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, Chapter 2a here, Chapter 2b here, Chapter 3a here, Chapter 3b here
Over breakfast, Nahum texted to Yidy. “I want them to go out next week, during Hol Hamoed.” Hol Hamoed, the intermediate days of the Succoth holiday was prime dating season.
“Any answer?” Molly feigned interest.
“No. He doesn’t get back to me. ” Nahum took another sip of coffee.
As he left for work Yidy’s text came through. “Sorry she’s busy now.”
“Drat,” Nahum’s head sunk into his chest like Rodin’s thinker.
Then Nahum looked up. “Yidy says that Bracha is busy. Its off for now.”
“Wow” Molly hoped she’d expunged any evidence of happiness from her tone.
“Your prayers must carry a lot of weight in heaven.”
Molly smiled wanly. Who would have ever thought that rejection could be so pleasant.
“Was it the money….? She’s not the only girl with money.”
“Well. that was nice but she sounded like a nice girl for Asher. I don’t want to see him hurt.”
“Do you think he built this up in his mind.?”
“It sounded like he did.”
“Guys think about girls. Normal twenty two year old guys, even guys in the Hadar yeshiva.”
“I thought it was all gemara, all the time.”
Molly looked deeply into her husband’s eyes. “Then this will hurt him.”
“Yes, I suppose it will.”
Molly’s early life had been suffused with just this sort of pain—In sixth grade—she cried for three full days when Robert Glen told her that he’d no longer walk her back home from school.
“I thought the parents took care of all this stuff and the kids could be spared the pain.”
“I wish It were that easy but I think he’ll be okay. I’ll call him,”
His fingers were on his phone.
“No sense letting him build up false hopes.”
As Molly listened she had the same uneasy sensation she used to get when Asher was a baby and she had to take him for shots.
“The shidduch…” said Nahum.
Silence, Nahum listening as Asher talked. Was he devastated? Was he weeping? And then she heard “goodbye and a click. ”
“So” How did he take it?”
Nahum smiled. “How do you think he took it? Like a man.. He knew that Bracha was in high demand these days. He said that if it was meant to be then it would work out….”
“Wait a minute..” Molly’s mouth turned very round. “Does that meant that the guys in his dorm talk about girls? ”
“Of course they do. “Yeshiva boys aren’t Jewish monks. Stop thinking he’s not normal and he was cool. He took it well. What more do you want.”
She just wanted Asher to meet the right one. He’d barely started, had yet to go on his first date and already she felt weary of the process.
“Lets take a break. Let’s just forget about shidduchim for a while– until Hanukah.”
Nahum smiled at her. “This year or next?”
Right after dinner, Molly left to go shopping. The supermarket was so full that she had to steer her cart carefully to avoid collisions though shoppers they joked about how the store needed to a traffic cop.
On the check out line, which extended well into the middle of the store, Molly got into a long and fascinating conversation with a foam turbaned Yerushalmi matron, (really a child bride, how old was she , seventeen, eighteen..?) who shared her grandmother’s kreplach recipe, which Molly jotted it down, although hers were already made and frozen.
By the time she got home her family was asleep. She didn’t want to wake them but how else would she shlep the groceries—two shopping carts full.
“Help” The word rose up from deepest crevice in her heart. It was as if she’d rung a bell in heaven—as soon as she’d said it Simi Kaplan appeared.
Simi was angelic, petite, perpetually pregnant and perpetually smiling, states which didn’t necessarily coexist. She was also family, a fifth cousin, on Nahum’s side upgraded to a close relation as the Tumim’s had no one closer. As Nahum famously said relatives were relative. You were as close as you wanted to be.
Simi kneeled to lift out a bag. That was what Molly loved about Israel, the natural helpfulness of people who could have just as easily been strangers and yet Molly refused the offer. “. She wouldn’t allow Simi to risk harming her unborn child.
“It’s fine…” Simi grabbed a sack filled with vegetables
Molly took it away handing her a sack of toilet paper rolls instead.
“You know meeting you is really bashert…”said Simi.
“For me it is ” Molly laughed. .
“No,for me too. I’ve had you on my mind. I have an idea for Asher.”
Only a few hours had passed since Molly had loudly declaring that she was out of the matchmaking business but out in the cool fresh night air, the moon and stars above nothing but quiet around, her earlier resolve waned
“Do you know Aliza Kleinbaum. She’s Miriam Ehrman’s granddaughter. I think she’d be a great match for Asher”
Miriam Ehrman was the closest thing Har Nof had to royalty, blessed with yichus; she hailed from a long line of German Jewish rabbis, and money, she and her husband Lou drove matching Mercedes SUVs — his black, hers white and they lived in a huge and gaudy villa. While Molly hated that kind of thing she liked the Ehrmans. They were kind, big hearted, friendly – Miriam Ehrman always greeting her with a big smile and even bigger hug.and yet she still wondered whether marriage was in cards. .
“Are you sure they will go for us? ”
If the tables were turned would she approve of her own brood? Probably not Just yesterday she’d discovered a pack of cigarettes on Elazar’s bedside table—not even stuffed into a drawer!. And two nights earlier before she’d chased Bella from their garden where she’d been hanging out with Elazar and his pals.
In the morning,as Molly watched her husband and kids climbing on and off ladders, drilling holes and banging nails as if they were a construction crew and then decorating the makeshift hut which would be their home for the seven day holiday with poster sized photographs of famous rabbis and repurposed silver Christmas garlands Simi dictated a long list of references. Molly began her calls right away. Over and over she heard Aliza described as a dream of a girl; refined, sweet, kind, generous, smart, pious and great with kids, and she was handy, even artistic. . Her parents had a solid marriage and the other kids seemed to be doing well. There was even money, not a huge fortune –Lou and Miriam had socked aside enough for their grandchildren to purchase a basic apartment.
What Molly liked the most was Aliza’s father. Miriam Ganz, whom Simi described as a family friend described him as “a prince”. Not just a scholar and he is a huge Talmid Chocham but someone who will treat your son as a son. In her notebook Molly highlighted the sentence with a pink florescent marker. This was what she wanted, prayed her, a father in law who could be a role model, a mentor, everything Nahum couldn’t give his son. Nahum was a great dad but by the time Asher reached fourth grade Asher’s Talmudical skills had overtaken his fathers to the point that they couldn’t study together anymore.
After a day’s worth of callling Molly’s notebook was filled with Aliza’s praises. Any skeletons the Kleinbaums may have had were too well hidden for her to uncover and yet she was still afraid to give the headsup
“If it looks so good then why aren’t you smiling.” Nahum asked. Her brows were knitted into expression of intense worry.
“My gut tells me that this is weird, that Asher Tumim is too plebian to date the grand daughter of Har Nof royals. ”
“Rav Amram teaches that your thoughts influence your reality. Think good and it will be good.”
She wished she shared his pure, simple faith but she didn’t . Her thoughts were negative. Growing up with holocaust survivor parents had unconsciously programmed her to expect disaster. What could you expect from from people who’d watched their whole world fall apart Molly wished she could expunge that legacy from her DNA but it was stuck there. inextricably, it seemed. .
The world operated by certain rules. One of them was that FFBs married each other, especially aristocrats like the Ehrman’s .Why should they even consider a match with her son, unless something was wrong? She’d heard too many stories of deceptions, of naifs like herself being duped, even people like her friend Chaya from the Tehillim group.
“Did you do Dor Yeshorim?” That was the genetic testing that couples did to make sure that they didn’t have children with horrible diseases.” Nahum asked.
“Yes that was fine. ”
“Then say that it’s okay.”
“Not yet,” . She spent the final days before the holiday on the phone calling anyone she could, neighbors, classmates, teachers, rabbis who might have something to say. An hour before she lit candles she left Simi a voice mail.
“We did our research and we’re interested.”
It wasn’t until the last day of Hol HaMoed that Simi called back.
Simi’s voice was bright and almost musical.
“The Kleinbaum’s said yes…”
Molly trembled, her heart banging loudly in her chest.
“Don’t you remember , you gave me Asher’s number? The Kleinbaums called. Everything was fine. Aliza’s parents want the date to take place soon.”
“Yahoo.” Now Molly jumped up and down like a schoolgirl. Bella was in the kitchen getting a drink. She stared at her mother oddly . Then she who? ran out to the Sukkah to tell Nahum.
“They said yes.”
“Great.” His face was calm, unexcited.
“Come into the bedroom.” Nahum followed and Molly shut the door. She didn’t want anyone to hear.
She spoke quickly in a stage whisper.
“Don’t you realize what this is? The Ehrmans. Not just anybody. This is HUGE.”
“But it’s only a date. They aren’t at the hupa yet.”
His words were like needles puncturing her hot air balloon…
As soon as he returned home from services, Molly broke the news to Asher.
“Sorry Mom….I’m going out with my friends right after the holiday ends” Her smile turned into a frown.
Now she was really confused, A date at last. She thought he’d be excited .
“The Kleinbaums said that they want the date to happen right after the Simchas Torah?”
Asher shook his head. “I’ll be going north then.”
“Can’t you change your plans”
“Mom, I said I’d go out.”
“Sunday the 25th”.
Molly rolled her eyes. That was almost two weeks away. It was also the first day of the new yeshiva semester.
“Don’t you need to be back in the yeshiva”
“Most guys go until the second day. Some don’t even show up till the third, ”
Wasn’t Asher a serious scholar, a masmid? How could he slack off like this?
“I learn for ten hours a day every day. Isn’t that enough?”
Maybe so. The yeshiva was really a mystery. She’d never been inside, not in his dorm room or study hall, she’d never met his teachers; and now she wasn’t even sure she knew her own son.