Musical Chairs – Chapter 6 – Asher Seeks a Second Opinion

Chapter 6

By March, winter had ceded to spring. At the edge of the Jerusalem forest, the almond trees had burst into lacy white blossoms. Soon, it would be Purim. A day for masquerading, feasting, joyous drunken reverie, and intense prayer. Molly loved this holiday’s license to cut loose creatively. Without work or shidduchim to distract her she’d thrown herself into Purim inviting thirty-five guests to a Persian-themed Purim banquet: Persian meatballs, Persian rice, Persian vegetable fritters, Persian décor (photographs of Persian carpets), and, of course, Persian costumes. She and Bella dressed as very modest belly dancers and Nahum and the boys as ayatollahs.

Then just as her preparations were in full swing she got a shidduch call from Rabbi Ganz a teacher at Asher’s yeshiva. It was the first shidduch she’d heard about since Genia tried to push Michal Farber on her many weeks before.

“I don’t want to get too excited, but this one sounds almost too good to be true,” Molly told Nahum, as she pried a batch of freshly baked Persian walnut cookies off the parchment paper.

“So, who is she?”

“Hindy Lipsky…”

“Oh that’s a big name. ” The Lipsky’s were a fabled clan of rabbis, one of whom, Rabbi Akiva Lipsky had been the subject of a very popular biography.

“Yes, and according to the shadchan, she’s everything Asher could have ever dreamed of.”

“Money?”

“Yup. She’s got that too,” Molly handed Nahum a cookie.

“Good.”

“The shidduch or the cookie?”

“Both.”

“She’s becoming a psychotherapist. She’ll help Asher grow up.”

“You think Asher needs therapy to grow up?”

Molly actually wondered about that. Why Asher so stuck in his desire to marry a beauty queen? Was it an insecurity or a deep seated fear of marriage? She would have liked for him to see a therapist but she knew that he’d wouldn’t so didn’t offer. Molly had seen many therapists, her first when she was twenty two, Asher’s age. Had they really helped? Of the seven four were bad, two mediocre and one, the gem in the haystack who’d made all the difference but who was to say that Asher would find a gem and yet this girl appealed to her.

“She may have insight, self awareness,” she told Nahum.

“Ask for a picture first,” said Nahum.

After she put the cookies away Molly phoned Rabbi Ganzi . His wife answered. Though her English was heavily accented it was grammatically correct English and she impressed Molly as he sort of woman who shopped for groceries in a freshly set wig.

“I suggest that you take a look in person. Hindy will be at the Strauss Spiegel wedding at Binyanei Hauma on Wednesday night.”

“But, I’m not invited.”

“You’re not going to sit down to eat. You go, have a peek and then you leave.”

When she hung up, Molly looked glum.

“What’s wrong hon?” Nahum asked.

“Yes. The matchmaker just told me to crash a wedding.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. She wasn’t kidding. No invite. Just show up. I can’t believe this.”

“Do you think the bouncer will throw you out?”

“Probably not.”

“And you’re not going to eat so you won’t be stealing their food right?”

“Yes but it just feels wrong.”

“Ask them to send a picture.”

Molly called Rebetzin Ganz back. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t approve of pictures. You never know where they will end up but everybody does this. Don’t worry. I’m sure there will be others doing the same.”

Asher’s ultrasound report came back quickly . His kidneys were normal. So was his liver, bladder and spleen. . His bloodwork was fine, even his urinalysis was fine – but, if he was so healthy, why was he still passing blood?

Dr. G had no answer. “It happens sometimes. It’s one of those quirky things and it might just disappear as mysteriously as it arrived,” he said.

But Asher wasn’t satisfied. How could he live this way and even more pressing how could he date.

Then one day over lunch, Asher overheard Ezi. It was one of those synchronistic moments his mother had taught him to look out for, when he knew that G-d had heard his prayers.

“…and my father called Tuli Roth and he got my Savta into some big professor from the medical school…”

As Asher swallowed down his breaded chicken cutlet, the proverbial alarm bell went off in his head.

Everyone used Tully Roth, the “medical matchmaker,” who steered patients to the best doctors.

Why hadn’t he? How could he have been dumb enough to entrust his body to socialized medicine?

Right after he bensched, Asher ran outside to a nearby park to make the call. This wasn’t a call he wanted anyone to listen into.
“Phone back at five,” he was told. That was right in the middle of his next study session. No problem. He’d simply tell his afternoon study partner that he had to make an urgent call. And his partner would assume that the call had something to do with a girl…if only that were true.

At ten to five, Asher returned to the park only to find that it now contained with dozens of neighborhood children their tiny voices merging into a deafening cacophony. He left sprinting down the block until he landed at one of the older apartment buildings built on stilt like pillars cars parked in the hollow space. The perfect place to call. Standing behind a pillar he phoned. The secretary answered right away, he was thankful for that but then she placed him on hold for many long minutes as Asher looked out onto the street. He knew too many people in this neighborhood, his teachers, friends, local men who frequented the study hall. He didn’t want was to be spotted hiding out in a private parking area . Finally Tully Roth answered barking out his orders in a low nasal voice.

“Go to Hadassah hospital Ein Karem and see Dr. Gil Sadeh privately.”

Dr. Sadeh was a department head, a medical school professor and he charged 1100 shequels for an office visit – a fortune for a yeshiva student. Where would he find that kind of cash?

He could ask his parents, but his father’s work load had been cut .. Even his mother wasn’t teaching anymore, not that that earned much. He didn’t want to burden them and more than that he didn’t want to worry them. They had enough problems with his siblings, Elazar, and Bella giving them all kinds of trouble. The week before Bella had been suspended again, caught wearing a denim skirt and Elazar was still talking about going into the army.

As he paced up and down in front of the yeshiva, he thought about ways to raise the money.

He could sell his stuff, but what did he own? A dozen white shirts. Five neckties, only two of which were silk. One genuine Borsalino hat and one copy. One good suit and two not so good suits. But if he sold them, what would he wear? He also owned four pairs of cheap cufflinks, a Casio wrist-watch, an alarm clock, an old fashioned cellphone, an MP3 player, and lots of holy books – the same ones that everyone else owned. His most expensive possessions were his titanium framed glasses and the custom made orthotics he slipped into his black sneakers to counteract his fallen arches, but neither of these items were of value to anyone but him.One of the guys gave interest free loans of up to 350 shequels. But that wasn’t nearly enough.

“Can you close this?” Molly handed Nahum the enormous pearl choker he’d given her during his gravy days back in New York.

“So, you’re going to be a well-dressed gatecrasher.”

“I still don’t feel right about it.”

“Don’t – I bet half of the women there are for the same reason.”

“That’s what Rebetzin Ganz said but I find it hard to believe.”

“Why not ask?”

Molly grimaced. “Oh come on.”

She walked in the hall briskly her eyes trained on the carpet to avoid eye contact. Under her breath, she muttered a prayer: “Please G-d make sure that I don’t meet anyone I know.”

Binyanei Hauma was Jerusalem’s largest and priciest hall. There were hundreds of guests but so far, she didn’t recognize anyone and no one recognized her. A miracle. Molly wended through the crowd until she arrived at the dance floor where dozens of girls were jumping and gliding to the latest hip-hop inspired hassidic line dance.

The matchmaker’s wife had described Hindy as a slim long strawberry blonde who wore her hair in ringlets. As the girls passed she watched them. She saw brunettes, red heads, blondes, even one beautiful black girl who danced with striking grace, but no one with strawberry blonde ringlets.

Then, as the band segued into a Breslov trance number, Miss Strawberry Blonde Ringlets floated past. Dressed in hunter green and gold, this season’s latest colors (a welcome break from black), she was well-proportioned and uncommonly pretty and she danced nicely. Molly discretely raised her phone into the air and pressed the camera button. There – she’d gotten the goods. For a millisecond, she smiled in self-satisfaction. A tsunami-sized wave of shame poured over her. By attending the wedding without an invitation and then photographing Hindy without her knowledge or consent, she’d invaded the poor girl’s privacy and probably even broken the law. This couldn’t really be the way that the eternal building blocks of the Jewish nation were formed.

At home, she reexamined the picture. Yes Hindy was certainly pretty but she didn’t have a good feeling about the match. “Why would the Lipsky’s with all of their social connections want their daughter to marry our son. There must be son ulterior motive,” she told Nahum.

“You researched this well.”

“I think so.”

“Can you give a reason why Asher shouldn’t meet this girl?”

“No.”

“Then let’s give them a heads up. Boys get right of first refusal.”

It was late now. In the morning Molly phoned the Ganz’s but before she could deliver her news the Rebetzin preempted her. “Hindy Lipsky is busy right now. I’ll let you know if the situation changes.” Her tone was crisp and business-like. “Why did she suggest a girl who was busy,” Molly wondered.

Maybe something came up. You know how it is especially for a girl like that.. I bet the matchmakers are banging down her door.”

Molly nodded. “I can’t help but feeling that Asher didn’t make the cut. ”

Just then Molly removed Hindy’s resume and photograph from her file and tore them both up. She felt an odd delight as she as she ripped the paper into large jagged pieces and tossed them into the garbage can.

“Honey isn’t a little dramatic,” said Nahum.

“Come on. I don’t have to get to work right away. Let’s go for a walk in the forest.”

Outside the whole world was in bloom: the bright red poppies, pale purple cyclamen, even the Queen Anne’s lace, which, by summer’s end, would turn into a nasty weed, appeared pretty and delicate. How could she feel so blue when the world was so beautiful?

“Hon. Take my word. These Lipskys don’t know what they’re missing.out on.”

When they came home from their walk, Asher was in the kitchen sipping cocoa.

“Mom, Dad. I’ve got a problem.”

“Are you all right?” His eyes were uncharacteristically dull.

“Well, yeah, kind of. I need to see a private doctor. I’ve got blood in my pish.”

Molly gasped and then she reached for Asher’s hand.

What kind of tortures had her son been experiencing? Then Nahum reached into his wallet.

“Here. He handed Asher his credit card.

Go to whichever doctor you need and where happy to come with you”

” No. I’m okay going by myself but just one more thing ”

“What is it Asher,” said Molly. Her voice oozed with concern.

“Please , Mom, Dad this is secret. Don’t tell anyone.”

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
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here

Chapter 3f here
Chapter 4a here
Chapter 4b here
Chapter 4c here
Chapter 4d here
Chapter 5 here

Musical Chairs – Chapter 5 – Asher Develops a Medical Condition

Chapter 5

One cold winter morning, Asher up well before dawn. As he’d been doing since he was a small child, he started his day mumbling the modeh ani prayer thanking G-d for his life .Then he poured water onto his hands using a plastic cup and bowl he stored under his bed. The water would rinse off the evil spirits lingering on his fingertips following sleep. And then he went to the bathroom, ordinary enough except this morning he saw something that made his heart bang inside his chest:something that made his heart bang inside his chest; On the cracked urinal wall, a tiny squiggle of red merged into the pale yellow stream. He squeezed his eyes closed and flushed. The Talmud said that women bled from those places, not men. Maybe what he’d seen hadn’t come from his body. The bathrooms weren’t all that clean; maybe it had been left there by the previous user.

He went back to bed pulling his blanket over himself like tent as if he were a small boy – alone and afraid of the dark. and soon he fell asleep. By the time the meorrer, the student in charge of waking the guys for prayer, called his name, he was certain that whatever it he’d seen was just a bad dream.

The morning began normally; first prayers breakfast, and then Asher and his study partner Ezi together in the study hall slogging through a complicated piece of Talmud about an ox goring a cow neither of them moving from their seats until eleven when they broke for coffee. This morning Asher poured too much milk and sugar into his. The sweet milky drink soothed him.

Just before lunch he returned to the bathroom. He was calm; the morning’s intense study had pushed the fears out of his brain . It shocked him to see that the red squiggle had returned and like the frogs in Egypt it had multiplied. He counted three squiggles no four , no five.

His entire body vibrated as if he’d swallowed a pneumatic drill. As he made his way to the sink he felt himself growing increasingly dizzy and then a murky yellow light flashed before his eyes. The next thing he knew, someone was holding him up.

Had the angel of death arrived to take him ? He was only twenty too. He didn’t expect to be leaving this world so quickly, not before he’d married, become a father, really lived. No, the one holding him was Naftali Eisen – a huge ruddy faced guy who could have been a linebacker, Eisen’s enormous hands digging into Asher’s armpits.

“Thanks, but you can let go now.”

“Just a minute. I want to see that you’re steady. That’s the way I learned it in my first aid course. You know, people often pass out in bath—”

“I’m okay now, really,”Asher tried to wriggle himself lose but Eisen wouldn’t let him go.

Eisen tapped on his cellphone “I’m going to call an ambulance,”

“Please don’t. I’m fine. Let me free….”

“You were this close to hitting your head and bleeding in the brain,” Eisen released one hand and pressed his thumb and forefinger together to demonstrate.

“I get it…” Asher resented being talked down by a dolt. Everyone knew that Eisen had gotten into the yeshiva only because his grandfather had paid for the building.

“I’m calling ,” Eisen pressed his forefinger on his phone.

“No…please don’t. I’m in shidduchim now…” Asher’s voice had a desperate edge.

“Okay…..But promise me you’ll get yourself to a doctor ASAP.”

Asher nodded, but once he got out of the bathroom he realized that getting help was more complicated that he’d imagined. His family GP, Dr. Kramer was out. She was female and a friend of his mom’s.. The other option was Dr.G, Dr. Gartenberg who practiced across the street from the yeshiva. His phone number was posted on the bulletin board outside the study hall. He was controversial. He certainly had his fans but many of the, yeshiva students believed that his medical knowledge came from the days of leeches and cupping. Asher stepped outside the yeshiva to phone. He didn’t want anyone to overhear this conversation. Instead of Dr. G. he reached a female sounding electronic voice announcing extra long waiting times and then a shrill one key rendition of frere Jacques.which played over and over until a human picked up “Come quickly. The doctor can fit you in between patients.” She sounded like a child.

Asher ran across the street to the clinic. The waiting room teemed with people. Every type of person who lived in Jerusalem’; plaid shirted heder boys with runny noses, a Bais Yaacov girl in her light blue dark blue uniform, her hand in a splint ,several hassidim, a stout middle aged woman wearing a hijab, and an elderly couple chatting softly in Russian.

Instead of magazines or a television, Dr. G had a sagging wicker bookshelf stocked with holy books. Asher pulled down a Chumash opening it to the weekly Torah reading; but he couldn’t focus. He closed the Chumash, planted a kiss on its cover, and returned it to the shelf.

He’d been to doctors before always for routine matters, strep throat, a sprained ankle, a checkup, nothing like this. Was that ominous squiggle the calling card of some terrible illness?

He’d heard stories about young people dying this way. He’d even prayed for them but he never thought he’d be one of them, not now. The Talmud said that a man without a wife lives without joy, without blessing, without goodness. How could his life be over before it really began?

Just then, the secretary called his name and Dr. Gartenberg opened his office door. He was a old, Asher guessed that he was at least eighty possibly more, short, and slightly bent, his leathery face heavily creased and covered with brown liver spots.

“Now tell me, what can I do for you?” Covered by a pair of rimless glasses, Dr. G’s eyes were rheumy and blue.

Asher opened his mouth to answer but no sound emerged . It was as if his throat had collapsed.

“Maybe you want to write it down.” The doctor handed him a pad and a pen and Asher scribbled away.

“Hmm, now I understand.” said Dr. G.

Asher began unbuttoning his sweater.

“No need for that. ” The doctor swiped Asher’s health fund card. and printed out a orders for blood and urine tests and a kidney ultrasound . Above all of them he wrote “dahuf” – urgent.

By the time Asher left the clinic it was dusk. Instead of returning to yeshiva, he took the train downtown and he got off near the shuk, heading to an internet café where the ancient desktop computers were kept in locked cubicles and he could study his condition in privacy. From a site called drugs.com, he discovered this.

Large blood clots can signal a medical emergency. So can blood in the urine that’s accompanied by pain in the back, sides, lower abdomen, or groin. This type of pain may be caused by
• kidney stones
• injury to the kidneys or bladder
• urinary tract infections
• tumors of the kidney, prostate or bladder.

As he read the words his heart beat wildly. Dr. G hadn’t used the word but here it was… yeinah machla, that disease , the Big C? With surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation, he had a fighting chance; but the side effects were devastating: hair loss –Asher ran his fingers through his thick black hair, impotence, infertility, and those were only if he survived.

From the internet café he headed to the Western Wall, his feet racing through the cold empty streets. The sky was dark; the moon and stars concealed beneath a swathe of rainclouds. The Wall plaza was unusually empty. That afternoon, a high school girl had been stabbed near the spot on which Asher now stood. During morning prayers at the yeshiva, he’d said psalms for her – but that prevent him from coming to the Wall. After all what did he have to lose?

As he approached the wall a tiny droplets of rain covered his head and face. As a child, he thought raindrops were G-ds tears. Standing alone in front of the Wall, he felt G-d crying with him.

Back in his room, Asher lay awake in his bed thinking about tomorrow. Would the ultra sound hurt? Dr. G had given him almost no guidance. The other thing wondered about was the requirement to drink eight cups of water. Would that cause his bladder to explode and would that release a torrent of blood?

From outside of his window he heard a sound truck announcing a funeral. That was nothing new; those trucks came around all the time but now he imagined his funeral being announcing “The funeral for the beloved yeshiva student Asher Tumim….

Two years earlier, Yoni Cohen broke his rope while rappelling and plunged to his death. Yoni Cohen. A nice guy, bright too – but hardly a regular in the study hall. At the funeral, the rabbis made him sound like the best student the yeshiva ever had known. What kinds of stuff would they make up about him?

At least Yoni had gone quickly, probably losing consciousness the instant his head hit the rock, but he wouldn’t go like that . He’d suffer the tortures the medical establishment could inflict and only after that would his spirit be free to depart. Would it be better to go fast? Maybe but he really didn’t want to die at all. Not now. “G-d,” he whispered. “I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but please, give me another chance…”

The ultrasound proved to be quick and painless. A young married woman, he knew that from her turban like headscarf, instructed him to pull up his shirt and pull down his pants. Then, she handed him a plastic bottle.

“Smear this on. I know you wouldn’t want me to do it for you.”

Asher giggled.

On the monitor, his kidneys looked like celestial bodies – white orbs floating in a black sky.The rabbis taught that each person was a whole world. Now he could see that it went farther; that his insides contained an entire galaxy. But then his reverie broke and he remember why he was here lying on his side in the darkened room, his midsection smeared with cold slimey gel.

“Am I okay?” he asked.

She nodded. “Seems fine.”

But, when he visited the men’s room, Asher passed another clot, this one the size of an olive.

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
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here

Chapter 3f here
Chapter 4a here
Chapter 4b here
Chapter 4c here
Chapter 4d here

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4d – A Meeting with Yerushalayim’s Top Shadchan

Chapter 4d

February marked three months since Asher’s last date. During that time, he’d attended six engagement parties, four weddings, a bris and a pidyon haben (both of them for Feigie and Yidy’s first born son Elhanan). In the past he’d savored the thrill of piling into a borrowed car with his yeshiva buddies and singing all the way to the hall but lately his buddies had been disappearing, everyone dating some more seriously than others. Lately he’d been spending long hours in the study hall by himself as his partners were out on dates.

Tonight his roommate and study partner Shmulik Refaeli would be getting engaged and Asher sat on his dorm bed, immobilized..

“Come on,Get your tie on. Our ride is coming,” said Itamar Levi.

Levi reached out to pull Asher’s arm.

“Do you think Refaeli’s kallah knows about his feet?”

At the hall Asher peeked through a hole in the makeshift of tablecloths held tight with clothes pins separating the women from the men to catch a glimpse of Refaeli’s bride. He had no valid reason to gaze at her but his curiosity overwhelmed him.

“So,” Levi lifted his brows.

“She’s wearing one of those mermaid gowns and the makeup is glopped on but she’s good looking.”

“Glad to hear,” Levi smiled.

“How do you do it? I mean, how do you stand these things? Don’t you feel like life is passing you by?”

“Oh come on. I can’t let Refaeli down.”

“Well, I feel like I’m going insane.” Asher began walking toward the door Levi following behind.

“I know it’s tough. It’s tough for me too. Last night I met girl number forty-seven – and she ain’t it.”

“So what do we do?”

Levi pointed a finger toward the dark starry sky. “I know that there’s someone there for me and Hashem will reveal her when the time is right, Meanwhile I’ve got an idea for us. The Zviller Rebbe. That’s what Refaeli did.”

Asher knotted his brow. “But I’m not a Zviller hassid and no way I’m becoming one.”

“And neither am I and neither is Refaeli, if you haven’t noticed. It’s a grave. You go three times, say some psalms, and then the tzaddik pulls strings in heaven.”

“Isn’t that like putting one over on G-d?”

Levi tilted his head and winked. “Don’t worry. G-d can handle it.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4d – A Meeting with Yerushalayim’s Top Shadchan

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4c – The Frustrating Dating Dry Spell

Chapter 4c

When she heard Bella’s voice on the phone they both burst into tears. At times like these that Molly wished she’d lived in an era when communications weren’t quite so instantaneous. Why couldn’t she spend the waiting time idly paging through food and shelter magazines blithely ignorant of her daughters woes? Why did Bella break the rules by going to school? And the polish? Ugh. Not even a subtle delicate pink but garish dark red! As Bella was classified as repeat offender the principle ordered her to remove it ASAP or find another school.

“The principal hates me,” Bella wailed into the phone “Naama and everyone else does gel but I’m the only who takes the rap,”

“I can’t deal with this, “Molly handed the phone to Nahum.

“Okay honey, it will be fine.” he cooed. And then he solved the problem with a quid pro quo. A month’s worth of horseback riding lessons—Bella’s longtime dream —in exchange for a fingernail cleanup.

“So it pays to break the rules, “said Molly

“Shh.. She’s agreeing”

Bribery had long been an important part of their parenting arsenal? When the kids were tiny both Molly and Nahum traded lollipops and bisli for momentary quiet. They didn’t know better—Molly had been an only child. Nahum had one sister. Neither of them knew the first thing about parenting especially in a family in which the kids outnumbered the parents and bribes worked, at least in the short run.

When the plane landed there was more bad news– a call from Elazar. “I’m kicked out. the dorm counsellor, a jerk came in to my room and found my iphone”

“You have a phone.”

“Mom, you didn’t know. I bought one during the summer and I took it to yeshiva and put it in my mattress and the jerk comes in at dawn wakes me up and confiscates it and now I’m kicked out.”

“Oy.” Molly was suddenly struck speechless. What could she say. In exactly one month , Elazar would turn eighteen. If he was not registered in a yeshiva he’d be drafted.

“Nahum,” She clutched his hand reaching for comfort in his warm grip.

“What are we going to do about this?”

“He’s not doing much in that yeshiva. Maybe the army will make a man out of him.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4c – The Frustrating Dating Dry Spell

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4b – Asher Goes Out With Elisheva

Chapter 4b
All through the long plane ride, Molly thought about Asher’s date. Maybe it had to happen with her off the stage. She daydreamed about coming home to a celebration and it excited her; it distracted her from her other preeminent emotion; fear. . How could her father the former Partisan who’d battled the Nazis in the Polish forests have turned into a wobbly old man? As a child he’d been her hero; she spent hours retelling his stories to her dolls.

Religion that drove a wedge between them. Years ago when she was making her initial steps into religion she made the mistake of visiting him on a fast day. Oblivious to the significance of the date he offered her a coke.

“It’s Tisha B’Av Dad. I’m fasting over the destruction of the Temple”

Molly thought he might be pleased to know that she was doing something Jewish; for years he’d been terrified that she’d leave the fold completely, even marry out, but instead he went ballistic.

“You don’t’ need to bother. I already fasted for both of us. ”

After that Molly shared little of her spiritual journey. In fact she shared little of herself at all. Once she moved to Israel they spoke only at birthdays or before holidays, inquiring after each other’s health as if they were casual acquaintances. Ironically that mirrored the relationship she now had with her own kids. Bella and Elazar for sure. Moshe was still young enough to be friendly. Until recently she’d felt close to Asher but ever since he’d started dating he’d also grown distant. But maybe. Maybe he’d meet the girl of his dreams and then he’d be happier and he’d go back to being the sweet son she missed so much. Right now her Dad needed her. Maybe this trip could draw them closer. She still missed the days when she loved her Dad more than anyone in the world Now he needed her—how long would he be here, in this world anyway? Maybe this would be their chance.

She had a plan. She’d go to an agency, hire an aide. Make her father safe.

From behind a window framing the skyline of Third Avenue her father stared into his computer. His skin tone matched the cigarette ashes cooling at the bottom of his cardboard coffee cup. His brow was with an elaborate lattice of intersecting of band aids.

“Why did you come maydaleh,You shouldn’t have left the kinderlach. Mrs. Goodman exagerates I’m fine.”

But he wasn’t fine. As he moved about he cupped his palms to the wall to steady himself.

The apartment was so cramped that she couldn’t find a place to sit. Every inch was full of tools and documents, thousands of them crammed into folders; an archive of her father’s life. He even kept them inside of the fridge which he’d disconnnected. He used a tiny office fridge for his, milk and cottage cheese.

From a nearby Starbucks she picked up her email including a message from Nahum. “Shadchan called. The date is scheduled for Saturday night.” Her heart fluttered a bit. She got a vicarious thrill from this, as if it was she and no her son who had the date. Five more days and then please G-d she’d hear some really good news.

She shifted back to her father phoning an adult care agency recommended by a Jerusalem friend. “yes I think we can help but you’d do best letting your father help to select his aide,” said the agency rep.

Molly agreed but how? Whenever she introduced the matter, her father refused to continue the conversation. The following day she interviewed potential helpers, men and women of various ages and colors from all corners of the globe; a dizzying veritable UN, all of them ready to care for her father. She was afraid to hire anyone. Afraid that her father would throw the aide out. In a way the process reminded her of shidduchim; how she could make dozens of phone calls , lose sleep agonizing and then have the girls parents or Asher give her a thumbs down..
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4b – Asher Goes Out With Elisheva

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4a – Asher’s Chavrusa Suggests a Shidduch

Chapter 4a

Aliza Kleinbaum had a surprising effect on Asher. Until he met her, he knew he’d marry — but spending time with her, listening to her stories, laughing at her jokes made him realize how lovely it would be to have a wife now.

For the first time, he found the dorm with its dirty whitewashed walls, stained foam mattresses sometimes . He liked his newest roommate Shmuelli Refaeli but poor guy, when he peeled off his socks Asher almost puked. He would have spoken up, told the guy to deal with his stink but then Refaeli smeared his feet with some white gook.. Clearly, the poor guy was dealing with it but that only made Asher realize how much he wanted to be married to a wife who would smell like the roses on his mother’s Shabbos table, a wife who would make the beds and hang up curtains and do the laundry and cook real food, muffins and soups and salads, not the greasy chicken and gummy pasta the yeshiva served up.

Still yeshiva life hadn’t lost all of it’s charms. This semester Asher became study partners with Ephraim Klapper. Klapper was an illui, an outstanding genius , probably the smartest guy at Hadar. It was in his DNA; Klapper was Rabbinical royalty descended from the Bach the Taz and the SchaCh, possibly all three but it wasn’t just that; a pedigree could be like an onion, the best part stuck underground but Klapper seemed to embody his ancestors’ spirits. People called him a gilgul a reincarnation.

Klapper also had been born with CP, the result of oxygen deprivation at his premature birth His legs were shriveled up, his thighs like two carrot sticks. He clutched two canes when he walked but he dazzled in his ability to pin point the flaws in Asher’s carefully constructed logical structures..

Asher lived for nightly study session so that one cool fall night when Klapper didn’t show Asher went to look for him. He found Klapper in bed writhing in pain.

“My back. “Klapper rubbed his hand against his sacrum.

“The doctor told me to sit in the sauna. ….”

“Hmm, too bad, “Asher mumbled. “What if I joined you.” He didn’t really want to go but he felt wrong leaving Klapper alone.
In the taxi, Klapper was silent; Asher didn’t attempt conversation, but as soon as they entered the sauna Klapper lightened up; ; the warm dry air draining away his pain.

“You know the last time I was in this hotel was on a date. The girl was wearing sackcloth and ashes and reading the psalms. I guess people don’t think I’m human.
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4a – Asher’s Chavrusa Suggests a Shidduch

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3f – Nachum Recounts his Rediscovery of a Higher Power at AA

Chapter 3f

In the morning , Nahum joined Asher for prayers . It was the final day of vacation and the tiny synagogue was packed with yeshiva students, their tefillin strapped over their foreheads and forearms. Later on, they would return their yeshivas and wouldn’t be seen until Passover. Nahum loved praying with them—such nice kids, clean cut, polite; they even smelled good, as if they’d all just come out of the shower.

Not like he was at their age. Back then he was a scruffy faced party guy who frequently began his day with a massive hang over. Then his Mom got sick with stomach cancer. The doctors gave her two months, possibly less. He left Tufts, where he’d been flunking out anyway and went back home to Minneapolis. His mom looked scary; deathly white , skinny as an alley cat except for the big hard bump in her middle; her tumor.

A hospice rabbi visited the house—a young guy with a goatee beard , fresh out of Rabbinical school . He and Nahum , back then he called himself Noel talked a lot. Nahum liked the guy. He was the only person Nahum talk to about his fear, his anger and how G-d figured in this picture. He was mad at G-d. for giving his mother this awful sickness, his mother who was always so nice.

Then one day the lump vanished. Like a fairy tale with a happy ended. He was in the den watching football when she called him to her room to show him. She put his hand on her stomach and all he could feel was flab. The mass was gone.

Her doctors didn’t believe her but when the tumor didn’t show up on the scans they agreed.. It was a miracle. After that his Mom returned to Judaism. .It wasn’t entirely new to her. She’d been raised with it and then dumped it to marry his Dad

She also changed her name back from O’Connor, which was his Dad’s name to her maiden name Tumim and so did his sister Glenda. Nahum was reluctant, He liked the goyish sound of his name but when he transferred to the University of Minnesota, he changed his too.. Tumim made him think of his grandpa Asher Tumim, his son’s namesake, , A great guy and also a religious Jew.

His Mom’s religion was nice—Friday night home made challah and freshly roasted chicken. She even invited his girlfriend Stef even though she was Lutheran. You need an extra beat here. His mom’s religion was nice, but he wasn’t ready to change yet. He still liked partying too much.

It took Nahum another half decade to get religion. It happened the summer after he graduated from law school. He was living in New York, studying for the bar and going on job interviews. On his way home from a party in the Hamptons he got breathalyzed. His blood alcohol level was .10, two points over the legal limit. It was his second offense. He could have ended up in jail but one of his law school professors intervened and the judge let him off easy. He was sentenced to AA– ninety meetings in ninety days..

He showed up to his first meeting wearing a Walkman loaded with James Taylor cassettes – but he felt a special energy in that old church basement. All those people, slick New Yorkers, street people and regular folks sitting in a dingy room on old folding chairs their hearts so open you could almost reach inside and feel around. A really old guy got up to talk. He told a story about waking up in a strange place in the afternoon. ‘The clock said two and I didn’t know where I was and then I threw up all over someone’s Persian carpet. And then for the first time a voice came into my head. It said. Do you really want the rest of your life to look like this.” Nahum scooted to the edge of his seat. That was him,. That stranger described a scene out of his life, “That day I walked into my first meeting. For the first time I felt like I’d come home.”

With all the “Higher Power” talk the meetings go him thinking about G-d so that when Rav Muti got him he was already a believer. He met Rav Muti as he was walking down West End Avenue at dusk on his way to buy a quart of milk. “Hey are you Jewish?” The questioned startled him. “Yeah so what”.

“I need you for a few minutes. Nothing heavy to lift. By the way, I’m Rav Muti,” The man smiled at him and shook his hand. His handshake was solid, firm but not hard. Nahum followed him down a side street and up a set of rickety steps into the musty shul He sat down on one of the broken benches and took a tattered prayer books . The other worshipers looked like the people at AA—rich, poor, young, old even a black man who came over and hugged him. “Hey man, thanks . Because of you we can daven.”

And Nahum was overcome with the same rush of feeling he experienced at AA; he’d discovered where G-d lived.
And now in the small shul Nahum looked out at Asher and the other young men standing in deep prayerful silence now, finishing the amida. Such good guys. He wished Molly could see how good they really were.

Walking back home, Nahum tried to talk to Asher.. It wasn’t yet nine and the day was already too warm, the Israeli summer extending into what should have been autumn.

“It’s about the date right?” Asher pulled away.

“Son, isn’t it worth another try? ”

Asher kicked a crushed soda can into the gutter. “Mom put you up to this.”

“Kinda” Nahum smirked
“I know she’s not it and I don’t want to waste my time or hers. ”

What could he say? He agreed. Nahum clasped his hand . They walked home together in silence the way they had walked home from shul when Asher was still small.

When they got home Nahum threw his hat onto the kitchen table and declared defeat. “Molly, there’s no point,”.

“But Nahum, We can’t just let her go….”

“She’s not his… ” He turned to fix himself a cup of coffee.

“Molly a guy needs to feel something..”

“But you’re his father. He’s supposed to listen to you, This girl could be really good for him. What does he know anyway about life, about marriage? Isn’t it our job to direct him?” She had an edge to her voice.

“He’s not a robot. He’s got his own feelings just like you do. If this girl doesn’t feel right to him, we have to respect that.”

“So who is going to tell Simi?”

“I’ll do it but I’m going to put you on speaker in case you’ve got something to say. ” Nahum picked up the phone and dialed

“Was it her look?” Simi wanted to know

“How did you know?”said Nahum.

“I had a feeling. You know that Hashem gives the girl a special chein, a mixture of grace and beauty. If the chein isn’t there it just isn’t right.”

“But don’t you think that couples can grow into loving each other?” said Molly.

“Yes… but there needs to be a feeling..”

Molly didn’t want to hear any more. She went to her bedroom opened up her diary and wrote..
Dear G-d. What is wrong with the world? Hollywood has screwed everyone up, including your chosen people. My yeshiva bochur son wants to be shot by one of cupids arrows. He wants Hollywood love and the shadchan who should know better agrees!!! Can you believe that? I thought that marriage was work and the work was fixing yourself but my son begs to differ and my idiot of a husband agrees with him. I think they are all nuts. Oh G-d help fix them all. Their brains are out of order. Love Molly (Malka).

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
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3e – The First Date

Chapter 3e

Then out of the corner of his eye he saw a plump red head tottering on stilettos flanked by her parents a plump man in a black fedora and an even plumper woman in a red wig walking in behind him.

Pity the poor guy who would have to meet her but then he heard the fat father calling his name. Was she his date? He wanted to bolt, to run away but before he could the father extended his hand .

“You must be the famous Asher Tumim I’m Moish Klein Pleased to meet you. ”

Asher’s stomach began to bounce again as . Moish quizzed him on the Talmudical tractate he was studying. That sort of questioning was standard. Rav Benzi had even mentioned it in his class. Asher couldn’t answer. It was as if all the Talmud he ever knew had been deleted from his brain.

What a great scene. “Sorry, “He averted Moish’s glace, certain that his date’s father thought him a dolt.

Instead, Moish winked and rubbed Asher’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll faher you later. ”

Then Moish kissed Aliza on her forehead, and waved goodbye his wife following behind him.. Now Asher and Aliza were alone and Asher could have a good look at her. She was very round;, her stomach ,limbs even her hair were puffy and plump. Her face was pleasant, even pretty but she’d covered it with a thick coating of makeup, way and she’d circled her eyes with thick black eyeliner which extended outward as if she were Cleopatra. Ugh.

She wore a dark red circle skirt emphasizing her already huge hips and a black blouse studded with fake diamonds –he hated glittery clothes. And she stank, not in the way that a yeshiva guy stinks during nine days when you aren’t allowed to shower but like one of those potpourri sachets his mother left in the bathroom.

He took her to the farthest reaches of the lobby, each of them occupying a couch with a an oversized coffee table in between. The Arab waiter who took their orders seemed to snicker at them. It appeared that he was used to these nervous and overdressed youngsters, who never ordered more than a coke.

“I’ll have bottled water, “said Aliza. “I’m on a diet. “She giggled.

A smile played on Asher’s lips but no words came out.

She smiled back at him. It was his turn to talk he couldn’t think of anything to say so she jumped in.

” My cousin Ruvy Brecher is at your yeshiva” .” Asher frowned. It was an instinctive reaction.

“He was my chavrusa.” Asher actually disliked the guy. Ruvy was challenging, combative to the point of obnoxiousness, never willing to admit that anyone else could be right.

“Wow. How did you survive that? .”Aliza giggled and Asher laughed and from then on the conversation flowed. Aliza was a great talker and he found himself smiling at her, laughing at her jokes and enjoying her little insights. By the time Asher glanced at his watch it was nearly eleven. They had been together for three hours, more than twice the length of time that Rav Benzi said that one should spent on a first date.

Aliza was nice, really nice….if only she had another body.

As she got up to leave he snuck a look at her rear end just to make sure he was right. It was really large and it jiggled as she moved. What a shame. If she were fifty pounds lighter, he might have even proposed. It wasn’t as if he was prejudiced against all fat people. Some of his best friends were fat—Ezi for example, but a girl, a wife was different. He had to be attracted to his wife, even Rav Benzi conceded that. To see her as beautiful, so beautiful that no other woman could ever tempt him, not even in his thoughts.

As he walked through the dark streets to the light rail station his feelings turned to anger. Why hadn’t his mother figured this out? He had explicitly told her that he didn’t want a fat girl but his Mom was clueless. That’s how American parents were. His mind flashed back to the time in fourth grade when his rebbe actually read one his mother’s notes out loud.

“Dear Rav Kaplan may you be blessed with length of days….
We are so thankful that you are bringing our son may his light be illuminated to the Holy Torah. Please know that he wanted to go to school yesterday but he was incapacitated with a stomach virus. He’s better now and ready again to learn the Holy Writ.”
With Torah greetings and gratitude
…Malka Tumim

His Rebbe thought the note was sweet but the entire class roared with laughter. After that Asher refused to take a note his mother wrote until he read and approved it. He knew that was obnoxious, even disrespectful but he had no choice. And now she was messing his life up again. The fact that she meant well but that didn’t change reality. She was still messing him up and now she was messing up someone else too.

Poor Aliza.. He could see that she was thrilled to be out with him, a normal guy, from a good yeshiva, not bad looking, not a nerd or a dork and now he’d have to let her down.

Molly stared at the kitchen clock. “Asher been gone for more than two hours . Do you think he really likes her?”

Nahum picked his head up from the open volume of the Talmud. “Maybe?’

“Oh my goodness,” Molly clasped her hands together against her neck. “Do you think this is really it. I mean it could happen?”

“Well maybe… but then again did you marry the first guy you ever dated.”

“Oh heavens no. I was only twelve. There were a bunch of us. We went skating but everyone quickly paired up except Mindy Roth, she the odd person so she swooped down and stole my date away..”

“Ugh” Nahum feigned a frown.’

“Yup. I was devastated. When my father came to pick me up I was in tears. He bought me a hot chocolate with whipped cream but it didn’t cheer me up. Thank G-d Asher doesn’t have to go through that. Just think, he’s twenty two . He missed out on all that drama.”

“Good “Nahum nodded.

“I didn’t even know that this kind of dating existed until I was in seminary. then Rebetzin Rosengarten gave a talk about it. She described it as a developd form of dating for civilized people, that is dating platonically without any messing around. I couldn’t believe that anyone dated this way until my roommates got engaged to a really nice guy whom she never held hands with . She told me that she’d never connected so deeply with anyone else before. She felt like she really knew her fiance on a soul level.”
“Are they still together?”

“Yeah. I think they live in LA and last I heard they had nine kids.”

Just then Asher walked in . He was smiling.

“So you liked her?”

“Yeah. She’s cute . She’s fun.”

“Great I’m so happy.” Molly and Asher started to hum the Jewish wedding song..

“Hey Mom and Dad not so fast.”

“Of course not You take your time. This is a huge step. Go out as much as many times as you need to “said Nahum. He patted Asher on the back….”

“Do you want the next date to be this week or after Shabbos,” asked Molly

“Mom, Dad, wait a minute. There’s not going to be a next date.”

“But didn’t you say you liked the girl,” said Nahum.

“Mom, Dad, She’s a nice girl but she’s not for me.”

“Why not? asked Molly.

Asher blushed . “Well for one thing , she’s a gootzeit.”

“A what?” Both parents stared at eachother their faces registering the immigrant’s puzzlement at the unfamiliar slang.
‘She’s chunky..”

“”You know that looks come and go. Aliza could lose the weight . On the other hand you could end up with a skinny girl and then she could get fat. What would you do then? I don’t think weight is a criterion.”

“But Mom, I didn’t find her attractive”.

“Molly lay off, ” said Nahum. He had put his arm around Asher’s shoulder as Asher looked off into the distance.
.”
“Please….give it one more chance. Her look may grow on you. You can’t rule her out after just one date, especially after you said you liked her personality.You know there are things she can wear to hold her in, to make her look thinner . I’ll tell the shadchan.”

“No, Mom Please don’t.” Asher’s voice was deep and firm. He turned around and went to his room leaving his parents alone.

“So this was it. The culmination of hours of phone calls, reams of notes”

“I guess we aren’t meant to become , Miriam Ehrman’s relatives” said Nahum.

“It’s my fault. ” Molly hung her head down like a rag doll.

“What? How could that be?”

“I’m weight obsessed. You know how I’m always watching my calories, weighing myself. He picked it up from me.”

“So you’re going to get fat now?”

Molly shook her head. “No but I’m just saying that maybe if I werent so insane with my weight he wouldn’t be running away from Aliza.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Nahum, Please speak to him. Tell him to give it one more try, Just one?”

“Okay, tomorrow” said Nahum. ”

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
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3d – Preparing for the First Date

Chapter 3d.

One morning shortly after the holiday ended Shulamis appeared at her door holding an an article which she’d clipped from one of the Jewish magazines and encased in a plastic sleeve. “. I thought you’d find it helpful.’ It was all about coaching your child through the dating process. Until now it had never occurred to Molly that she’d need to play dating coach. Wasn’t she doing enough just finding him dates but the article made a convincing case.

“Think of how scared these kids are sitting opposite a stranger and wondering if that stranger should be their partner for life—for keeps ! Think back to how scared you were!

“Be your child’s dating coach,”

By the time she’d finished she was convinced. The article had a side bar containing sample questions.
1. What does marriage mean to you
2. Where do you see yourself in one year, five years, ten years, at the end of your life….

What amazing questions. She’d never asked them, never been asked them, never even thought of them until now but she wanted Asher to go into his date with this list. But how? If she’d hand the article to Asher he’d smile and then shove it into a drawer but maybe Nahum. Nahum could get through but Nahum was on a plane now heading for New Jersey. She scanned the article and sent it to him.

In the evening his response appeared in her inbox. . “Trust Asher. I think has enough sense to date without reading this article.”

Molly shook her head and typed . ” I think this could have helped. ”

And the Nahum typed back “So then you do it.”

Asher was in the kitchen wearing his bicycle helmet, his trousers tucked into his socks filling up his hydration pack from the filtered tap.

“Please give me just five minutes. It’s important,”

“Later…I’ve got to go Mom,they’re waiting for me.” He sprinted out the door.
She followed him.

“This won’t take long….”She handed him the article .

“Ma, I know all of that. Trust me, I get an earful in yeshiva. They have classes about this stuff.” He bounded down the stairs leaving.
She closed her eyes. “Oh G-d” she moaned. How in the world will this ever work out?”

Asher came home at midnight on the day before the date sunburned falling into his bed exhausted but unable to sleep. His parents thought he didn’t care about the date but nothing was further than the truth. He was terrified. How would he get through this? Some of his friends were jealous of him. Ezi his morning study partner for example. A short ruddy fellow with a boxer’s physique Ezi was stuck in a matrimonial traffic jam . His parents wouldn’t even consider letting him date until his four single sisters were wed.

“You know how it says in the gemora that if you don’t get married by age eighteen your bones start to rot. Mine are rotting. I can feel it ” Ezi had told him just the day before while they drifted down the Jordan River in a kayak.

Asher couldn’t find much empathy. His own bones weren’t rotting. They felt felt fine, even strong.. He couldn’t imagine a better life than the one he was already living- great friends, great rabbis and his studies, challenging but also geshmack, delicious and yet he knew that the Talmud said a single man lacked joy, blessing, goodness. He wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe this date would uncover feelings he didn’t know he had.
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3d – Preparing for the First Date

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3c – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

Chapter 3C

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.

“Right now?”

“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?”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3c – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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.
You can read Chapter 2a here.
You can read Chapter 2b here.

You can read Chapter 3a here.

Chapter 3b

When she got home Nahum was warming up the left over chulent from Shabbos for Melaveh Malka, the meal that King David had instituted as a gesture of gratitude. “Can I warm a bowl for you? It’s really good.”

For a moment Molly almost said yes but then she thought of how her insides would feel if she ate that stuff now.”No thanks.”

“By the way, did you check her out? Asher really wants to date this girl.”

“Yes, I don’t think it’s going to work out .” She rubbed her eyes and began walking in the direction of the bedroom.

“Hey wait a minute. We’re not done. What is the problem with her?” said Nahum.

“Take my word. It’s not for us.”

“Well why not?” Nahum put down his spoon.

“Well, how shall I say this….” Why besmirch Mr. Glick or was it Rabbi Glick’s good name but now she felt she had no choice. “I heard on good authority that Bracha’s father is a very troubled person and her parents are on the verge of divorce.”

“Hey, wait a minute. My parents were divorced and your’s—well you yourself said it was no Hollywood romance.”

“Excuse me.” Molly arched her brows.

“Well sorry to be so blunt but you told me yourself..”

“Yes , so do you want that for Asher? ”

“They struggled and we struggled and Asher will struggle. The lives of the sons echoes the lives of the fathers. Isn’t that what the Torah says?..”

“But I don’t want them to struggle.” Molly’s voice thickened with emotion.

“Well maybe they won’t and anyway, the father isn’t the girl”

“Yeah but this is bad news and we know about it. I don’t want to go near this girl Do you need a neon sign saying that?” Her voice had turned high pitched and shrill.

“Yeah but Asher really wants this. Just do a little bit more research. One or two more calls. Maybe that will put a different spin on this.”

“No. I fill like I’ve done enough.”

“So I’ll do it . I know how to ask questions” Nahum stood up from the table as if he were speaking in court.

“Are you firing me?”

“No, but I don’t want to overburden you.”

“Okay. I’ll do it .”She sounded like a trapped animal.

When she finally lay down to sleep she felt sick.

Molly spent Yom Kippur at the synagogue. On other years she’d enjoyed the holiday especially the feeling of community as the fast ended, and the spontaneous at the end of the end but this year she began the fast feeling anxious her anxiety only increasing as the day wore on.

In a way tomorrow would be the real day of judgment for Bella and by extension for Molly. Until now, Bella’s disciplinary slights had been the province of the vice principle, Rabanit Mor a small stout woman with a high voice and thick French accent who handled them by telephone. . The conversations had a set time for them 10 am–Molly wondered if Rabanit Mor had blocked out those moments anticipating the need even before Bella commited her crime

“I’m sorry to bother you, ” Rabanit Mor would begin which always tempted Molly to say, if you’re so sorry then you don’t have to call, but she never did. After that Rabanit Mor would describe the offense of the week–such petty crimes. Why couldn’t they cut the girls a little slack? . After several weeks of these calls Molly could hardly hold herself back from asking the Rabanit whether if was about the nail polish, the blouse button or the cell phone

Rabanit Mor would apologize again–the woman seemed to have a need to apologize profusely and then she’d end the call with blessings for ” sach nachas, a Yiddish expression meaning denoting a potent blend of love and pride and peace of mind that was akin to nirvana

Molly eventually became so accustomed to Rabanit Mor’s calls that she didn’t even break a sweat but a summons to the principal Rabanit Stark implied a new level of severity. Beit Rinah was a huge school–over five thousand girls. Rabanit Stark didn’t have time to mess around. Would she give Bella the boot? And then what? Beit Rinah was the least selective and also most tolerant of the mainstream schools, that is schools for regular girls. After Beit Rinah the only place to go was to a school that specialized in problematic girls. It was hard enough that Elazar had fit himself into that category, but Bella too. As the congregation recited a long litany about the ten holy martys Molly visualized her sweet beautiful daughter with her tiny upturned nose, Molly’s green eyes and Nahum’s thick dark hair in dirty torn jeans , track marks on her arms and a silver ring hanging from her nose.

It was only Molly who had freaked out. Nahum was his usual blithe self . As he left for services looking angelic in his crocs and white kitel he told her not to worry. “I’m going to daven and it will be fine. ” If only she had his faith.

When Molly appeared at Bella’s door to wake her for services she claimed a headache. “I’ll get there later, I promise, “she said. Did she really have a headache or was it that she just didn’t care about t Yom Kippur, or school?

Why was this all so hard? Years ago, that is when she was peering at the orthodox world form the outside one of the things that impressed with her was the lack of a generation gap, the lack of generations. Rav Muti’s children seemed to move seamlessly from childhood to adulthood to parent hood walking in the shadow of their elders. Why hadn’t that happened to her?
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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.
You can read Chapter 2a here.
You can read Chapter 2b here.

Chapter 3a
The day before Rosh Hashana, Molly stood alone in the kitchen kneading dough to bake challahs which she would shape into circles, shofars, even a scale of justice. She’d heard somewhere that the bakers state of mind seeped into the dough. She stared at her hands, sticky and covered. In her present state of mind, perhaps she needed to throw the whole thing into the garbage – otherwise they’de eat her anxiety, which wasn’t inconsiderable.

First there was the matter of her employment — What would she do this year? Advertise to start a new yoga class? Would anyone come? Or perhaps something else. She tore out an ad in a local circular seeking tutors to work with at Ba’al Teshuva woman. Wasn’t she too old? Would they even want her?

And then there were the kids, Asher giving her an unexpectedly hard time and Elazar who just the day before lopped off his hair bizarrely, shaving the sides to near baldness and leaving a mowed patch in the center as a platform for his microscopic yarmulke. His old yeshiva would never take him back looking like that.

He didn’t seem to care at all. He stayed in bed — was he sleeping, playing on his phone? She had no idea — until noon or even later and then went out. To where? She didn’t know and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Was he on drugs? He didn’t smell, didn’t have bloodshot eyes or a runny nose. When he was awake he seemed cheerful, even pleasant and yet…

And then there was Bella, her only daughter who did go to school but invariably got sent home for wearing nail polish, hitching her skirt too short, being rude and sassy and sometimes combinations of all of the above. It was only a matter of time until she’d been kicked out too and then what would Molly do?

She dug her hands into the dough, The mystics said that one could pray while kneading. What would she pray for? The kids? Even Moshe, the youngest who seemed like Asher the second worried her. He disliked his new teacher and in seventh grade that could spell problems.

This was the season to introspect. Where had she gone wrong? Had she been too lenient, too easy going, not strict enough? The first time Bella was sent home to remove her nail polish she’d giggled. Did that demonstrate a lack of respect for authority? Was that the problem?

Maybe she needed to start with herself. She looked down at her skirt, white denim barely below her knees and above them when she sat down, and her blouse, that lightweight denim colored rayon that was so popular these days. What if she’d lengthen the skirt and put away the blouse?. Would G-d care about that? As frightening as it felt to think that G-d was observing her and recording all of her deeds into His supernal computer the opposite idea, that is that He didn’t care or even worse, didn’t really exist was even scarier. She’d banked her whole life on G-d, that He was there, that even as He made demands on her, He was her loving father. She’d adjust her wardrobe; this would be her sacrifice, certainly easier than the sacrifices Jews had made through the ages. Maybe then G-d would hear her prayers.

Rosh Hashanah passed quietly. Asher remained at yeshiva where the prayers were recited with extreme slowness. For the first time in his life he prayed to find his bride. His prayers didn’t have a real intensity. He wasn’t desperate; just as everything else in his life had fallen into place this would too but for the first time he identified a part of him that was scared. One of his friends was an alter, that is an elderly student, a guy in his mid twenties who’d gone on hundreds of dates and had yet to find his soul mate .For the first time in his life he asked G-d not to make him an alter.

The rest of the family attended services on time.— no small thing as most Shabboses she couldn’t peel some of them off of their beds. The family attended a small synagogue in a basement really a converted storage room, simple undecorated.

Molly poured herself into her prayers which offered a long litany of possible disaster. “Who by sword, who by fire, who by fierce animal” as well as an antidote. “Repentence, prayer and good deeds would annul the evil decrees” Could that really happen for her? Perhaps.

The day after Rosh Hashana, Molly attended an adult ballet class. She’d done ballet as a child but now it felt too hard on her knees but while she was changing she overhead a woman in pink flurescent yoga pants raving about a new yeshiva where the boys weren’t hassled about having the wrong haircut.

“Excuse me, I overheard you Would a boy with a short mohawk be accepted.”

The woman laughed. “Mohawk, rastas, ponytails. This Rosh Yeshiva looks beyond the hair at the real boy. “

Molly took his phone number and he accepted Elazar as a student. All that week Molly noticed that Moshe wasn’t complaining and Bella’s expulsions ended. “I gave my nailpolish away. I don’t want to get in trouble all the time.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

Musical Chairs – Chapter 2b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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.
You can read Chapter 2a here.

Chapter 2b

Rebbetzin Brill was a skinny woman with a pinched face she wore a dark formless dress and an old fashioned foam lined headscarf, which gave her head a Spongebob look Her thinness was really quite astounding because she was always cooking. Did she diet? Did she suffer from stomach problems. Her husband was a Chassidic Rebbe, the Rebbe of Hohok, Nahum called it Ho-Ho-Kus after the posh New Jersey suburb, which caused her to chuckle even though it wasn’t the funniest of jokes, was even thinner. But they were good people, sincere, kind, the real deal.

After her ectopic pregnancy, when her fallopian tube had exploded leaving her close to death, Molly went to see him. The doctor who had saved her life, declared her child bearing years over. ‘Just be happy with what you’ve got, “but Molly was unspeakably sad and weepy Nahum brought her to the Rabbi Brill, a feat which required no small amount of cajoling as Rabbi Brill didn’t usually see women. He sat the head of the dining table, a huge bookcase filled with Talmudic tomes behind him looking down at the stone matza patterned floor to avert her gaze. His voice was so soft that Molly strained to hear him but he promised that she’d have a baby within the year and the next month she fell pregnant with Elazar.

On the morning of Molly’s visit the Rebetzin and several of her daughters, were peeling potatoes and the apartment was redolent with the scent of potato kugel baking in the oven.

“We’re celebrating my grandson’s bar mitzvah tonight. Would you like a piece?” said the Rebbetzin.

“No thanks. I just wanted you opinion, about a girl for Asher.”

“Of course… “

Rebbetzin Brill titled her head upwards as if she were inviting G-d into the conversation and she smiled.. “Ah…..You couldn’t do better. Such a girl, such a family…,.”

“You’re very lucky to have such a good suggestion but then Asher is an excellent boy.” Molly looked around at the Brill’s apartment, the worn carpet, the sagging bookcase and broken furniture. How could she dare to ask about money? She didn’t want Rebbetzin Brill see her and Nahum and even Asher as gold-diggers.” It’s so hot today. I’ll get you a drink.” The Rebbetzin motioned for the smallest of her daughters who appeared with a tray and a large bottle of cold water. “No, no thanks.”

“You didn’t just come to smell the kugel. What else do you need to know. Money?”

Even though it was summer goosebumps appeared on Molly’s arms. Rabbi Brill had mystical powers but until now she hadn’t known that his wife had them too. “Yes,” her voice was so choked she could hardly speak.

“I can’t give you a figure but I can tell you that they live very nicely and I’m sure that they can help very nicely.”

Molly smiled. That sounded like enough.

“Call me to share the good news, “said the Rebbetzin as she waved goodbye. As soon as she left the apartment she texted Nahum with the good news and he gave the match his blessing.

How many dates would they need? Molly and Nahum had dated for six weeks before he proposed but with these couples things could move more quickly. It was July now. Tammuz. A month long courtship would bring them into the summer yeshiva vacation. Maybe they could have an outdoor ceremony in a garden? She imagined a chuppah covered with flowers, Asher and Ayelet tying the knot on a late summer evening the sun setting in the distance.

The next day the sky was a murky grey even though the temperatures were hot. Bella woke up with a headache and then vomited all over her bed linens and bedroom floor. Moshe complained of feeling sick too and Molly a bucket next to his bed.

The malaise extended to inanimate objects. The drier broke and the dud shemesh, the water storage tank which attached to a solar panel that sat on the roof of their building, to harvest the sun’s rays to heat their bathwater, malfunctioned.

Still Molly’s mood was bright. Soon all of the broken things would be fixed. Soon, the children would get better and soon Asher would meet a Ayelet Gold and marry her and she’d become a grandmother, an experience which everyone she knew insisted was the pinnacle of life.

In between calls to the various repair people and the doctor Esther phoned.

“Sorry to tell you this.. they said no”

Molly’ felt a thud in her chest. “Why?

“What can I say? They didn’t think it was right for them.”

“What does that mean?” What did the Gold’s find out about them? Was it Elazar’s yeshiva troubles, Bella’s rebelliousness or was it them. Nahum’s alcoholism, his years in AA or perhaps Molly herself. How much did anyone know about her past? She didn’t see herself as secretive. She wasn’t ashamed, after all once a person repents, his sins are transformed to merits but she did have experiences she wished she could have deleted from her life. Could it be that someone knew?

Sh*t she yelled. Sh*t Sh*t Sh*t.. She rarely used four letter words but then again she rarely, indeed had to deal with her son’s rejection by the girl who was surely his soulmate…She slammed the phone down hard against the table which caused the battery to pop out. She nudged it back in.

Just then Bella came into the kitchen. “Ima….”

Molly suddenly came to. ‘Did I hear you?”

Though she was generally careful with her speech Molly did use bad language, very rarely , in traffic or under situations of extreme stress of which this was one.

Molly didn’t’ respond hoping that would make the question go away but it didn’t’.

“It’s tough Mom,” said Bella putting her arm on Molly’s back. “Everyone knows that the Golds are super picky. They turn down almost everyone.”

“Huh?” Molly “How did everyone know except her.”

When she called Nahum he said the same thing. “I knew it wouldn’t work.

They are a line of Rabbis. Thirty five consecutive generations..”

“So our genes aren’t good enough? How could people be so prejudiced? They they want us to become like them and then they they refuse to let their kids marry kids. They probably wouldn’t have allowed their child to marry any of the patriarchs either, Okay maybe Jacob but certainly not Abraham and Isaac would have been iffy. How can they be such prigs!”

“Can you turn down the volume My ears are getting sore.”

“Calm down.” said Nahum “Remember rejection is G-d’s form of protection.”

Almost reflexively, Molly cracked a Gold smile. It amused her to hear her own bromide coming out of Nahum’s lips

***

Later after the day was finally over and everyone asleep Nahum and Molly sat alone on the porch.

“What do you really know about the…

“Plenty..”

“I could think of a few more questions I bet you never asked. “

“Such as……”

He dipped his head down as if reading from his cell phone but Molly noticed that he had a gleam in his eye.

“I want their complete financial, medical and genealogical records.”

“Come on….Where on earth to you expect me to get those.”

“I don’t know but get them and there’s something else I want to know. Do they chain their children to the bed at night?”

“Yes that is something we need to know—we don’t want Asher marrying a girl who was chained to her bed.”

“Do they belch at the table?”

Do they cover their faces when they sneeze? “

By now Molly laughed so hard she couldn’t speak.

“Molly, these people are crazy, If they don’t want Asher it’s their problem.”

Just then Molly stopped laughing. “I just thought of something.”

“What?” Nahum tilted his head toward hers.

“Something really remarkable just happened. We need to take note of this. Our son Asher had a romantic rejection and he didn’t even know about it. He got hurt without feeling any pain or having a bruise.”

Nahum nodded. “I had my first heartbreak in third grade. I still remember her Judy Katz. She was the prettiest girl in the school.”

Molly hated Nahum’s uncanny ability to recall old flames—why was his memory so perfect when it came to women as opposed to say grocery lists, but she knew what he meant..

“I’m so glad that Asher can learn in peace. That he’s never even heard the name Ayelet Gold.’

It was true. Asher had been away at yeshiva the whole time. He hadn’t heard one word about Ayelet.

Nahum smiled. He leaned over and kissed Molly

“What was that for?” Molly smiled.

“Hey honey this is a moment to celebrate. To Asher. Le’chaim. May he find his kallah his bride without pain.

Nahum nodded. Then he yawned and stretched his arm to turn out the light.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 2a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

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?”

“What?”

“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.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 1 – a Jerusalem American BT Family’s Struggle to Find a Bride for Their FFB Yeshiva Bochur Son.

Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.

Chapter 1

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen

From as far back as she could remember, even before she reinvented herself as an orthodox Jew, Molly Tumim believed in synchronicity, and August 4, 2015 was one of those days when she believed in it most of all. On this particular morning she was on the bus returning to Har Nof from a women’s only gym where tried to teach a yoga class. Instead of demonstrating sun salutations, she spent forty five minutes in lotus position on the fake parquet floor until Reva, the supervisor, a perky twenty something redhead in a floral headscarf sent her home. “Sorry. I guess my ladies prefer Pilates.”

She didn’t sound sorry enough.

Molly exited quickly disappointed but not devastated— the job paid poorly and Molly didn’t believe that yoga should be taught in a gym. She was disappointed of course; rejection never feels good but she was pleased with herself too. While she waited she was able to think deeply about her first born son Asher now a twenty two year old yeshiva student in need of a bride. He was now old enough to date and to marry and she had the perfect girl — her upstairs neighbor Dena Maisels whose slender blonde green eyed form resembled a much younger Molly. Not that looks were the only criteria, far from it. Asher’s bride would need to have sterling character and come from a fine family. The daughter of a noted Torah scholar and herself a social worker in training Dena had the goods and there was chemistry, or there had been between her and Asher.

When they were still old enough to play together Dena and Asher had spent hours together constructing Lego metropolises.
It wasn’t unusual for a boy to marry the first girl he ever dated. It happened all the time. Even in her own family to two of the children of her husband’s brother and law partner Scott. What remained was the matter of logistics. Should she reach out to Dena’s Mom or would she require the services of a matchmaker?

The bus took a long time coming. When it pulled in it was packed . Molly stood until a moon faced Bais Yaakov girl offered up her seat. While she appreciated the gift and thanked the girl profusely it only increased her sense that she was washed up. Her career was clearly in the doldrums but at fifty three she wasn’t ready for retirement.

The soporific effect of the bus’s motion kicked in and Molly fell asleep. When she woke the bus had emptied out and the only remaining passengers were herself and an extremely tallwoman in black sunglasses a turquoise maxi dress and a dramatically cut black bob wig. When the woman spoke into her phone -loudly in bad Hebrew coated with a flat Midwestern accent, she was Ellen, now known as Esther Bernstein — a former neighbor who’d struck pay dirt as a matchmaker.

They had been neighbors when their children were small, Esther catching Molly’s ire by , leaving her children, sweet girl twins and a horrible hyperactive boy for hours of gratis babysitting but the years had bleached those memories away. Molly’s lips curled into a luminous smile What an amazing “coincidence,” finding herself alone on the bus with a matchmaker now! This was synchronicity at work.

Carefully balancing as the bus swerved through the hilly neighborhood Molly made her way to Esther. Still son her phone, Esther turned in her direction. “ Hey. You’re looking gorgeous as always.”

A slim woman in a fat world Molly heard those words a lot. Most of the time she shrugged them off, but after the mornings events she purposely allowed them to sink in.

“And what about your adorable son Asher? He’s at Hadar isn’t he… Great yeshiva! Is he dating?”

“Well actually,” Though she was usually fluent Esther’s uncanny ability to read her mind caused her to stammer. “What about De, De Dena Maisels.”

Esther winked. “Cute. I like that. A Mom who knows what she wants. I think I can help.”

Molly face glowed as if she was already standing under the huppah next to Asher and Dena. Just then the bus jolted to a stop and Esther rose to get off.

“We’ll be in touch,” she yelled as the bus rolled away.

As she walked home in the heat Molly hummed “Od Yishama,” the Jewish wedding march her feet treading lightly on the concrete. While she waited for the elevator she whatsapped her husband Nahum in New Jersey. He was away working again practicing law at his brother in law’s firm. Molly hated these trips; she missed him terribly but she couldn’t see how the family would survive without his American paycheck.

“Sounds good, I think he’s ready to go out and Dena seems like a nice girl.” But then he added something that shook Molly out of her reverie.

“Find out how much the Maisels are offering.”

Molly knew that in many families, financial arrangements went along with marriage but she never expected to be involved in such things. Her children would marry as she did—for compatibility, for shared values but also for love.

“Are we selling Asher to the highest bidder? “ Her voice dripped with irony.

“Do you want the kids to have an apartment or would you rather they live in a tent. Think about it. Having inlaws who can share costs is not a bad thing.”

When Molly got home she discovered Asher standing in the kitchen fixing himself sandwich.

Instead of greeting him with a smile or a kiss she grew tense. “Aren’t you supposed to be at yeshiva?”

“The air conditioner broke down so I came home until they can get it fixed.”

“Hmm,” Molly fought her natural tendency to react to remind Asher that a yeshiva student should be so thirsty for Torah that a malfunctioning AC wouldn’t matter to him but she held herself back.

“Asher,” Now she smiled, her eyes dancing with her secret.

“Remember you told me that you’d like to start dating.”

“Yeah so….. Asher looked at her queerly as if he sensed that she was up to something.

“Well I’ve got an idea.”

“With whom. I need to know.”

Asher was her best kid, a refreshing contrast from the rebellious younger brother and sister who came after him. He wore his black suit, white shirt and black fedora every day winter and summer. He stayed in the study hall most of the time, listened to Schweky on his MP3 instead of Beyoncé on his iPhone, didn’t even surf internet very much. She thought he’d be excited. Instead he sounded like he didn’t trust her.

“I’ve been thinking and I think that you can Dena Maisels…..”

Asher crossed his brow. “You mean that giggly girl from the seventh floor?”

“I think it’s worth one date. Remember how nicely used to play together?.”

“Mom, I don’t know if you noticed but I don’t’ play with Lego anymore and besides she’s got all that frizz and freckles. She’s not my type..”

Since when did Asher who wasn’t even supposed to look at girls have a type. What a morning. No job and now no bride either. Molly suddenly felt unsteady on her feet, the combined result of the morning’s disasters with a bit of dehydration added in. She escaped to her air-conditioned bedroom for a long nap and she was just getting up when Esther phoned her back.

“Sorry but I called the Maisels. It’s not happening. ”

“What? Any reason? “Molly’s voice was thick with emotion.

“They said she’s busy now.”

Molly leaned into the pillow. “Busy with what?”

“Trust me,. If the match is for you, it will go through and besides, I’ve got an even better idea. Between me you and the lamppost this girl is a bigger metziya, better looking, smarter and more gelt. I’ll give you the basics. Her name is Ayelet Gold. She’s a Beit Batya girl. Graduated last year. “Beit Batya , that named called to her.

Beit Batya was the best religious girls’ high school in Jerusalem famed for its blend of sincere piety, high level academics, a refreshing open-mindedness – each a week a rabbi wandered between the classrooms encouraging the girls to ask any question at all no matter how outrageous.

Molly dreamed of sending her only daughter Bella but Bella didn’t make the cut. She went to Beit Rina instead, which was far easier to get into and even there was she always in trouble. If Molly couldn’t have a Bait Batya girl for a daughter having one for a daughter in law was more than adequate consolation. Was there anything else Molly needed to know? Money? Nahum said to ask about money, but she’d leave that for now. Hmm. How did one go about having this conversation. Family.

“Who is the family?” Molly felt pleased that she’d asked the right question.

“Big yichus. Thirty generations of rabbis. They have a chart in their living room. You’ll be proud to have them as in-laws,”

The last rabbi the Tumim tree died over a century years ago. Then she had an anxious thought. What if this family, the Gold’s were Israelis? How would she cope with Israeli in-laws? After over a quarter century in Israel she spoke Hebrew well enough, but it wasn’t just that. It was the mentality. How would she cope with Israeli in-laws but then again Esther didn’t say that they were Israeli.

”Do they speak English?”

“Are you kidding? “Esther let out a loud guffaw. “The Mom’s from Cleveland , Dad is from Baltimore. Here, I’ll read out the references?”

The word with it’s harsh employment agency associations confused her. Why should one need references for love, for marriage?

Esther dictated a long list of phone numbers of Ayelet’s teachers, friends, rabbis.

“Call them. I’m sure you’ll be pleased.”

Now Molly felt a ripple of fear. “How can I call people I don’t know. Isn’t that like spying. “

“Trust me, “said Esther. “This is how it’s done.” Molly paused dumbstruck. It was as if she’d been hurled back in time to the beginning of her religious journey . How confused she’d been by the simplest details such as remembering how many times to pour water over your hands before after waking from sleep and how many times before eating bread.

“Is it really, “ she asked but by the time the words left her lips Esther had hung up. Hardly a day went by when the Tumim’s mailbox didn’t bulge with a wedding invitation and or a wedding or engagement party but the back story, that is how these couples actually came together together was a mystery. That was intentional . It was a Jewish belief that by talking too much one attracted the evil eye that quiet even to the point of secrecy invited blessing.

These days there were books with titles like “A Diamond for Your Daughter,” Molly had glanced at them but making a shidduch from a book was like trying out a recipe without tasting the food and yet she needed help, a flesh and blood mentor to guide her through.

The Books in the Dumpster

Anxious Ima

Last Wednesday morning , sometime between sunrise and the arrival of the school bus, I took a few dozen of my secular books off the shelf and deposited them in the green plastic dumpster outside of my house. This wasn’t easy for me; there is something deep in my soul that resists the idea of putting books in the trash. It just seems so unJewish, even nazi.

I probably never would have done it at all had it not been for what that happened the previous Sunday with my son. On that day he tore a sheet of paper from one of his notebooks and scrawled on it a suggestion that his rebbe engage in conjugal relations with his morah.

Why? I’m still not sure. My son is only ten years old. He watches no TV, doesn’t surf the internet, doesn’t see any movies or read smutty books. But he picked up this word, knew it was something outrageous and wrote it down and to his bad luck his rebbe caught him just as he was sharing his purple prose with a boy in the next row. He was reprimanded, dispatched to the principal’s office, and my husband and I, the ultimate source of this dereliction, were summoned to school the following day.

Of course I freaked out; stuff like this drives me wild with fear, what with the exploding population of at risk youth.The last thing I needed on my head was for this son to add to their numbers. He’d already had more than his share of school troubles and this school seemed to have a handle on him. The last thing I needed was to have him thrown out .

I have to say that my prayers were answered because the meeting with the principal went much better than I expected. The principal actually smiled at us, told us how much he liked our son. He explained that the punishment, was ultimately in my son’s best interest, to teach him to control his speech and his writing. That seemed reasonable enough. After all., I wasn’t in the business of raising a future pornographer but the whole thing got me thinking.

If my son has been suspended for writing about the original biblical “knowledge ” what did that say about me? In my bedroom, I had an entire shelf of books describing just such behavior in its many permutations, not trash, G-d forbid, not Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins but classy stuff, by Phillip Roth, and Jhumpha Lahiri, Toni Morrison,and Bill Bryson, all Pulitzer prize winners of course , but with the moral sensibilities of the seven nations whom Joshua expelled from the promised land.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against secular books or secular learning. “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu, “ the wisdom of the nations is creditable, believable, something we can learn from, but these books contained something other than wisdom. I’d say it was more like pig flesh, with a New York Times hechsher.

As I picked the books of the shelves to ready them for incineration , the offending scenes flashed back into my mind.. I’ll spare you the unprintable details, but I’m resolved. No more dirty stuff. If I want my sons mind to be clean I have to be vigilant about my own mind.

What will I do as an alternative? Ah, that is the terrible question. I love a good book and the contemporary Jewish novels, well, lets just say that they don’t do it for me,but I’ve got a plan. I’ll try the classics. First the Jewish ones the real food for my soul. I’m proud to say that in the past year, . I’ve gone through the Hazon Ish, Emuna and Bitachon and Pirkei Avos with the Bartenura and Rabeinu Yonah, all on my own, over my morning coffee. Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.

And for entertainment, I’ll try to stick with non fiction, histories, sociology, and older novels, from a cleaner , more innocent time. I’ll never be trendy—that really isn’t in the cards for an orthodox Jew. So I’ll be old fashioned, harken back to an earlier age.

Edith Wharton anyone?

Originally Published Nov 19, 2007

Appreciating the Torah’s Separation of the Sexes

This week I had what I like to call a “Mi Kiamcho Yisroel Moment.” It came upon me as I was reading through a new book called “The Girls Who Went Away.” As you probably already guessed this book is no sefer. Its not put out by Artscroll or Feldheim. In fact it’s the kind of story the frum press wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, but nevertheless, reading it has given me a gevaldige hizuk in a strange sort of back handed way.

“Girls” is an an exquisitely researched journalistic account of the life stories of thousands of women who fell pregnant during their teens, and in the years before Roe v. Wade were coaxed or even coerced to give up their newborn offspring for adoption. The book details the trauma these girls, in some cases they were as young as fourteen, endured. Most of these girls were sent away from home because back in the fifties and sixties the shame of having a pregnant teenager around the house was to great for the family to endure. Then after a stay in a home for unwed mothers, where the girls were at times forced to adopt assumed names to “protect’ their anonymity, the girls were sent to the hospital alone and then forced to relinquish their babies who they were not even encouraged to cuddle, “so they wouldn’t grow attached,’ the social workers told them. After that experience, which of course was not to be mentioned, the girls were expected to reintegrate into society, to finish school, get married and start life on the proper footing. Needless to say more than a few had a tough time. Some fell into depression, others used drugs and alcohol to numb their psychic pain. In some cases the mothers reunited with their offspring after decades of separation; in others not.

Now the subtext of the books author is fairly obvious. Look how far we’ve evolved as a society. We now permit open access to contraception, sex education, legal abortion on demand. No longer do women have to endure this kind of suffering. We’ve solved it, but of course we know this isn’t true. If the Torah has one enduring message—of course is has many, it is that unregulated sex, sex without commitment leads to pain and in some cases (like the Sotah) to death. Our Torah is a Torah of life. Vechai bahem, is the message of our mitzos and as such the Torah erects a high fence, topped with barbed wire around the sexual drive. A dress code to minimize unwanted attractions, separation of the sexes in education, in prayer, for casual socializing, all of these are designed to eliminate the tragic scenarios described in ‘The Girls who Went Away.”

Sometimes it seems that we go off the deep end, expecting our girls to cover their elbows, knees, and toes, banning popular literature and music but all this is to protect that which Judaism designates as most sacred—an undisturbed clean relationship between husband and wife, a couple who stand under the Huppah, virgins both without the skeletons of a hundred failed relationships rattling around in their brains.

If there was any one reason why I chose to adopt an ultra orthodox lifestyle it was this. To live in a society where there were no cocktail parties, not even the “kosher “ cocktail parties (sans drinks) called kiddushes and simchas that occur regularly in certain circles where the separation between the sexes is disregarded. I wanted to raise my kids in an atmosphere that was free from the lewd sexuality that permeates the media, without Bratz dolls and Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce and Brittany Spears.

This is how we protect our families, through these fences which sometimes seem anachronistic and excessively high. And we’re succeeding. Every virginal Bais Yaakov girl that standing under the Huppa is a walking miracle and there are many, so many in fact that we don’t seem to take a deep breath and whisper a prayer of thanks to the Almighty whose protection made this possible.

I wouldn’t tell all of you to click onto Amazon and order the Girls who Went Away, but sometimes looking outside, observing how the other half live, or fail to live can give us some much needed perspective on just how lucky we are.

Now what does this have to do with Beyond BT? Nothing; none of the cases histories detailed in the book were about Jewish women but, wait, that is exactly the point. None of these women were Jewish, and certainly not Torah observant.

Originally Published April 7, 2008

Reading for the Recipes

It’s motzei Shabbos just minutes to havdallah. My husband and sons are in shul and I’m home alone clearing up after shalosh seudos. On the table sits quarter of a hallah, soft and fluffy on the inside, crusty, dark and sesame flecked on the outside, still fresh even now, as the Shabbos draws to a close. I pick it up, fondling it in my hand for a moment before I pack it away . Harei Zeh Hallah. This is the challah, The best challah I’ve ever baked, since starting out almost two decades ago with the the Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook as my guide.

The hallah recipe came form a Boro Park woman named Devorah Heller who is known far and wide as the Hallah maven, a title she truly deserves. What makes this story truly remarkable is that I found the recipe in the the pages of a hareidi woman’s magazine and I hate hareidi womens magazines. Really hate, Emphatically Hate, Hate Hate. Yuck Yuck Yuck!!!!!

I just hate them. They make me feel so weird and out of place that after even a quick leaf through I’m (almost) tempted to toss off my sheitel and crawl back into my long discarded blue jeans.

The tragic part is that I so wanted to love them. When they first hit the stands I thought that my dream was coming true. My two great loves writing and yiddishkeit together at last in one glossy printed, neatly stapled package (with plenty of bylines by yours truly, retired journalist on the comeback trail, of course). What I was hoping for was a glatt kosher version of the New Yorker sans the kefira and the erotic ads but what I got instead was Martha Stewart with a wig.

After driving for close to an hour to buy the first edition of one of these mags I called a good friend and kindred spirit to vent my distress.

“It’s not for people like us, “ she said. “ Just don’t buy it. “. I tried following her advice but somehow, every time I passed the newsstand, the magazines beckoned.

“Just one more time” I told myself. “ Maybe this week, there would be a clever short story, a well drawn essay, something something I could share with my hypercritical New York Times reading mother. And every week I was disappointed.

What were they printing? Articles about silverware, backpacks, teenagers, in-laws, buying guides for items I didn’t want or need. and rhyming Hallmark card poetry

Somehow, I had, quite ridiculously come to equate these publications with Yiddishkeit. Did the fact that they weren’t my style, meant that Yiddishkeit wasn’t my style either? I was no longer sure.

Then I discovered the hallah recipe. After years of baking dry, dense loaves my great joy at experiencing baking success washed away a good deal of my anger and doubt. I started to rethink my dilemma until I reached a startling conclusion. The problem wasn’t with the magazines, it was with me.

I was playing a ridiculous, game, as they say, looking for the proverbial oranges among the dibbles and clamps at the hardware store. These magazines didn’t want to compete with the New Yorker. They were never going to be the New Yorker or even Harpers but that didn’t mean that they were entirely without value in G-d’s world and in my life.

I mean after years of baking hallahs that could have doubled as free weights, it was no small thing to stumble upon this recipe. So I’m putting out the white flag, calling off my war. That is what Hashem wants anyway, Shalom between his children. From now on, I’m going to use these magazines for what they are good at – the recipes.

And as to that leftover piece of hallah sitting the platic bag. It ought to be yummy tomorrow morning toasted and, smeared with magarine. What could be wrong with that?

Originally Published on Jan, 14 2008

The Difficulties of Making Sense of the Holocaust

These past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through Daniel Mendelsohn’s “The Lost—A Search for Six of the Six million.” It’s a long book, 518 densely packed pages, but it’s fascinating, as it reveals the holocaust in great and chilling detail and yet, at the same time, this book, a masterpiece in its own way is fundamentally wrongheaded.

In this unique memoir, Mendelsohn, turns the tragedy of European Jewry up close and personal, narrowing the focus from six million to six, the six victims who happened to be members of the authors own family.

Mendelsohn sets out to gather up as much knowledge as he can about his now extinct tribe of relations, the proud Jaegers of Bolechow, Poland. He seeks out all traces of them from the details of their physical appearance—swarthy, tall, blue eyed, to their work life–butchers, their hobbies, card playing and embroidery, their friendships and love affairs and of course the circumstances of their demise

Though he is intellectually honest enough to admit that “the living can never truly know the dead” Mendelsohn, devotes five years to this project starting online at Jewish genealogy websites and then traveling four continents and interviewing dozens of people who may have encountered these lost Jaegers. Slowly , painstakingly, a portrait emerges of six good but ultimately ordinary human beings who had the terrible luck, as Mendelsohn sees it, to have lived and died in the worst of times.

Sadly, there is one major gap in his inquiry and that is religion, spirituality, what his relatives would undoubtedly have called Yiddishkeit. As a secular American Jew Mendelsohn just can’t fathom that in a shtel like Bolechow, ran according to the timeless rhythms of the Jewish calender and that even a wealthy, dapper, beardless fellow like his Uncle Shmiel wasn’t just a prosperous butcher, a macher, he was first and foremost a Yid.

Reading between the lines, I’d bet the Jaegers were by the war years, not Haredi anymore but somewhere on the cusp between traditional and orthodox. Shmiel dealt in kosher meat and he and his family had Jewish names– Shmiel and Esther, Rochel , Rochel , Leah Frydka (Frieda) and Bronia (Breindel).

Sadly, Mendelsohn’s inability to apprehend this facet of his relatives lives reduces the book’s poignancy. At one point, Mendelsohn imagines his late uncle’s as he walked from the cattle cars into the gas chambers at Belzec. What might he have been thinking? Nothing special it seems., at least according to Mendelsohn. Although it is widely known that many holocaust martyrs died with reciting the Shema or the Ani Ma’amin the possibility of those final moments being devoted to prayer is never considered.

It is this lack of understanding that makes it impossible for Mendelsshon to interpret the holocaust . Unlike his assimilated brother, a believing Jew can see the holocaust as part of a bigger picture and anti Semitism not as a freak occurance, but also part of the plan . Every Seder night we declare it, as an object of faith that that in , “every generation, our enemies stand upon us to destroy us but the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands”.

Of course Mendelssohn never gets this. Ironically it is he and his intermarried siblings who join him on his journeys who are far more lost than the “lost” Jaegers who are now holy martyrs in Gan Eden.

Originally Published on 8/14/2008

My Skirt is My Korban Todah

Today I’m wearing a new skirt. That isn’t really enough of a subject for a column except that this particular skirt is long, falling well below my knees, midcalf. Rather than slinky, it’s got substance, wide flaring pleats and in this age of impossibly flimsy ladies wear, a real honest to goodness lining.

My fashionable self would call it retro, something that might have been worn on the Vassar campus in the fifties, but that isn’t why I bought it. I bought it because its tsniusdig, Glatt Kosher 100 per cent okay according to all Rabbinical opinions.

This skirt is my Korban Todah (thankfulness offering), my own way of saying thank you to the Ribono Shel Olom for certain favors He’s done for me. I’ve been told, that tsnius is the ultimate women’s mitzvah, the point of her ultimate testing. Frankly, it hasn’t been my strong point. Ever since I ditched my blue jeans back in the mid eighties, I’ve been at war with myself, over my image about how I want to look. Tsniusdig, yes, of course, but not overly so because that would be frumpy, frumak, Farchnyucked, Yachne.

For years, I walked on a tightrope between the two, until now buying clothes that were good enough, just barely kosher, not kosher lemehadrin. Why? I didn’t buy foods with dubious hechsherim. Why was I letting myself be so sloppy with this. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to let a few inches of fabric come between me and the Ribono Shel Olom.

Today I put the skirt on for the very first time, as is. There was no need for alterations because it was perfect as is and now I’m wearing it. It fits nicely. No reason why tsniusdig can’t mean pretty but so far nobody has noticed, not my husband until I pointed it out to him, not my next door neighbor who came by to borrow an electric pump, not my upstairs neighbor, and not the young mother of my son’s classmate whom I passed as she was pushing her baby carriage down the block. Not anyone I met at the grocery store either. Not at the vegetable bins, the canned goods section, the dairy case. As the matter stands, no one in my 100 per cent orthodox neighborhood has seen fit to compliment me on my brand new 100 per cent tsniusdig skirt.

And I desperately want somebody to say something nice. This is a major step in my life— as big as a beginning BT walking away from a Big Mac and I want it to be acknowledged. Not with fireworks, a parade, a hand coming down from heaven. All I need is a good word and a smile.

The silence makes me worry. Maybe my fashion sense was off. Maybe the skirt is really ugly. Maybe I should skip this frummy stuff and go back to my old way. This is the sitra achra, I tell myself, that undertow of negativity that bubbles up whenever we undertake some small improvement. I give myself a pep talk.

Yes, you are doing the right thing standing up for modesty in a world where Britany Spears and Beyonce rule. No you don’t need a 100 gun salute or a Congressional Medal of Honor or a Nobel Prize and besides you are getting one in shomayim.

But deep down, I still don’t believe it. I still want someone to notice me. Oh Hashem, please I beg, A compliment. A good word.

Toward evening I meet my friend Pearly. Pearly with her nose ring and tattoo, (hennaed and temporary, thank G-d, not the permanent assur kind). Pearly who spends her Shabboses walking her dogs in the park.

“New skirt,” she asks. “C’mon then. Give it a turn. Very nice,” and then she smiles.

Originally Posted Jun 25, 2008