| Family Diary |

The Warning Call

“He shouldn’t be dating. I know him well, I know his family, I know his history. Trust me. Get your daughter out before she gets hurt”


Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer

Benny came from a chinuch family. His mother was a respected mechaneches in a prestigious high school and his father taught the highest shiur in a local mesivta. Benny was very close to his father, who had a unique understanding of people and relationships. His mother, too, was sought after by her students, and Benny loved to moan facetiously about the girls who were always calling to speak to her.

But while Benny was proud of his parents and respected their lifestyle, he didn’t buy into it for himself. He was cool — he looked cool, he acted cool, he had cool friends. He wore a white shirt — on Shabbos; no hat. While his commitment to Shabbos had never wavered, there had been a rough few years when he’d bounced between high schools. Eventually he’d found his place, and found himself, and now he was ready to get married.

I thought Deena Devorah was perfect for him. Her parents called her Devoiry, but everyone else knew her as Deens. Like Benny, she was cool, with a fun-loving personality. Also like Benny, she’d had a tough few years, following her parents’ divorce. Her parents had both remarried when Deens was 11, and it had been very hard for her to adjust to her new stepmother and stepfather. But as she matured and her family dynamics stabilized, Deens had adjusted and built a wholesome life for herself.

Benny and Deens came from similar communities, had similar lifestyles, and would be able to appreciate the inner work each other had done. Since Benny lived in Texas and Deens in Monsey, Benny booked a ticket to fly to New York on Thursday. He’d spend Shabbos with friends and go out with Deens on Sunday. Both Benny’s parents and Deens’s parents had high hopes for this shidduch.

Until Thursday night.

That’s when Deens’s father got a phone call. The caller refused to identify himself, stating only that he was a close relative of Benny’s and had known him all his life. He heard through the grapevine that Benny was going out with Deens and was calling to stop the shidduch. He actually used those words — “stop the shidduch” — no qualifying with statements like “reconsider” or “do more research” or even “ask a sh’eilah.”

“I have a responsibility to let you know that Benny is not healthy and stable enough to get married,” he insisted. “He shouldn’t be dating. I know him well, I know his family, I know his history. Trust me. Get your daughter out before she gets hurt.”

He refused to elaborate.

Soon I had Deens’s father, stepmother, mother, and stepfather all on the line. With the clock ticking the weekend away, they launched a full-scale FBI-degree investigation: Was there a secret Benny’s family was hiding? Were his family and references covering up a major flaw? Who was the mysterious caller? Could we believe that what he said was true? On the other hand, could we risk disregarding it?

They called Benny’s friends, chavrusas, coworkers, camp friends. They called his rebbeim. They called his neighbors, the guys he carpooled with, the rav of the shul his parents davened in, the rav of the shul he davened in, the rav of the shul he used to daven in. I knew that if Benny’s family got wind of this late-stage, full-scale investigation, they would call off the shidduch. But what choice did Deens’s family have?

The phone calls led nowhere. They couldn’t unearth the secret.

Deens’s parents were ready to call the whole thing off. That phone call was too creepy; the shidduch felt too risky. The fact that their inquiries were turning up nothing only seemed to reinforce the danger and magnitude of whatever Benny’s alleged problem might be.

I was also making phone calls. But I wasn’t trying to find out the secret; I was trying to find out who the secret caller was. I knew Benny’s family personally. There had to be a way to figure this out.

With the help of my husband and two rabbanim, we figured it out.

I was astounded. The caller had not lied when he said he was a close relative. He was a very close relative of one of Benny’s parents.

He also had not lied when he said that he believed Benny was unfit to get married. He did believe that.

But what he didn’t have was objective reason to believe it. This relative had watched Benny during the rough years and believed that those experiences tainted him forever. He believed that there was only one “right” way for Benny to live, and that was exactly as Benny’s parents were living.

In his mind, being a single guy who was in college and working and had had a tough teenage “history” were three unforgivable blemishes that rendered Benny unfit to marry anyone ever — to the point where he felt it necessary to “save” a girl he knew nothing about from making a “terrible” mistake!

By this time it was Sunday afternoon. Taking a deep breath, I called Benny.

“Small problem,” I said. “Deens is not feeling well.” (With all the drama, that was certainly true.) “She’s just not up to a date tonight.” (Also true.) “I’m afraid if I push her, it will just be a bust. Can we reschedule?”

The rabbanim who knew this relative reached out to Deens’s parents to explain the situation. They knew Benny and his family (including the caller) very well, and encouraged Deens’s parents to disregard the caller completely. They asked questions about Deens and what she was looking for, and clarified that she and her parents knew exactly what kind of boy Benny was — and were looking for that. It took a lot of time, but eventually Deens’s parents were comfortable going ahead.

The problem was that Deens wasn’t.

“I’m terrified,” she told me, her voice a cross between a wail and whimper. “This whole thing was so crazy, I don’t know what to think. I just want to forget I ever heard his name!”

“Deens, take a deep breath. I know Benny, I know his parents, he’s not a stereotypical yeshivah bochur, but he’s not an axe murderer.”

It’s normal for the girl and her parents to be nervous before a date, but this was a whole new level. Still, Deens came home grinning.

“He’s a really nice guy,” she announced. “I feel much better.”

Benny and Deens went out three times. Ironically, after all the drama, it was Benny who said no. “But I really appreciate all the time you put into this,” he told me. He didn’t even know the half of it.

Deens, when she heard his answer, was disappointed. She had long gotten over the anxiety over the mystery caller and had really liked Benny. Her parents were disappointed too, although her mother admitted to me that there was also a tinge of relief — “You really never know,” she said.

I was sad for Benny that his relative had succeeded in so thoroughly damaging his reputation. I hoped he wouldn’t try to pull this shtick again in the future.

Benny went back to Texas, Deens went back to work, the FBI investigation was closed, and life went back to normal (as normal as the life of a shadchan can ever be). As for me, I was left thinking about how complicated life can be, how things are not always what they seem, and how important it is to speak carefully, act thoughtfully, and most of all, daven very hard.


Shani Leiman is a teacher, shadchan, and dating coach. She lives in  Silver Spring, Maryland.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 753)

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