behind her. The wall was clean and neat, and she had pulled one of her potted plants from the living room behind her, just peeking into the camera’s view. She swallowed bile and took a sip from the cup of water next to her. The clock told her one more minute, and her body was crawling out of her skin.

Someone was going to be on the other end of the screen in a moment. Someone who was paying her for dating coaching. Someone Rivky Katz knew had called her earlier that day.

“Mrs. Blumkind?”

The voice was young, feminine, confident.


“Hi, my name is Esti Weisz, my mother’s friend Rivky Katz recommended you as a dating coach. Do you have any availability?”

Aliza wanted to say no. She almost did. Then Meir’s face hidden behind his hands surfaced in her mind’s eye.

“Of course,” she put on her smoothest voice. They’d arranged to meet over Zoom at nine o’clock that night. Aliza thought she was done, and let her body relax as the call wound down.

“Oh, wait,” Esti said, as Aliza was about to press end. “How much is a session?”

Aliza paused — too long.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you, can you repeat that?” she tried to save face.

“How much do you charge per session?”

Aliza coughed. She couldn’t say it, she had to say it.

“One hundred fifty dollars,” she choked out.

“’Kay great, do you take Zelle?”


“Can you give it me now? I like to know that I’ve taken care of it.”

Aliza eked out her email address, finished the call, and two minutes after it ended, she received a text from her bank that she’d received $150.

If it was that easy, why did it feel so terrible?

Meir had been ecstatic when she told him.

“See, you can have your cake and eat it, too!”

She didn’t know. She didn’t have the session yet. It’s totally different when people pay: the expectation, the standard, the relationship. She couldn’t just banter and schmooze like she usually did — someone was paying her a lot of money.

The rest of the day was spent in a distracted haze, setting up the perfect Zoom background, googling how others structured their sessions. Once she saw how other coaches with online presences arranged their services, Aliza realized she didn’t even know what Esti wanted from the session. Was this a pre-dating session to figure out what she was looking for, a troubleshooting session, or a resume-sprucing session? She had no clue.

Meir pooh-poohed her fears.

“You’ve done this on the fly a million times, you’re just getting paid for it now.”

He didn’t get it; he just saw dollar signs — and she didn’t blame him. But it hurt to be a sell out. Now Aliza sat in front of her computer, watching the time in the right-hand corner turn to nine o’clock. She started the meeting.

A perfectly poised young woman sat on the other side of the screen, hair parted straight down the center, locks tucked behind one ear, revealing large pearls. She wore a starched striped blouse, and thin gold chains in varying lengths adorned her neck. She’d mastered the no-makeup makeup look and wore a bright smile.

Aliza was immediately off her game, wondering if Esti could see that her sheitel needed a wash-and-set and that her black sweater was pilling on the bottom.

“Hi Esti, so nice to meet you.” Aliza injected warmth into her voice. Try hard! Her mind screamed.

They exchanged small talk and smiles and got down to it.

“I think I’m having a hard time prioritizing values when I date,” Esti shared. “I’ve made lists, I know what’s important, what I value and all that — but when I date a guy, and he’s boring, or ugly, or still has pleats in his pants, I can’t see past that.”

This was an easy one to walk through, Aliza knew it. But she didn’t know this woman, couldn’t refer to their shared history or even the places they both knew in the community. She’d never done it like this before, and the words, empathy, and perspective didn’t come the way they generally did.

These conversations usually breezed, yet now Aliza found herself glancing at the corner clock too often, willing time to move faster. Esti seemed to be listening, but was she fully engaged, did Aliza have her buy-in? She wasn’t sure.

They moved through the differences between theoretical and practical values. They spoke about respect and chemistry. Nothing new or exciting. A lot of validation. Esti wasn’t in major need of guidance; she just needed some adjustment she probably could have gotten from anyone who knew anything about dating. She certainly didn’t have to pay $150 for it.

As the half-hour finally wound down, Esti thanked her kindly, and Aliza knew this was the time she was supposed to sell herself.

“Do you want to set up another session?”

Esti made a thinking face.

“I think so,” she said after a moment. “I got a lot out of this. Does this time next week work?”

“Of course,” Aliza said. Her face burned after she realized she was supposed to check a calendar and check if she was available. “Next week. It was wonderful meeting you.”

“Perfect. Thanks so much. Bye.”

They both gave those small awkward over-the-screen waves. Aliza hit end.

She wanted to vomit.

Meir poked his head through the archway. “How was? I came home at the end.”

Aliza buried her face in her hands. “I don’t know. She says she got something out of the session, and she rebooked. But I just felt awkward. I don’t really know her. I don’t think I can help her as well as I can help someone else. And it just feels weird taking her money when seriously, anyone would have helped her. Where is her shul rebbetzin? Or seminary teacher?”

Meir didn’t answer. Smart of him.

“And a hundred fifty dollars isn’t enough for the bar mitzvah deposit anyway,” Aliza said. “We’re not going to make it.”

She was ranting now, she knew it, but it felt good. It felt righteous; like she really knew what was right and not right.

* * *

“Come inside, we’ll make supper,” Aliza called to Leeba, her five year old.

Leeba dropped her Chinese jump rope and bounded up the front steps. Aliza turned to open the door when she heard a thud, pause, and cry. She whipped around and found Leeba on the second step, clutching her face. Aliza could see the blood seeping through. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply, but her brain just screamed, “NO NO NO NO.”

“Let me see, sweetie,” she kept her voice calm and bent over Leeba, who was in hysterics, her cries almost swallowed by her attempts to gulp for air. Prying Leeba’s fingers apart to see past the deep red, Aliza’s chest sank.

She had hoped it was just drama cries, but no, Leeba had a gaping hole between her eyes. She must have gashed her face on a corner of the concrete steps as she’d climbed up. Did she need stitches? How much would this cost? Aliza was horrified that her first thought was not to comfort her child, but money.

Two hours, six stitches, and $1,000 (paid in cash, of course) later, Aliza had her answer.

The plastic surgeon told her that she’d received the chinuch discount. It did not feel like a discount, though she knew from other people’s experience that it was. She’d paid with their almost nonexistent savings.

As she withdrew her debit card from the ATM, she berated herself for judging herself that she went to a plastic surgeon and not an in-network Urgent Care or Emergency Room. Leeba is your daughter, and yes, it makes a difference if she has a scar on her face for life. Your daughter’s self-esteem is worth millions, not just $1,000, and yet those 1,000 dollars were very real and tangible, unlike self-esteem.

Turning the key in the ignition, it took more than a second to catch — van’s getting old she thought — but she couldn’t think about repairs or replacements. It was just too overwhelming. And if covering the bar mitzvah deposit had been a stretch before, now it felt like leaping into an abyss with a hand outstretched in folly.

Later, she and Meir sat hunched at the dining room table, each immersed in their own work: shiur prep, grading.

“Let’s just eat what’s in the house this week, no shopping,” Meir said, his face still in a sefer, voice clipped.

“’Kay,” Aliza agreed. His head hung like a kettlebell was on it. She wanted to tell him all the good they were doing, how they were holding up their little corner of the frum world, that they were living the dream, but she knew this wasn’t the moment.

* * *

Two people called her the next day. Two dating sessions booked; her night was carved neatly away. She had asked the second person where she’d gotten her information.

“Someone, I forget her name, Rivky something who posts on shidduchim chats — she mentioned you on the chat yesterday. She’s known to be a straightshooter, so I took her recommendation seriously.”

“Got it,” Aliza said. Straightshooter did sound like Rivky, and this is what she had meant when she said she knew a lot of singles. Hashem works in funny ways. Who would think an acquaintance she hadn’t seen in 15 years would be a shaliach for parnassah? And who would believe that Aliza half-wished no one would call? That she could tell Meir she tried, and it wasn’t happening, and she could go back to doing what she loved best. Hashem had other plans though. Why couldn’t he bring the shefa through Meir?

Her phone was ringing, and she glanced down: Atara. A continuation of her dating questions, Aliza presumed. I hope this doesn’t take long, the thought struck her, and she wanted to snatch it back the moment it entered her consciousness. That was no attitude to have when giving.

“Hello?” Aliza intentionally injected warmth into her voice.

“Mrs. Blumkind? Do you have a minute?” Atara asked, her voice wavering. A minute was never a minute, even her kids knew that. Aliza looked around the kitchen — it was mostly clean, the kids were mostly in bed, Shua was in shul learning with Meir. Things could wait, she told herself.

“Sure,” Aliza said, and she started putting together a tea. That always helped slow down her thoughts and give her clarity on these calls.

“So, I spoke to Nosson. And you were right, I was assuming so much, and he’s totally fine with me as I am, and he doesn’t expect me to do anything — just to give him space to do his thing.”

Aliza waited; this didn’t sound like a happily-ever-after phone call. She opened a cabinet and looked for the honey, there was just a drop left and it would take forever and a lot of oozing noises to squeeze it out of the bottle. Flipping it upside down, she put it back in the cabinet and reached for the sugar instead. Uch, she hated sugar in her tea. She didn’t bother mentally noting to buy honey, too expensive now.

Atara still hadn’t said anything. Aliza’s patience felt the pinch, she put it back in its place.

“How are you feeling about this?” Aliza prodded.

Atara sighed at the other end and started voicing her worries about what might happen in a hypothetical future reality.

Aliza waded to the couch and kept the irony of this phone call and her unwashed dishes to herself. This was an easy issue to deal with; the call wouldn’t be that long after all.

“What do you think the answer is?”

Atara paused. “Talk to him?” she ventured.

Aliza smiled, blew on her tea, and took a sip. She went on to explain to Atara that she was just borrowing problems from the future that weren’t questions of core difference and could easily be negotiated way down the road.

Atara was a smart kid once you showed her the path. Aliza hesitated before adding on the clincher: “We tend to come up with a lot of urgent questions we didn’t have before when we get nervous.”

“Omigosh Mrs. Blumkind, you know me better than I know myself. I’m so nervous.”

Aliza took a deep breath, a sip, and placed her tea on the side table. This might take longer in the end. And that was okay. This is what she was here for. She’s not paying you, a voice whispered in her mind. Aliza shushed it, but she was mad it had even showed up.

What’s with you, Aliza, she scolded herself.

The next 30 minutes were spent slowly prompting and untangling Atara’s anxiety. Was it based on anything real, were there red flags, or was it garden variety something-unfamiliar-is-happening anxiety?

Aliza tried stopping herself, but she glanced at the clock on the wall every five minutes religiously. It seemed to tick dollar bills, not seconds.

Finally, Atara decided she was just freaking out internally because she had no brothers, had only ever made it to second dates with two other guys, she didn’t know if she was dating right or doing the right thing, and she was only 19 — how could she know enough to make a decision for life? Her thoughts ran in tighter and tighter spiraling circles until she admitted defeat. “I guess I’m just terrified to take the leap and make a decision like this. How do you know?”

Aliza smiled to herself — this she could share for free forever — and gave Atara the reassurance, or not, depending on the perspective she’d given many of her former students. “We don’t ever know,” she said. “We make the best decision based on what we know, and if we need to know more, then we date more. But if we’re just scared then know this: our bashert becomes our bashert the moment we choose each other. We make the relationship, we make it so we can look back and say ‘yes, it was meant to be.’ It’s not something we look for, but something we become.”

It was quiet on Atara’s end for a few moments. “I hear,” she said. “Okay. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for listening, Mrs. Blumkind. I really appreciate it.”

“My pleasure,” Aliza replied as she hung up, and there was no part of her that didn’t mean it.

“Who was that?”

Aliza jumped. Meir was standing in the living room archway. She hadn’t heard him come in.

“Atara Lasker.”

Meir nodded. He moved into the room and sat on the rubbed out armchair across from the couch.

“Is there any way you can charge for that?”

Aliza huffed and gave him a frustrated half-glare. “We’ve been through this. She’s a student, I can’t, I’m charging for other people.”

Why was he bringing this up again, so fast? And why was she feeling so defensive? Aliza looked at the clock. She’d been on the phone for close to an hour — a potential $300. Could she really commoditize, put a dollar amount on what she’d just done?

Meir shifted in his seat. “It’s just — what are we doing wrong? How are other people making it?” His tone had changed from demanding to pleading.

Aliza squirmed; it was so hard to see her husband like this. She tried pushing a defense.

“First of all, we don’t know if they are. I mean when I go out, I don’t look ragged and broke. Just like other people.” Aliza smiled cheekily and propped her face on her hands, as if she were posing for a school picture in the 90s. That got a small smile out of Meir.

“True, we can’t know for sure,” he said. “Still, I get the impression talking to other rabbanim that it’s not that tight in their houses. Yes, it’s klei kodesh, chinuch, all that. They live simply, but it’s not choking-on-every-breath tight.” He picked at the armchair. The stray threads kept his eyes and hands and dignity distracted.

“Maybe their wives have regular jobs,” Aliza offered as she stood up. It was late, she needed to clean up the kitchen. And honestly, it was too hard to have these conversations straight, eye-to-eye. “I’ve heard people talk about how the rebbetzin role is dead. Most rabbanim, their wives are copywriters, office managers, accountants, corporate type jobs that pay.”

“So, who acts as the rebbetzin?” Meir asked.

“No one.”

“What do the women do then, like if they need a rebbetzin in their lives?”

Aliza shrugged as she turned on the faucet of her double sink. “Nothing. They talk to their friends, maybe their husband’s rav is someone they can go to. Or they have an old teacher like me.” She reached for the soap and scrubber.

A mother had once texted her a lecture that was probably meant to shame Aliza, but it just confirmed the problem she was already aware of: It’s wonderful that you’re there for your students and mispallelim, but not everyone was zocheh to have a teacher to connect to, or a shul rebbetzin. What should they do? Who should they turn to for guidance? Someone reaches out for help, and you say no — you shouldn’t be in this line of work if “no” is so easily in your vocabulary.

“Which came first?” Meir’s question brought her back.

“What do you mean?” She paused washing.

“They needed money, so the wife got a job? Or she had a job, and the husband was able to pursue being a rav?”

“No clue. What difference does it make?”

Aliza looked in the sink: two pots, three cups, two serving utensils, a cutting board, measuring cups, and knives. She should probably stop using so many paper goods.

“I’m just wondering if there were people in our situation and what they did.”

“You think I should get a ‘real’ job.” Aliza couldn’t hide the disgust in her voice. She turned the water on full blast to drown out the thoughts in her head.

“No, no,” Meir hurried to clarify. “I’m just wondering what other people did. Were they living the ideal like we are, and then reality hit, and they made a decision for the wife to leave chinuch? Or did they split long ago and that’s the only way the husband was able to be in klei kodesh?”

Aliza turned the water off. “I don’t know.” Hand on hip, she faced her husband. “Did something happen tonight that’s making you bring this up again?”

Meir waved his hand like it was nothing, but it was obviously something.

“Shuey mentioned something about a watch. He doesn’t need one, but honestly, it’s not a ridiculous thing for a 12-year-old to want. I can’t give an easy yes to a reasonable request, and it’s killing me.”

“I hear, but we should give up our ideals for a watch?” She looked back at her shallow double sink.

“Aliza, you know it’s not really about the watch, it’s more about the bigger picture. Why can’t we do both, help people and get paid for it?”

“I am. And I already hate it. I kept checking the clock while talking to Atara. Totally ruined any good intention I had.” She paused and then spat, “I have two other sessions booked for this week.”

Meir’s eyes brightened so wholesomely that it killed Aliza even more than before. Why did he not acknowledge what seemed eminently clear to her — that the moment you put money between mentor and mentee, the guidance loses so much of its value.

Im yirtzeh Hashem, there will be more!” Meir said, his eyes closed as though wishing.

Aliza did not respond Amen.

* * *

Aliza was adjusting the screen before her next coaching session when her phone pinged. It was Atara.

Mazal Tov! I just got engaged to Nosson Mandel. L’chayim is at my parent’s house now. Hope to see you! You made this happen!! Thank you so much!!

Aliza let out a whoop and clapped her hands, but she deflated when realized she couldn’t go. Not at least for another hour. She should have been free, she should have been able to be there for a student’s happiest moment, but instead, she’d sold out for $150.

She responded quickly, MAZEL TOV!!! I’m so happy and excited for you. I’m sorry but I’m working until ten. I hope to make it then.

She rearranged her face to neutral and clicked “Start meeting.”

Meir came home as soon as she finished the session.

“Atara Lasker is engaged,” she said by way of greeting. “L’chayim is now.”

“Oh wow, that’s amazing!” Meir smiled and looked ten years younger. “Are you going?”

“I would have gone already, but I was coaching instead.”

“Got it,” he said. “Are you going now?”

Aliza checked the time: 10:10. It was late and she was tired. “Yup.”

* * *

The living room was still packed when Aliza got there. For once, a late-night proposal worked to her advantage.

“Mrs. Blumkind!” Atara spotted her, pushed through the throng, and pulled her into a tight hug.

“Thank you so much for everything,” she gushed. “I wouldn’t be here without you. Let me introduce you to my chassan!”

She pulled Aliza toward the other side of the room, which was somehow the men’s side, while she waved to get his attention. Aliza wished she wouldn’t; she liked to pretend she didn’t exist as a factor in a relationship, that everything would have worked out anyway, it’s just that someone happened to ask her a question. Once she bore the “dating coach” label, that façade was broken.

Atara was having a hard time getting her chassan’s attention.

“It’s okay,” Aliza said, patting her hand reassuringly. Atara didn’t protest, and Aliza spotted other former students, Atara’s classmates. She kissed Atara and made her way to the corner.

Someone stopped her. “Mrs. Blumkind?”

Aliza recognized her. She had taught at Bnos Miriam for a year, a co-teacher of hers, but Aliza couldn’t remember her name. She smiled warmly instead.

“Hi, Sarah Marden, we taught together.”

Sarah, of course, Aliza smiled again.

“I heard you started doing dating coaching. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach? I have a niece….” Sarah tacked on by way of explanation.

Approach?! Aliza nearly laughed; she didn’t have anything as official as that. “I listen,” she said simply. “And then help people realize things they already knew. They always had the answer, they just needed a nutcracker.”

Sarah laughed at that line. “That sounds great, can I have your number?”

As Aliza rattled off her cell, her throat started clenching. She was at a l’chayim, a simchah — and she was networking? This was wrong.

Sarah moved on and Aliza continued to her old students. Leah Pomner, who’d gotten engaged two months back, was one of them. She’d been close to Aliza back in high school and sometimes called to check in and schmooze.

Leah was talking with her hands and Aliza noticed she wore no rings. She knew for a fact that Leah’s chassan proposed with one, thanks to those pictures the kids shared these days. Maybe the ring was being resized, she told herself, but the gurgle in her gut told her otherwise.

Seeing her, Leah broke away from the group and approached Aliza first.

“Mrs. Blumkind! So nice that you came!” She lowered her voice now and said, “Atara told me you were a big help.”

Aliza waved it off.

Leah was still talking quietly. “I don’t know if you know, but I broke off my engagement.”

Aliza sighed. “I noticed you didn’t have a ring on.” She paused and said the thing she dared to. “I wish you would have let me know sooner, so I could be there for you, with you. It must’ve been hard.”

Leah looked at her strangely and fidgeted with the nonexistent rings on her fingers. “Yeah, I thought about it, but I heard you turned into an official dating coach and well….”

Leah didn’t have to finish. Aliza knew her finances well enough, having fundraised for her to attend school shabbatons and seminary. The noise, the push, the heat of the room felt stifling. Aliza could barely breathe.

“I’ll always be there for my students,” she managed to get out of her closed throat. “For free.”

Aliza wasn’t sure how she extracted herself from the conversation to the fresh air outside. She staggered to her car and sat for a minute staring at nothing before turning the ignition.

Wrong, it was all wrong.

* * *

Meir was still up when she came home.

“You’ll never guess what I did while you were gone.” His voice was a singsong and Aliza was ready to grasp at anything that might make her smile.


“I paid the deposit for the hall! The bar mitzvah is going to happen, all thanks to you.”

Aliza looked at him stonily. “At what cost?” she whispered.

Meir looked at her questioningly.

“At what cost,” she repeated, slowly enunciating each word.

Meir shrank; his smile faltered. “What do you mean?”

Aliza collapsed dramatically on the couch and shared what had happened at the vort, Sarah and Leah.

“What do I get out of this?” she demanded. “A little financial security? I shouldn’t be doing this. Real people who I know need me more, and now they think I’m out of reach. Everything I’ve done until now is ruined. The second you put money in a relationship, it’s not a relationship, it’s a transaction.”

“Aliza.” Meir’s voice was quiet.

She didn’t heed. Pounding the worn armrests, she pleaded. “Not everything that can be monetized should be monetized. Maybe this was just a test from Hashem, and we failed. Maybe we’re supposed to be poor. The money, if we’re meant to have it, can come from someplace else.”

“Aliza,” Meir tried again. “You have a gift, you know what you’re offering, but until the world, until the community appreciates the value of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and supports you for it, you might as well get paid.”

“You don’t get it!” Aliza insisted. “If someone is paying per session, then I’m not Mrs. Blumkind, the warm teacher you can have a real talk with; I’m just another service provider. We chose the chinuch life for a reason. We’re here for so much more than money.”

“Aliza,” Meir tried again.

“No, no.” Aliza put a hand up. “Don’t try to explain it away to me. Don’t try to make it better. You and I know what’s right and wrong, and we know this is a second-best, third-best option. Don’t take that integrity away from me, away from you.”

Meir opened his mouth to speak. Then he stopped. They sat in suffocating silence. Meir caught Aliza’s eyes, kept his gaze on her for a long moment, then looked away.

“You’re right,” he said hoarsely.

“What do you mean?” she bit back.

“I was meeting with a shul member; I’ll leave him nameless. He has a daughter who’s been in shidduchim for a while and he mentioned he heard you’re coaching — maybe his daughter should use you.”

“I don’t charge shul members,” Aliza said firmly.

“I know. And I also know that they really can’t afford a dating coach.” He ran his fingers though his thinning hair. “Also, I know how I felt in the moment thinking about their finances, and that you wouldn’t charge anyway. I felt so confused because it felt like I was losing a customer, but I also felt for his situation. Does that make sense?”

So Meir did get it. Aliza tried breathing deeply, but her lungs wouldn’t expand fully; a Pyrrhic victory was no win.

“What do we do, then?” Aliza finally asked.

Meir looked at her, rubbed his face, opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it.

“What?” she prodded. “You were going to say something.”

“We’re always exactly where we’re supposed to be.”

“Right.” Why was he reminding her of this basic principle?

“You didn’t do much to get this influx of potential clients.”

That was true, the output she’d received was far greater than the input she’d invested, a basic concept in Chovos Halevavos.

“What are you saying?” She knew exactly what he was saying, but she didn’t want it to be true.

“Hashem is sending us parnassah, in this form. It feels compromised because of whatever idealistic paradigm we have of how it should be. But it’s honest work. And I don’t think we should be saying no to it.”

He paused and gestured vaguely to the room around them. “What we need to be doing is adjusting our attitude and perspective, to see this as an opportunity Hashem is bringing us.”

“But—” Aliza couldn’t help herself.

“You’re not wrong,” Meir stopped her. He knew what she was going to say, he’d just agreed with her. “But this is what we have in front of us, and right now we need to make lemonade from our lemons. It doesn’t have to be forever, and you can for sure continue helping some people for free — but this is where things are now. Maybe one day…” he trailed off.

Aliza looked at her woebegone living room and then up at her husband. She mustered a soft smile.

“I hear,” she said finally. “Thanks for taking care of the deposit.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 980)

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