By the time Sender started in shidduchim, his friends from yeshivah had already graduated to twin strollers and were reviewing parshah sheets with their children at the Shabbos table. “You deserve the cream of the crop,” his mother Mrs. Wexler told him for at least the hundredth time as she puttered around the kitchen one day. “Which crop? They’ve all been harvested.” “Don’t be silly,” she replied. “You’re a real catch. There’s no reason to settle.” That was the exact reason why his older brother Nussy hadn’t gotten engaged until his beard had several strands of premature silver. His brother’s unfortunate experience in shidduchim did not bode well for Sender. It was also the reason why any girl whose family expressed an interest in him was quickly rejected by his mother. “Too thin,” she pronounced one specimen to Sender’s surprise. “It’s not even pretty to look like a broomstick.” He’d never heard of a girl being held back in shidduchim for being underweight. Others were too tall or too short, their eyes set too close or far apart, or their families were “not like ours.” Each one had a serious flaw that made it unthinkable for her to marry her precious son. The shadchan’s files were strewn with their corpses.Sender sighed. He knew that his mother meant well. She had always been his biggest ally and defender. But as the years passed by there was no indication that she would ever relax her self-imposed standards. Sender had already graduated from yeshivah gedolah and done his few years in Jerusalem. He’d even put in a stint in Lakewood.
By now, though, he was rapidly losing patience just sitting on the shelf, pining to be married like everyone else. His mother’s love was starting to feel restrictive. When he turned 32, Sender took an intense course in architectural drawing. He loved it and quickly found a job. Most of his friends were also working by then, but they had families to feed and bills to pay. He had only himself to keep entertained, so he was able to give his full attention to building dreams on paper. That was three years ago. In the meantime, Mrs. Wexler continued to vet a steady parade of girls. Of course, no one was ever good enough. It was easy to tell when she was on the phone with a shadchan. Her side of the conversation went something like this: “Do you know that he got semichah from Rav so-andso, the elite of the elite? Yes, he had a weekly shiur with him on Friday afternoons. We’re looking for someone worthy of such a boy.” While Sender wasn’t unaware of his own qualities, he had to wonder if his mother’s idealized image of him wasn’t a tad unrealistic. To eligible girls he was just a working, older bachur. A good one, granted. Ehrlich, serious about his shiurim and a fine, decent human being. He liked the guy looking back at him from the mirror. But that guy wanted to get married. His mother was determined to leave no stone unturned and followed up on every suggestion seriously.
In fact, some shidduchim seemed promising. She’d ask teachers, principals, friends, neighbors and old acquaintances. Unfortunately, by the time her shidduch notebook was full of scribbles, the other side usually said no. Every few months she even went so far as to fasten her pearl choker around her neck and grab her chasunah pocketbook to go and have a look at a girl. Some she even met privately at a sister’s house to interview. Over the years, two girls had stood out for their exemplary character and Sender had met with them. These were the rare ones who had not only passed the rigors of the screening process but whose families had also agreed to go ahead. Looking back at the dates he’d had, Sender could only describe them as “blah.” Afterwards, it hadn’t been easy convincing his mother that neither was the girl he wished to marry. He was very happy he hadn’t caved in to the pressure just to please her. How could he marry someone he found entirely underwhelming? Mrs. Wexler kept on looking. If the joke wasn’t on him, Sender would have laughed. With her oldest son, her tenacity had finally paid off. Nussy was now happily married to a star wife. What Mrs. Wexler didn’t know was that he was now urging his younger brother to do what he had finally done out of desperation: “Go behind Mommy’s back.” The idea was frightening. But it was also bold and daring at the same time.
A line his bubbie used to describe other unfortunate individuals who were growing long in the tooth came to mind. “Oh, him? He’ll probably die in a tallis katan.” At an age when his friends were already bemoaning how shabby their tallis or shtreimel had gotten, he was still in a short jacket. Maybe it was time to take charge of his life. His brother reassured him. “There are shadchanim who will work with you. You’re not alone. And don’t worry; Mommy will be brought into the picture at a certain point. I’ll walk you through it. I’m giving your office phone number to Mrs. Silberstein. She’ll have you engaged faster than you can say ‘Harei at mekudeshes li.’” Sender spent a sleepless night tossing and turning. Sitting at the breakfast table the next morning he had a vision of himself drinking coffee with his mother for the next 20 years as the pages of the calendar turned and his hairline receded. When he got to the office a message was waiting on the answering machine. “This is Mrs. Silberstein. Please call me back.” He did, and she got right to the point. “I want you to meet Chaya Gilbert. A preliminary meeting. Just to see if this works for you.” “Okay…” he said, trying to sound mature despite the knot in his stomach. “I’ve already spoken to your brother Nussy,” she added, “and he looked into the girl. Get back to me as soon as you can so we can set up a time.” After a 20-minute speech from Nussy to fortify him he called her back. “I’m ready to go ahead,” he said. They met first over the hard plastic tablecloth Nussy’s wife kept on her dining room table and hit it off right away.
Chaya was excited about the cloak-and-dagger nature of their meeting. She loved her job working for a large nonprofit, especially since her recent promotion to events coordinator. She had numerous hobbies, enjoyed touring Europe and Eretz Yisrael with her friends, and was thoroughly engaged with life. She was genuinely interested in what Sender did for a living, and how it all fit together on the blueprint. In short, she was everything Sender was looking for. He immediately called Mrs. Silberstein back and asked for another meeting. “Not before you get your mother on the same page.” That would be tricky. For starters, Mrs. Silberstein called Mrs. Wexler to redt the shidduch. Sender listened as his mother extolled his virtues. Then she put down the phone. “Was that the shadchan?” Sender asked innocently. “Yes. She was Nussy’s shadchan, but I’m not sure I trust her. She’s redting a Gilbert girl. Gilbert? I don’t think I know the family.” “So how are you going to find out about her?” “I don’t know if I’m so enthusiastic about the idea. The shadchan said she’d send a picture.” A quick conference with his brother made the photo appear in the mail slot later that day. Sender felt feverish with tension. He fluctuated between wanting to forget the whole thing and reminding himself that he’d embarked on a journey and had to go through with it. His mother pocketed the picture and said nothing. No one would have known that it arrived if the sender wasn’t also the recipient. “Mommy, did you get the picture?” Sender asked the next morning.
He could barely hold his cup of coffee steady. “Yeah. Not for you,” she pronounced decisively. “Can I see?” Sender asked. “Why should you look at girls? Es past nisht.” “It’s for a shidduch,” he said, taking a casual sip. “I don’t think she’s for us.” “Well, I’d like to see the picture.” Mrs. Wexler opened the junk drawer, withdrew the photo and put it on the table. “Here,” she said as they looked at it together. “She’s too blonde. You can hardly see her eyelashes and eyebrows.” “Mommy, I like what I’m seeing. Let’s look into it. I’d like to meet this girl.” Mrs. Wexler regarded her son, and a wave of panic surged through him. Did she find his persistence suspicious? Was his out-of-character enthusiasm a dead giveaway that something was up? “All right, if you say so. I’ll look into the family.” Sender sagged with relief. “But I’m really not crazy about the shadchan. She’s terribly pushy. She was really obnoxious with Nussy. It’s only because he’s so happy that I was able to forgive her.” By that evening Mrs. Wexler had already found out where Chaya Gilbert’s father davened, the quality of their dinnerware and other important résumé-type matters. She’d need another day or two for sure. Sender would give her that—but no more.By Thursday he was edgy. “Why don’t you go meet her?” he suggested. “You’ll never find out everything there is to know anyway.” “That’s not how we do things.” He could almost feel the umbilical cord still wrapped around his neck. He’d have to talk about it with Nussy later. The next day Mrs.
Silberstein reminded him with her trademark lack of subtlety that Chaya was waiting. She also indicated that Chaya’s parents were willing to go along with this shtick because they knew he was a good catch, but their patience would eventually wear thin. Besides, they might start wondering why they should do a shidduch in such a non-traditional way. That night at dinner Sender said, “Mommy, I really want this shidduch. I did my own research. I know the brother-in-law. He’s a very respectable yungerman who gives a Daf Yomi shiur. They seem to be a very nice family. I want to go ahead.” “Okay. I’m looking into it.” “I want you to meet her. I want you to see for yourself if you think she’s right for me. Please meet her tonight or tomorrow morning.” “Sender, you sound desperate.” “I am. I’m 32 years old. I want to get married. I can’t wait any longer.” Mrs. Wexler gave in to her son and met the girl. Chaya made a favorable impression. “She’s very nice. But nothing special.” “I’d like to meet her,” Sender said. “Already?” “Yes.” This time, the Motzaei Shabbos date had his parents’ blessing. Shortly thereafter the Wexlers talked finances, family lineage and traditions with Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert while Sender met Chaya on their last date. “I’ll have to check my shidduch files. I think Chaya was redt a while ago…” Mrs. Wexler told Mrs. Gilbert after the vort. “We just needed a good shadchan.”