Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son. You can read Chapter 1 here.
Late Saturday night Shulamis Black’s son Ari took the family’s ancient Citroen for a spin and totaled it. Thankfully he’d come out unscathed but now Shulamis needed Molly to drive her to the “shops” her quaint English way of referring to the supermarket.The day broiling hot-that doesn’t change until well into the fall. The the sky bleached out and white, the sort of weather that middle eastern connoisseurs of heat called Sharavbut Molly’s mini van and the supermarket had good AC.
Physical opposites, Shulamis, was pale faced, round and frumpy to Molly’s slender elegance but the two women had been the best of friends since they both moved into the apartment building on the end of Kablan street in in early nineties, with newborn babies in tow. Shulamis was FFB frum from birth, that is born into the religion, the fourth daughter of Manchester’s best loved cantor whereas Molly was the only child of a businessman a wheeler dealer who’d made and lost fortunes in real estate, construction and the commodities market. Where Molly had four children, three sons and a daughter, Shulamis’s brood numbered fifteen, an eyebrow raiser even in Har Nof. Nine were married which meant that she’d earned her PHD in the shidduch process.
“I got my first shidduch offer. What’s the word they use red.”
As the two friends stood by side at the supermarket entrance admiring a colorful pyramid of imitation crocs for Tisha B’Av, the supermarkets even managed to commercialize the saddest day of the year the words slipping from Molly’s mouth like ice cream dripping from a popsicle on a hot day.
“Not red the color. Redt, It’s Yiddish. Welcome to the club, girl.” Shulamis laid a hand on Molly’s shoulder.
“I thought the shadchan took care of everything but Esther read me references.”
Shulamis chuckled.” Don’t you know that joke in Hebrew sheker dover, speaks lies, kesef noteil, takes money.”
Molly’s jaw went slack.” Does that mean I can’t trust Esther?”
“No, Of course not. Esther is a fine shadchan but you are in charge. You need to do your own investigation.”
“Huh…Do I really need to call strangers.” Molly’s voice trembled with nerves.
“It’s not rocket science girl. Just think of everything you’d want to know about the girl and her family, and then call anyone and everyone you think might be able to help you oh and the last bit.”
“Me? I can’t do this.” The impact of the Dena Maisels fiasco suddenly hit her like a punch in the stomach. Why couldn’t that have worked out? It seemed so simple so, perfect, so much better than this.’
“Listen to me, Get a notebook and write everything down.” Shulamis sounded like a general giving orders to a buck private.
“Any special kind?”
“I use a loose-leaf with a new tab for each girl but any notebook will do The main thing is to keep a record of your research.”
The two women returned to their shopping but then as they were filling bags of nectarines Molly tapped Shulamis on the back. Her voice was shaky, trembling and her eyes were trained to the floor like a small child who’d been sent to the principle’s office.” But you don’t understand I can’t call strangers. I once had a summer job cold calling and I got fired. I just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t I just hire someone, a private investigator, someone from the Mossad…”
“Nonsense.” Shulamis loaded her bag of nectarines into her cart. Then she looked Molly straight in the eye.” You’ll rise to the occasion. Everyone does.” I’ve got a list of questions.I’ll send it over. Just read it out to the the people the shadchan provided and anyone else you can find who really knows the girl and her family. Write down everything they say and read it over. You’ll figure it out.”
“Yeah, Easy for you to say.”
Shulamis put her hand on Molly’s shoulder.
“I’ve got a list of questions I use. I’ll send them to you and ring me whenever you like. I’m happy to help.”
It wasn’t almost midnight by the time Molly sat down to read the list. She was alone at the kitchen table, seated in one of the blonde wood Windsor chairs she and Nahum had imported from the US in their lift, an entire household stuffed into a freight container. In the nineties, they didn’t sell Windsor chairs in Israel. Her fingers were curled round a glass of water filled to the brim with ice cubes and lemon slices.
The list began a single word. “Smoke?” When Molly was a teenager, she had smoked. becoming expert in the art of blowing smoke rings, a talent which impressed children and increased her social currency She’d quit of course, when she took up yoga—the two were incompatible and she never picked up again.. In the circles she moved in today only men smoked in public. Molly remembered that Shulamis’s last child to get married was a daughter–many yeshiva students still smoked. That was probably why she asked.
As to Ayelet Gold, in the highly unlikely event that she did smoke, she’d probably keep it so quiet that no one would ever know. After that came basic questions, age, height and, build which was a coy way of asking if the girl carried excess poundage. She had yet to ascertain a precise definition of Asher’s type but she knew one thing—no fat girls need apply. “No semi trailer,” he said and the unfortunate and shocking vulgarism stuck in her mind.. She continued to read Shulamis’s questionnaire
“ Is he/she easy going/bossy,/demanding.” Select one.” Molly crossed it out and instead wrote.” Describe her temperament.” Open ended was surely better than multiple choice.
Then came a question that made Molly wince. “Did the family yell?”
When she’d returned home weighted down with dozens of pink cellophane bags full of groceries and hardly an ounce of strength to lift them from the car into the house Bella wouldn’t leave the computer to help until Molly let out a roar. Would that disqualify the Tumim’s.
There was a question about siblings, what they were doing. She thought of Bella’s many troubles and about Elazar who’d been had today been sent home to get a haircut. Molly didn’t mind long hair on men. When she’d first met Nahum his hair was longer than Elazar’s. Why did a slight lengthening of the tresses cause the rabbis to get all bent out of shape?
And then the final clincher. “Expecting money?”She neatly folded the questionnaire and slid it into her kitchen desk right next to the slip of paper containing the phone numbers of the references. When would she get to this? Tomorrow perhaps, once Nahum got home.
The morning was bright and sunny and only mildly hot. When she and Shulamis took their six AM walk Molly hugged her arms to her chest to warm herself.–a rare delight during the searing Israeli summer. As they strode back home from the forest Shulamis asked about the questions.” What did you think Were they helpful?.”
“Oh yes but I still don’t’ see myself doing this. But I’ll gladly pay you to do it for me. What do you say about that..,”said Molly.
“No,”said Shulamis. She walked as briskly as she spoke.” You’re not only listening to what people say but to how they say it. You’re the mother, You’ll be attuned to the nuances.”
Molly stopped freezing in place..” But I can’t.”
Shulamis stood next to her waiting for her.
“Come on. Didn’t you once told me that you used to act a bit.” In college Molly been played Big Nurse in”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
“Oh gosh, that was in another lifetime..”
“Well pretend that you’re on stage, saying your lines.”
When she got home she took out the questionnaire. Was she really ready. She stared at it again and returned it to the drawer. Then she took it out along with the list of references. Such long and complicated names Kopolovich, Genechovsky, Hasonvitch, Wildomirsky and Weiss. Such long and complicated names–would she mispronounce them. What if they only spoke Hebrew. She lifted the receiver. Which number should she dial. Weiss-. Weiss’s line was busy. She put down the receiver and poured herself a cup of coffee. No, she’d wait until Nahum would come home. Maybe he could do this. He was a great talker, but what if these people spoke only Hebrew. Then he’d be sunk. She looked at the calendar tacked above her desk. Today was Wednesday and tomorrow would be Thursday which was almost Shabbos and then Nahum would arrive and she’d need to get ready for Shabbos. She had Nahum had already invited a houseful of guests, mostly students who were visiting Israel on a birthright tour. The Tumim’s regularly had these guests. Molly loved being the one to introduce them to Shabbos for the first time. No , tomorrow she’d be too busy. Shulamis’s exhortation rang in her ears. Be an actor. She straightened her spine and took a deep cleansing breath just as she would before giving a class. Then she punched Mrs. Kopolovich’s numbers into the phone.
She answered and she spoke a perfect Brooklyn accented English.” Oh what a wonderful girl.” .She regaled Molly with tales of Ayelet ; how she had calmed her classmates down on the morning of a big test by treating them cookies she’d baked and decorated to look like accountant’s ledgers.
“You must have davened well.. This is a zechus.”
From Genechovich who turned out to be Genendy Genechovich, Ayelet’s best friend since childhood she learned Ayelet’s schedule. On Monday a Torah class. Every Tuesday she was off to the hospital to help care for a desperately ill infant. Every Wednesday she went to the gym and everything Thursday she mopped the floors for an elderly widow who lived down the block. On Friday she helped her own mother or married sisters.
Just hearing it made Molly dizzy. And from the other references she heard similar tales which she duly transcribed into a notebook. As to money, well, Molly didn’t quite get to that. It seemed a shame to interrupt all of those wonderful stories with such a base question.
Nahum came home on Friday morning, his eyes deeply ringed and his business suit rumped. Molly had gotten up early and prepared his favorite breakfast, freshly brewed coffee and blueberry pancakes but he barely picked at it.
“But can’t we talk just a little bit?”Molly asked.
“Can’t it wait… I’m just zonked.”
“What about just a short talk.” She’d tell Nahum all the wonderful things she’d heard– she’d already undated him through Whatsapp.
“Do this concern that girl, what’s her name”
“Yes, I think we should say yes.”
“I was guessing that.” Nahum got up from the table.
“So,”Molly stood next to him her arms rested at her waist her elbows pointing out.
“So what are they going to live on?”
“What do all couples do? She works. She’s got a job. He learns and we help.”
“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Scott is cutting back on my hours.” Scott was Nahum’s brother in law and his employer.” His new daughter in law the one who just passed the bar. She’s getting my work.”
“How can he replace you like that, you’ve got so much experience.”
“It’s not that difficult and she’s a smart cookie ….so we really need to know the financials. You want the kids to have an apartment right? Not to sleep in a tent.”
“Well so. You don’t have to be sarcastic.”
“I told you I’m too tired now and I’m not being sarcastic. I’m being realistic. We need to know if we have partners.”
“So?” Molly raised her hands into the air.
“So. If you really want this thing to happen find out the financials.” Was her husband asking her to pry into the private financial affairs of strangers?
Alone in the kitchen Molly felt as if her heart had been edged out of her chest. She’d already allowed herself to design the invitations, select the gowns she and Bella would wear, even , imagine the future grandkids. How many girls like this would come around and how could she let a little thing like money blow the match?
She looked at her fridge, completely covered with wedding invitations. Until now she hadn’t appreciated what a miracle it was that anyone got married at all. Just before candle lighting Nahum brought Molly a bouquet of roses.” What is this for?”
“Well I was a bit hard on your, but I have an idea?”
“Go to see Rebetzin Brill. Ask her. If she’s okay with this then so am I.”
Just then the air raid whistle blew announcing the arrival of Shabbos. As she covered her face with her hands to pray near the Shabbos candles, Molly felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. It would happen. Asher would marry a wonderful girl. Everything would be fine.