As time passed, it became very clear that our ideas of support and the Schwartzes’ were very different
Mordche: I wish I could help you out, but I can’t mislead my friend.
Zehava: We support the couple by ourselves — and you feel it’s not enough?
I can’t say it was exactly a surprise when Eli broke the news. We’d seen it coming for a while.
“...second seder in this yeshivah, they pair the bochurim up with avreichim, you know, to help them out.” Eli coughed. “They, uh, they compensate very nicely. It’s been a bit much for Leah, her work, the baby, everything. So I, I think I’m going to try it.”
“Of course, Eli, you need to do what’s right for your family,” Shaindy said smoothly.
My mouth was clamped tightly shut; it was a good thing both of us were on the call. One of us had to say the right things, be supportive, reassure Eli that his decision was sound — even while we were fuming inside.
Not at Eli. Of course not. He didn’t have a choice anymore, not with a family to support. But—
“How could they?” I yelped, as soon as the call ended. “They promised him support, they promised us, he wanted to sit and learn — they knew that! And now he’s had to give it all up, first his evening seder, and now he’s talking about the afternoons...”
Shaindy bit her lip. “Maybe it’s a bit our own fault. We never asked them for amounts. We just expected...”
We’d had this conversation before. Several times, in fact, in the two years since Eli got married.
When Eli had gotten engaged to Leah Schwartz, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. The kallah was a wonderful girl, sweet, refined, and warm — just what Eli was looking for. Her family was well-off — in a completely different financial bracket than ours — and her parents graciously offered to help the young couple out financially while Eli was in kollel, without making a single demand on us.
“I can’t believe how lucky we are,” Shaindy kept saying, throughout the engagement. “I mean, making a wedding is huge, and here they’re taking almost everything on their own shoulders — and they’re not asking us to contribute at all toward supporting the couple after the chasunah!”
We couldn’t have afforded to give much in any case, and we have three daughters after Eli, so all in all, the Schwartzes’ undemanding approach was a huge bonus for us.
The young couple flew off to Eretz Yisrael and settled down. Eli was a serious learner, committed to living the kollel life for as long as he possibly could. Although many young couples end up moving back after a year or two, I was sure Eli and Leah would make it work long-term — they were both so idealistic, so committed. And most importantly, they were being supported by Leah’s parents.
Or so we thought.
Shaindy was right: We’d made a mistake in not clarifying the terms of the support. As time passed, it became very clear that our ideas of support and the Schwartzes’ were very different. Sure, they covered the young couple’s rent — in a small, one-bedroom machsan apartment. Eli and Leah were fine with it, they’re good kids, but now they had a baby, soon they would need a bigger place — and who was going to pay the difference?
“Don’t worry, we’ll be okay,” Eli told me, when I asked him delicately if they were thinking of finding someplace bigger. “We’ll manage here as long as we can, and then we’ll see… maybe we’ll move out of the area, we could find a two-bedroom for a similar price…”
Apparently, I told Shaindy darkly, the Schwartzes were one of those, the wealthy families who withheld support from their kids in the name of not spoiling them. She didn’t agree with me.
“Look, Mordche,” she said, “their rent is covered every month, they give them the basics, so what if they don’t want to pay for the children to live luxuriously. They chose a kollel life, remember?”
But the basics, in this case, were extremely basic. Sholom Schwartz could afford a two-bedroom above-ground level apartment.
The same went for food and other expenses. Eli didn’t really talk about it, but I understood that his parents-in-law gave them a monthly sum of money, to spend as needed. The thing was, it was only just barely enough. And we were talking about the basics. Eli and Leah lived simply, no fancy restaurants or steaks or takeout suppers.
But Leah worked from home, Eli had his kollel stipend, and they seemed to manage okay for the first year or so. Then the baby came.
The Schwartzes flew out to Eretz Yisrael for the grand event, Leah insisting on giving birth there so that Eli wouldn’t have to miss months of learning. We were proud of them, if disappointed about missing the simchah. But Leah’s parents were going, and as soon as we heard the news — “It’s a girl!” — Shaindy flew out to buy some onesies for the little princess.
The Schwartzes delivered our package and good wishes, and bought little Esty a crib, stroller, and fancy baby swing. They also arranged a lavish kiddush, complete with a party planner and color scheme. But aside from what Shaindy sent, the young couple had to buy baby clothes, not to mention formula, diapers, and all the extra new expenses a baby brings — and their finances were stretched to the limit, now that Leah wasn’t working.
When Eli hesitantly asked me for help — they were desperate, the baby needed new undershirts and diapers, and they didn’t have groceries in the house — I broached the subject of his in-laws’ support.
“They give, they give,” Eli said quickly. “It’s just all the new expenses, there’s just not enough to cover everything… and besides, they spent so much money on the stroller and stuff, we can’t really ask for more…”
I gave what I could — which father wouldn’t? But honestly, Sholom Schwartz shouldn’t have blown a few thousand dollars on the kiddush. He could’ve made a small cake-and-kugel affair and given the rest of the money to the couple, for the baby’s basic needs.
We couldn’t interfere, though; I knew that. It wasn’t our business, it would only cause friction… so we tried to help out in whatever way we could, kept our mouths closed when Eli started taking students in the evenings. And now, when he was talking about giving up his afternoon seder, too.
When the mechutan’s number showed up on my phone one evening, I was surprised. We didn’t speak to the Schwartzes often — in fact, the last time we’d spoken was to wish them mazel tov on the birth and arrange for them to bring our package. Maybe he was calling about the money? To explain? To apologize? To ask us to contribute toward support? Had they lost the business or something?
My mind spun wildly with the possibilities. I fumbled to turn the phone on. “Hello?”
“A gutten, Reb Mordche, how are you, how are you?” Sholom Schwarz sounded like his usual self — rushed but jovial, plowing through the necessary greetings to get to the meat of the conversation. “Listen, I have a toivah to ask of you, it won’t take long, I hope you’ll be able to help us out…”
Not about the money?
“Sure, how can I help you?” I offered, a bit cautiously. Like I said, we rarely spoke to the Schwartzes. What was this about?
“So, it’s like this. You know my older daughter, Etty? Leah’s older sister. She’s been in shidduchim for a while.”
I remembered that. Leah’s sister was a few years her senior, a kind, good-natured girl who simply hadn’t found her bashert yet. Shaindy had been so impressed with her during the chasunah and sheva brachos, and she’d tried to redt her a few shidduchim at the time, but none had panned out.
“So, a name came up, I think you know the father. Gluckstein? He’s the menahel of a yeshivah?”
Of course I knew Gluckstein. “Sure, I know him, he’s a close friend…” I said, the wheels in my mind turning furiously.
Leib Gluckstein had a son, an older bochur, maybe 30 or so. Moshe. A great guy, deep, sensitive, thought-out. He’d had a broken engagement years back, if I remembered correctly, but he really was a catch. I could see why the Schwartzes were so interested in the suggestion. But…
“It’s been suggested a few times,” Sholom continued. “But the Glucksteins, they have a list, they’re not so interested, they don’t know Etty personally. My wife feels that if someone would approach them from the inside, you know, as a friend — you could tell them about my daughter, push the name a little, we’d really love for the shidduch to go ahead.” He coughed a little. “I understand the Glucksteins are in chinuch, and their son wants to continue in learning… Well, you know us, we don’t make any demands on the mechutanim, we’re ready to help the young couple on our own, so I was wondering, you know, if maybe you could tell them that, too?”
I closed my eyes briefly. That. That was the problem.
Moshe Gluckstein was an excellent, serious bochur. Like my Eli. He wanted to sit and learn in kollel, at least for a few years. And he was looking for full support, not a small monthly stipend that didn’t allow for life changes or take into account the increasing expenses of a family with children. Not a small starter apartment in a basement, not for in-laws with unrealistic expectations of letting the young couple take responsibility and manage within a budget when the budget was so minimal and basic that they were struggling to simply pay their bills.
I couldn’t do it.
“I’m so sorry… I don’t think I’m the right person,” I stammered. “I don’t really do shidduchim…”
It sounded lame to my own ears. But what should I say? I can’t in good conscience suggest this shidduch, knowing that the support you’re offering won’t be adequate in real life? Or, Leib Gluckstein is my friend — and this would be a betrayal of him and his son?
“Maybe just mention the name, tell them a bit about Etty, and we’ll get a professional shadchan to take over?” Schwartz pressed me. “I just want someone to vouch for her, for us…”
But that was exactly what I couldn’t do.
If I could tell Sholom one thing, it would be: I don’t want to hurt you — but I don’t want to hurt my friend and his son, either.
Six and a half months. Six and a half months since the last date, and even longer since a date that had actually gone well.
Every time I looked at Etty, my heart ached. She was so good, my daughter. Taking everything in stride. Working on her emunah. Graciously allowing her younger sister to date, get engaged, get married ahead of her. Splurging on an expensive handcrafted bracelet for Leah’s baby daughter.
And there simply didn’t seem to be any reason for it, either! Etty was a good girl with a great job and a sparkling personality, we were a good family, and we were willing to offer support… what was going wrong, again and again?
It was a mystery to me, the way Leah’s shidduch had just fallen seamlessly into place while Etty had been out with over twenty boys, and every last one had been a failure.
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Etty would say, time and time again. “He’s just not right for me.”
And I knew what she meant. Etty was dynamic and fun-loving but she was also deep, spiritual, and striving. She needed something unique, something special.
And then Henny Berman called. “Zehava, I have. The. Shidduch. for your daughter!” she crowed down the phone. “He’s everything you’re looking for, plus, plus, plus!” She paused dramatically. “His name is Moshe Gluckstein, have you heard of him?”
The cautious excitement fizzled out instantaneously. “Only about fifteen times,” I said. “It does sound like a great idea, so many different people have mentioned it, but it’s never gone through. They — the boy’s side — I think they’re pretty picky…”
I thought about the many, many times we’d tried to push the shidduch forward. This shadchan and that. First Moshe Gluckstein was busy, then Moshe Gluckstein was taking a break, then Moshe Gluckstein had a long, long, long list and they’d put Etty’s name down, but please don’t be too hopeful, because there are 2,735 names to go through first. I rolled my eyes.
“Well, I suggested it this morning, and like you said, the mother gave me this whole thing about their long list, he has so many names, blah blah blah,” Henny confided. “But you know me, I don’t give up on things so fast… not when I have an amazing feeling about this shidduch! I’m telling you, this is the one for Etty.”
“Tell that to Mrs Gluckstein,” I muttered. This was fast becoming a very frustrating — and disappointing — conversation.
“Believe me, I tried, but they don’t know me from anywhere, why should they listen, you know?” Henny Berman paused for significant effect. “Buuut… I wasn’t going to let this go, Zehava, not when this boy is the one for your daughter. So I did my research on the Gluckstein family, and do you know what I found out?”
She paused for breath. I gave a questioning, “Hmm?” My heartbeat sped up a little. Could this be the shaliach for Etty to finally meet her bashert?
“The Glucksteins are close friends of… your very own mechutanim, the Katzes!” Henny finished triumphantly. “Leah’s parents-in-law are the perfect people to approach them and tell them about Etty, firsthand. Not only that, but they can give great information about the family, and they themselves have done a shidduch with you, so it’s very reassuring for the future in-laws… isn’t it such Hashgachah pratis?”
She was gushing with enthusiasm, which was typical for Henny Berman, but this time, I felt it too. Wow! Of all the families to be close with the Glucksteins, it was our own mechutanim — what were the chances? And, of course Etty’s name would be pushed forward on the Glucksteins’ everlasting List if someone close to the boy’s side would give it over. Could this be the yeshuah we were waiting for?
I debated calling Sholom at the office to tell him, but decided I could hold off for an hour or so and discuss it in person. But I was determined not to waste any time on this. Why wait a single extra day for the shidduch of our dreams?
Sholom called Mordche Katz later that evening, explaining to him the situation and asking him to suggest the shidduch as our mechutanim and a close friend of the boy’s father. I hovered near the phone, mouthing urgently to Sholom and straining to hear the reply through the line.
“…We’d really love for this shidduch to go ahead,” Sholom concluded. I signaled him — mention support, we’re offering to support the couple, like Eli and Leah — and he nodded. “Yes, ah, well, I understand that the Glucksteins are in chinuch, and their son wants to continue sitting and learning. So, as our mechutanim, you know us, we don’t ask for much, and we’re ready to help the young couple get settled on our own, maybe you can let them know that, too?”
I gave Sholom a thumbs-up. Nice or not, money was a deal-breaker in shidduchim these days, and if this is what it would take to get the shidduch rolling for our Etty…
But Sholom was frowning into the phone now, a little confused. “You don’t like to redt shidduchim… you mean, because you’re not a professional shadchan?” He glanced over at me. “Maybe, you know, you could just mention the name? We can get a regular shadchan to do the rest, it’s just that you know the family well…”
But Mordche Katz just stammered some sort of apology and ended the conversation.
I couldn’t understand him.
“I don’t get it, I just don’t,” I half wailed to Sholom. “We’re not asking a big favor! Just to mention a name to his friend! He doesn’t think Etty is a good catch? He can’t be bothered? What’s the deal?”
Sholom looked thoughtful. “I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t like to be the one suggesting names, he’s had a bad experience being involved with shidduchim? Or maybe he knows something about the boy, a problem or something? Definitely strange.”
“More than strange — it’s really not nice!” I was hurt and angry. “We have a daughter in shidduchim for years, she’s the one suffering. He can’t step out of his comfort zone to put her name forward? Or at least explain to us why he won’t do it?”
“It takkeh shouldn’t be such a big deal, just to mention a name to a friend,” Sholom mused. “Maybe I should call him in a few days, have another conversation…”
“Don’t bother.” I slammed the silverware drawer shut. “I’ll call Shaindy Katz tomorrow.”
I just wanted to talk to my mechuteneste, mother to mother. The Katzes had daughters heading into the parshah, three of them. What would they feel like if it was their daughter turning 28 in a few months, waiting and waiting for the right shidduch? How would she like it if their own mechutanim refused to get involved when it was their one chance to get a great shidduch off the ground?
The phone rang for a while without answering, but eventually I got through. Shaindy sounded a little distant, but maybe she was just busy.
“Hi, it’s Zehava Schwartz, how are you doing?”
We exchanged news, how’s everything, did you see the picture of Esty, she’s getting so big… and then I took a deep breath and plunged in.
“It’s about a shidduch for Etty. I don’t know if your husband mentioned it?”
She gave a little sound which I couldn’t interpret. I decided to just forge on.
“Here’s the thing. You know Etty, she’s a wonderful girl, but she’s been having such a rough time in shidduchim. This boy, this Moshe Gluckstein, he sounds exactly what we’re looking for. You know him, right?”
Shaindy hesitated. “I know the family. Yes, I mean, I know who he is, but not exactly personally, you know?”
“Okay, sure, but this is really about the parents, to be honest.” I tried to sound persuasive, but not desperate. Although honestly, I was desperate. We needed the Katzes to help us out here. “It’s been really tough getting the shidduch off the ground. We’ve had it come up again and again, the information sounds wonderful, but the parents don’t know Etty, they don’t have a reason to prioritize her above all the other girls being suggested, you know?”
“I know Moshe’s often busy,” Shaindy offered. “I mean, I’m not sure about right now, but he is a top bochur, they have a lot of names…”
“Exactly,” I said, cutting to the chase. “That’s why my husband asked your husband… I guess he didn’t make it so clear, but really, you’re our only connection there. We don’t have any other mutual friends or anything who could approach the Glucksteins. And I know your husband was worried about redting a shidduch, it’s not his thing or whatever, but really, it’s just to get them to take Etty’s name seriously, that’s all we’re asking… It would be a huge favor for us, and wouldn’t take long. You know Etty, she’s a great girl. And we’ll have a professional shadchan take over after, if they’re interested in moving forward.”
I stopped for breath. Was I babbling? I so badly wanted this to work.
Shaindy didn’t reply right away. My hands were clenched so tightly, the edges of my phone case were digging into my skin.
“Um, I’m not sure,” she said, finally. “I mean, about the Glucksteins — I don’t know if the shidduch is exactly right, that’s all.”
I was dumbfounded. And furious. They were making judgments about Etty, about the shidduch, and refusing to help us out because of their personal opinions? What about us? What about my daughter?
“Can I ask why not?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even. “We did some research, and it sounds great for us…” I remembered what Sholom had said the night before. “Is there something wrong with the boy? Something we should know?”
“No, no, not at all,” Shaindy hastened to clarify. “I’m just — I mean, I think they’re looking for full support for Moshe, that’s all. He wants to stay in learning long-term, you know.”
I don’t know how I ended the conversation. How I made it to the evening, mechanically going through the motions: laundry, shopping, supper. How I waited until Sholom was back home, seated in the kitchen, the door locked behind us to prevent any of the children from walking in on the conversation.
“How — dare — they?” I hissed, keeping my voice down. Etty shouldn’t hear; Etty shouldn’t have to get hurt by this. “How could they even say that? We give Eli and Leah all the support they get. The Katzes don’t give a thing — a thing! We pay their rent, their food, their bills, we bought them stuff for the baby — expensive stuff — the crib! The stroller! We paid for everything! And what did the Katzes send? A few stretchies from Target?” I paused for breath. “And they won’t redt a shidduch because we don’t give enough?”
Sholom drummed his fingers on the table, looking disturbed. “Maybe the Glucksteins demand a certain amount, up front or something,” he said finally. “Like buying an apartment in Israel… I’m happy to give my children support, an allocated amount to cover the basic living expenses, but you know me, I don’t believe in this spoiling mentality, a couple should learn to budget and work within their means.”
“I know that,” I said. “But that wasn’t it. She didn’t say, ‘The Glucksteins want an apartment.’ She said they want support because he wants to learn. She sounded bitter, Sholom, you know that? Like we don’t give Eli and Leah enough, like we should be giving more. They want the couple to have more luxuries, they should contribute something themselves!”
Sholom said something, tried to get me to calm down, but I could barely listen. This was my daughter, this was the shidduch of her dreams. How dare they refuse to redt it because of some greedy expectation of getting more money for their own son?
If I could tell the Katzes one thing, it would be: We give the young couple all the support they get — how can you refuse to help out when we need you?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)
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