| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 4 

Uncharacteristically, though, Ari said, “You ever dated someone and it felt different from the beginning?”


The phone rang once, twice, and a third time, and with every trill Mrs. Fried steeled her reserve. She settled on the bottom basement step and tucked the cordless against her neck, aimlessly pulling at a loose thread in her sweater sleeve. She whispered a tefillah to say the right thing, as she always did when she made phone calls about shidduchim.

“Hello?” A warm voice answered, one Mrs. Fried hadn’t heard in years.

“Hi, Rivka, this is Shaindy Fried,” she stammered. “Chayala’s mother?”

“Shaindy? What a nice surprise!” Mrs. Gutmacher’s smile was audible through the phone.

Mrs. Fried swallowed and said what she had called to say before she lost her nerve. “Rivka, I need your help, but… you can’t tell Chayala.”

There was a pause, and the quiet threatened the hold on the doubt and stress and worry Mrs. Fried had been keeping at bay for so long. But then Mrs. Gutmacher answered, and the noise in her mind receded again. “Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong? And I can try to help. I’m not usually a fan of keeping secrets, but I’m willing to hear why you think it might be necessary.”

Mrs. Fried took a fortifying breath, and stood up to pace. “I know your Etty and Chayala are still close, and I love that. I’m not sure what Chayala tells Etty, or what Etty tells you, but for a number of reasons, it feels like if Chayala doesn’t get married soon, it’s going to be much harder for her in the future.”

She paused. Mrs. Gutmacher was quiet, listening, so she continued. “I was hoping you would be willing to spend some time focusing on redting shidduchim for Chayala. I know you’re busy, but in the last eight, nine years, I never felt like there was any shadchan who prioritized her.”

“I’m sure that must feel very isolating,” Mrs. Gutmacher responded, her voice understanding and knowing all at once.

Mrs. Fried sighed. “She has so much going for her, and it just feels like no one appreciates her, no one sees what I see. And my other children aren’t getting any younger either. My Suri is 24, and Chayala’s 28 already, and we’re just… we can’t be that family. I won’t let us be.”

She knew this was turning into a bit of a rant, as her kids called it, but she didn’t care; she needed to get it all out. She took a breath and changed her tone to brisk and businesslike. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking and thinking about what I can do. I’m their mother, and I need to do something. And I know sometimes there are shadchanim who are hired specifically to focus on one school, or one shul, you know what I mean? Well, I want to hire you to focus on one person. My Chayala. And she can’t know, because she would never forgive me if she thought I needed to pay people to think of her.”

“Wow,” Mrs. Gutmacher said, after a beat of surprised silence. “The fact you feel so compelled to help your children in any way you can is so inspiring to me, and it’s clear that you’re an amazing mother.

“I’m just not so sure that I’m the right person for this though, Shaindy. I would love to help Chayala. You know how much I love Chayala. I’m just not an official shadchan. Of course I dabble in it, but everyone does these days. I would assume that someone with more experience could be more matzliach.”

Mrs. Fried didn’t concede. She couldn’t, at this point. “I think it has to be you. You’ve known Chayala since she was eight years old, you know her character and her mailos. And I’m ready to make it worth it for you to focus on her,” she added, hoping that would strengthen her argument.

“Forget the money, Shaindy. This is too much of a coincidence for it not to be bashert. I was just talking to my Etty about Chayala and how we need to focus on redting her shidduchim! So we’re thinking about her anyway—”

“Thank you for thinking of her, but I need more than thinking, I need someone to feel real achrayus. Rivka, I know you know this pain, even though for boys it’s different, but I know your Dovid is still waiting, too. If there was something you could be doing, I know you would do it. Please. I know this could work, please just agree to give it a try.” As a last-ditch effort, she added, “My brother Tzvi Kramer — you know who he is, right? — is baruch Hashem very matzliach. And he’s backing me. I… I could Zelle you $1,500 a month. And I won’t have tainehs if nothing comes from it. I just need to know I’m doing everything I could be doing.”

Mrs. Gutmacher was quiet, and Mrs. Fried clutched the cordless tightly to her ear. “All right,” she heard, finally. “I’ll do it.”


Dovid Gutmacher needed caffeine. Badly. He leafed through a dog-eared Sedra Snippets, not really seeing the words, as he waited for Ari to show up for their tri-weekly chavrusa shaft. They’d been learning together since Ari had left yeshivah some five or six years ago. The learning was usually great. Ari was, as Dovid liked to say, stealthily smart, so he really had to stay in the sugya, which was nice. And Dovid wasn’t the kind of guy to take any of Ari’s jibes too seriously, which was crucial.

Dovid looked at his watch. They were starting so late tonight. With a yawn, Dovid scraped his chair back and trudged into the coffee room. He pulled a white styrofoam cup off the tall stack and was scooping a generous spoonful of Taster’s Choice into it when he heard his chavrusa in the hallway. He was on speaker phone and was talking way too loudly for it to be a discreet conversation.

“Something came up for Dassi on Tuesday night. She’d prefer Monday night, if that works for you.” The voice on the line was capable and sure, one Dovid would have pictured if he thought “shadchan.”

“It needs to be Tuesday,” Ari replied, without hesitation. He offered no explanation, but it was clear the shadchan was expecting one. The pause lengthened to a point of awkwardness. Then the shadchan coughed. “Sure, okay. I’m sure she can make it work.”

The shadchan uttered some other platitudes, and then the call disconnected, leaving Dovid feeling vaguely guilty for having overheard something so personal.

Ari sauntered into the coffee room and clapped Dovid on the back. “Hey, hey!” he said, a hint of gold glinting from under his shirtsleeve. He grabbed a styrofoam cup of his own.

Dovid returned the grin. “Nice of you to show up,” he joked.

Ari laughed. “You don’t have anything after this, and we both know it, Duvid’l.”

Dovid’s smile faltered a little as he followed Ari back to their table, but Ari didn’t notice. They settled in their usual seats. Dovid hesitated before he opened his Yevamos.

“By the way, we could totally switch learning nights next week if you want… I wasn’t trying to listen to your conversation, but your phone was on speaker,” he finished sheepishly.

Ari looked up. “No, thanks,” he said.

“You sure? I really—”

“I said no thanks.”

Dovid let it go and flipped his sefer open. Uncharacteristically, though, Ari said, “You ever dated someone and it felt different from the beginning?”

Dovid grinned. “If you ask my mother, that happens with pretty much every girl I date. In real life it’s happened maybe once, but it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, obviously. And the couple of times I had more serious parshiyos, the first dates were good, but normal.” He hoped that was the right thing to say.

Ari didn’t respond.

“So what’s so different about this girl?” Dovid asked, figuring it was worth a shot.

Ari didn’t smile back. “I was impressed… She just seems like a challenge. I’m intrigued.”

It was much, much later that night, as the effects of the caffeine refused to wear off, that Dovid wondered what the draw of a challenge could possibly be in a potential wife.


Chayala was attempting to load her trunk without help, and it was not going well. There was literally no chance all her shoes would possibly fit. Her phone chirped. She frowned at the unfamiliar number, but picked up anyway.

“Chayala? Hi dear, it’s Rivka Gutmacher, Etty’s mother.”

The tension Chayala had been holding in between her eyebrows relaxed. She’d always loved Etty’s warm, inviting mother. When they were high schoolers whining about teenage issues that never, as it turned out, actually impacted real life, she’d always been there, nonjudgmental and encouraging. “Hi!” she said cheerily, feeling more upbeat than she’d been all day. “It’s so nice to hear from you!”

“I just wanted to thank you myself for your delicious recipe Etty gave me.”

Chayala laughed. “My pleasure,” she replied, bemused at the thought of cute, middle-aged ladies who made thank-you phone calls for passing on a recipe. “While I have you,” continued Mrs. Gutmacher, “It’s been years. How are you? How are things going?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll be honest. I just joined a shidduch group and I’m not allowed to come to the first meeting without at least five singles. And you’re by far my favorite single, so could you be a doll and send me your updated résumé and a photo?”

Chayala laughed. “Besides the single child of your own, who might take offense to that, but sure.”

Mrs. Gutmacher chuckled. “Dovid is impossible to forget about, and let’s call a spade a spade, my 25-year-old in the parshah is the only reason I was invited to the group anyway. But I can take advantage on your behalf.”

There was a pause, and Chayala felt a strange and powerful urge to unload some of her recent worries onto her friend’s mother’s capable shoulders. She closed her eyes tightly against it. “Thank you for thinking of me,” she said, and got into the car, feeling less tense with every passing minute.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 826)

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