Searching for God in the Garbage

Beyond BT contributor, Bracha Goetz, has written an extremely candid memoir, Searching for God in the Garbage, detailing how she became an observant Jew and overcame anorexia. It is told through actual diary entries and letters, spanning through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

Chapter Fourteen: 1983 – 1985

January 26, 1983

Dear Barbara,

I was glad you responded in such a positive way to my letter about the book. I honestly didn’t expect it. Sure, I have a lot more thoughts that I’d be very happy to share with you. Years ago, when we were working on the feminist critique together, you were Jewish and you were angry – but what could I say to you then? What can I say to you now … when I have this chance?

You seemed to hate men vehemently at the time. They were the ones who had put you down – kept you “in your place” for all these millennium. It was their fault. That was so clear to you. Remember how we all used to hang out in “Bread and Roses” restaurant – all the angry feminists of Radcliffe, who were mostly Jewish, and who could see so clearly that men were the culprits and that women had been the victims. I was there too, but if you remember, I never had much to say at any of our meetings. I didn’t see it all so clearly. Something bothered me with all this talk about the good guys and the bad guys … and most of all … it seemed so full of anger.

Now here I am, seven years later, finally feeling ready to say something back to you. What I have to say will sound strange at first, I know, and that is why a part of me doesn’t even want to bother. At the same time, I know it is important for me to let you hear my thinking now.

Remember the disgust we used to feel when we were considered nothing but bodies by all those men out there? Those were our souls reacting. When we were striving to be treated with the same respect that men were afforded, when we were fighting to have the opportunity to fulfill our greatest potentials as women – and even when society’s stress on skin-surface beauty was making us sick deep down inside – all of those times – it was our Jewish neshamas (souls) that were crying out to be recognized by us.

I know what you’d think of me if you saw me. Not usually barefoot, but pregnant – and baking bread (challahs) on a regular basis. Right away you would probably classify me as one of those who had given up. But it’s more the other way around. I turned away from all the anger at “Bread and Roses” because it was on a dead-end street. All I knew then was that it couldn’t be the way for us to get somewhere.

Last time we saw each other, I was headed for medical school in South Carolina. The summer after my first year there, I took a trip to Israel. I had just six weeks of vacation until my second year of medical school would begin. I was coming in search of something that was missing in life, and I knew that this was the last stop I was going to make before resigning myself completely to the cynical, de-sensitized way of life I was finally getting used to. I could not understand at the time that the constant, un-surrendering force inside that kept pushing me onward and wouldn’t let me rest – was Jewish. The drive to meet our spiritual needs is in all of us, but we don’t usually recognize where the deep and unfulfilled cravings are coming from.

We had dismissed Judaism early on, as being unable to provide any solutions to the problems that were important to us. The graduation ceremonies from Judaism were held at gaudy Bar Mitzva receptions. There was more than plenty of good food, but nothing that lasted. Then later on, we all heard stuff about how the status of a woman was inferior to that of a man’s in Judaism. Someone once even showed us some Jewish laws to prove it. We didn’t hear much, but what we did hear made a lot of sense. After all, it was exactly what we had suspected.

Well, now I wish I could ask you to take a second look. I would ask you to look from the place that lies even deeper than your anger. From that pure part of you – still unmarred from long years of hating – I want you to look at me and see what there is to this woman that you would find doing dishes, changing diapers, and making dinner for her husband every day. You never wanted others to judge you at face value. Now, I’m asking for that too.

An understanding of the woman’s true role in Judaism can only be obtained by suspending your usual way of thinking for awhile. From the very start, we have been taught to believe that public recognition is what counts. We saw men out up front in prestigious positions getting a lot of recognition – and we wanted it too. It seemed to those lurking in the background – that men were having all the fun – living life in the most exciting way.

But who told us that out in public is “where the action is”? Who was telling us that success in the public arena would make us happy? And who got us thinking that being a homemaker was a drag? What I’m trying to say is – somewhere along the line most of us accepted an assumption which no one ever proved to us. We believed it when “they” told us that getting public recognition would bring fulfillment, and yet we never even saw one living example of it.

In these intervening years, through exploring authentic Judaism, I’ve had the chance to discover a fact of life that was never disclosed to me before. Simply put: What’s up front is not what counts. It’s still very hard for me to accept that thoroughly, however. It will take a long time for me to adjust to this view of life, completely topsy-turvy to the one I’d been indoctrinated to hold up until then.

In a sense, though, I think this topsy-turvy view of what really matters in life can be considered a truly feminist way of thinking. It requires recognizing fully that the man’s role is not the preferred role. Once this readjustment in thinking can be integrated at a deep level within, it finally becomes possible for a woman to realize her greatest potential. Once freed from the burden of wanting to be like a man, she is able to be a woman wholeheartedly. We are then able to taste the many pleasures inherent in creating a home. These are pleasures of the deepest sort, which we would have never even permitted ourselves to accept and experience as pleasures before.

You can purchase a copy of Bracha’s memoir in paperback or Kindle formats.

Alternate Trajectories – Part 4

Written By C. Sapir,

You can read part 1 here.
You can read part 2 here.
You can read part 3 here.

One day, Ben mentioned that he had taken a client out to eat, and I innocently asked where they had eaten.

“Don’t ask questions that you don’t want to know the answers to,” he advised me in a friendly tone.

From then on, I didn’t ask him where or what he had eaten outside the house. It wasn’t my business. What was my business was my own kitchen, and I knew I could trust him not to do anything that would treif up my kitchen. Ours is an honest relationship, and even after Ben’s commitment to Yiddishkeit eroded to the core, his commitment to me and our marriage remained steadfast. Since Shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpachah were non-negotiable to me, Ben wouldn’t do anything to break my trust or sabotage my observance of those or any other mitzvos.

In recent years, I’ve been contacted by numerous women – both baalos teshuvah and frum-from-birth – who are heartbroken over their husbands’ spiritual deficiencies. Some are upset that their husbands aren’t going to minyan or aren’t learning three sedarim a day. While I wish, inwardly, that that would be all I have to deal with, I truly sympathize with their disappointment. Others are grappling with far more serious issues, like chillul Shabbos.

My advice to these women is usually to separate the marriage issues from the religious issues, and work on the marriage. When the relationship is loving and respectful, religious differences can usually be overcome. But when the relationship itself is troubled, then religious differences only exacerbate the existing chasm.

All the years, Ben and I had made a priority of spending quality time together and investing in our marriage. After we moved away from New York, our life took on a slower pace, and Ben and I had found time to play chess, cook fun things together, read the newspaper aloud to each other, and discuss politics, history, and current events. In doing so, we had strengthened our relationship to the point that it could withstand significant challenges, from the loss of a child to Ben’s gradual abandonment of frumkeit.

“How do you respect a husband who’s not frum?” a woman will occasionally ask me.

“You want to know how I do it?” I respond. “I look for the good in my husband. He’s a mentsch. He’s kind to me and to the children. He’s warm and caring to our friends and guests. He’s generous. He works hard to support the family. He works for clients and community members pro bono when they can’t afford to pay.”

“But what about bein adam l’Makom?” she’ll protest.

“Have you ever learned Tomer Devorah?” I tell her. “It’s a slim volume written by Rav Moshe Cordovero, the Ramak. He was a great kabbalist, and a disciple of Rav Yosef Karo, who wrote the Shulchan Aruch. Tomer Devorah explains Hashem’s 13 Middos Harachamim and describes how we humans, who are created in His image, can emulate these middos. For instance, Hashem is nosei avon – He carries us even in the midst of an aveirah – and we, too, can continue to ‘carry’ our loved ones even when they transgress.”

In keeping with the Tomer Devorah’s teachings, I’m not going to ruin my marriage by nagging Ben to work on his relationship with Hashem. Instead, I’m going to continue davening and try to be a shining example of someone who does have a relationship with Hashem.

Part of being that shining example is remembering that Hashem matched me with this husband, and trusting that He knows what He is doing. He could have matched me with any man on the planet, yet He chose this special person just for me. We may be on alternate spiritual trajectories, but each of us is exactly what the other needs.

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.

You can contact her at

Alternate Trajectories – Part 3

Written By C. Sapir,

You can read part 1 here.
You can read part 2 here.

Ben and I hosted numerous Shabbos guests, many of whom were just discovering Yiddishkeit, and we helped shepherd these not-yet-religious people toward greater observance, even as Ben himself flagged religiously. When guests had questions at our Shabbos table, he would say, “Ask my wife!”

Much as I tried to get the kids interested in learning and Yiddishkeit, they sensed Ben’s ambivalence. The girls were less affected by that ambivalence, and grew into frum Bais Yaakov girls, but the boys showed more interest in sports and science than in Gemara.

As the children grew older, I worried about the ever-increasing materialistic standards of our in-town community, and I wished that Ben could be a more involved father and husband. Thinking that we might do better in a different environment, I consulted daas Torah for guidance.

The rav I spoke to advised that we move away from New York and the East Coast. I discussed the possibility with Ben, who agreed that it was a good idea to move, even though he had just made partner in his law firm. Although moving would mean giving up the prestige and income he had worked so hard to attain, he realized that the work schedule he was keeping was burning him out and stealing his children’s childhood from him. Later he told me that I was his “Sarah,” and just as Hashem had told Avraham “Shma bekolah – listen to her voice,” he had chosen to listen to the wisdom of why I felt we should move.

We looked at the map and considered communities that were big enough to boast Jewish infrastructure and small enough that our presence would make a difference.

The community we ended up choosing had several Orthodox shuls, but only one was in walking distance of our house. It was more yeshivish than Ben would have preferred, but he did feel welcome in the shul.

Sometime after we moved, we went on a family trip to a place in the mountains that had alpine slides. We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain, but as everyone else was getting onto the slides, I realized that the hat I was wearing would be blown off if I went down the slide. I would have to ride the ski lift down the mountain while everyone else had fun sliding.

Standing there on top of the mountain, it occurred to me that I was doing this purely for Hashem’s sake. My husband had told me many times that he thought it was ridiculous
for me to cover my hair.

I thought of the rebbetzin I was so envious of, surrounded as she was by talmidei chachamim. “Please, Hashem,” I begged, “all I want is to have a husband who learns and sons who learn. Why can’t I have that?”

Right then and there, Hashem gave me the answer. It’s because someone has to set an example of a woman whose connection to Yiddishkeit and Torah is not through a man. I don’t have a father, or a husband, or a son, or a brother who learns Torah. My connection to Hashem is about me.

Looking out at the mountains, I thought of all the Jewish women who have no man in their lives: widows, divorcees, older singles, women in lonely marriages. Someone has to stand up for these women and show them that they can have a rich spiritual life even without a man in their life to act as their spiritual conduit.

That idea became my lifeline. Holding onto it helped me to stop wishing so much for what couldn’t be, and instead embrace what was and explore who I could become with, and not despite, my husband.

Twelve years after we moved, our family suffered three losses in a span of one year. First, our married daughter had a stillbirth. Less than six months later, our teenage daughter was tragically taken from us. Then, just four months later, Ben’s mother passed away suddenly.

Ben and I were both grief-stricken by the losses, but his faith was shaken, while mine remained intact. Having bolstered my emunah by davening and learning Torah all the years, I knew that whatever Hashem does is best for me, no matter how unpleasant and painful it may feel. I also knew that the body is only a temporary garment for the neshamah, and that death is merely a separation, not an end. We all come into this world to die and go to Olam Haba, except that some people’s journeys through this world are longer and some peoples are shorter. So while the death of a loved one hurts dreadfully, I didn’t see any of our losses as reason to doubt Hashem’s existence, His goodness, or His love for me.

Ben did. At first, he was angry at Hashem. Then he started to question whether Hashem even existed.

I felt sorry for Ben that he couldn’t feel Hashem’s love and access the consolation that comes with knowing that everything Hashem does is for the good. We were both suffering tremendous grief, but my grief was so much less painful than his, because my emunah gave me a context for the pain.

For decades, I davened fervently that Ben should return to full Torah observance. My real hope was that that after his parents reached 120 and he would have to say Kaddish for them, he would get back into the habit of davening. I knew that despite his theological issues, he would say Kaddish faithfully.

And indeed, when his mother died, Ben was scrupulous about saying Kaddish. For years, he hadn’t been much of a shul-goer, and he had long since ceased davening three times a day, but during the year of aveilus, he made a point of davening every single tefillah with a minyan.

Ben wasn’t the only one in his family who was scrupulous about saying Kaddish. His sister Candice, who lived in Manhattan, said Kaddish every day, too. In her Open Orthodox congregation, that was just dandy. But when she came to visit us, things got sticky.

Ben tried explaining to Candice that this wasn’t how things were done in our community, but she would not hear of missing Kaddish. Out of respect for our shul, she dressed for Shabbos in her most modest outfit, and then went with my husband to Minchah and Maariv Friday night. She was alone in the women’s section.

The rav and congregation did not take kindly to Candice’s recitation of Kaddish, even from behind the mechitzah. The rav tried to stop her from saying it, and when she refused, he asked her to at least say it quietly.

“If you were mourning your mother, would you want to do it quietly?” she asked pointedly. And the next time the congregation got up to Kaddish, she said it aloud again.

To the astonishment of both Ben and Candice, the rav stopped the Kaddish in middle and skipped to the next part of davening.

Ben was horrified. “I’m done with shul,” he told me. “And I’m done with the frum community as well.” That was the last time he said Kaddish.

With that, my hopes for Ben to develop a deeper, richer connection to Hashem through davening regularly and saying Kaddish were dashed. But I wasn’t the only one who was saddened by Ben’s closing the door on shul and the community. He was, too.

“Do you think it’s easy to lose your emunah?” he asked me. “Do you think it doesn’t hurt to lose faith in everything you’ve believed in and wanted to believe in?”

There was nothing I could do or say that would repair the damage. From then on, I went to shul alone on Shabbos morning.

to be continue

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.

You can contact her at

Musical Chairs – The Final Chapter – The Wedding

Finally the wedding day arrived Molly and Nahum linking their arms to their oldest son clad in a brand new black suit covered by a white kittel, the shroud which bridegrooms wear as a reminder of their mortality. As the sun set in the background and a violinist played the Jewish wedding song they strode to the huppa as if they were floats in a parade.

Watching them were all the principle players in their lives. Esther of course in a long curley wig who sat in the first row beaming. Next to her was Mrs. Attias and to her right. Nahum’s sister Glenda who sat next to Nahum’s mother. Across the aisle on the men’s side sat Asher’s brothers and his yeshiva buddies. Ezi, Yidy, Itamar Levi and , Refael Shmuel Ephraim Klapper, whom Asher had forgiven, as well as Rav Benzi and Asher’s old teacher Rabbi Marks.

Not present was Molly’s father.He had phoned and wished them well but he was took weak to make the trip and Molly’s mother who was watching from the other world.

Standing under the canopy her face covered with a heavy white cloth, Rahely looked like a statue.that her features were invisible . The face covering indicated her willingness to submit herself to her husband’s will.

As they approached the huppa Molly turned to Asher. “I hope you won’t’ take advantage of that,” Molly whispered to Asher. “Is that what you think of me Mom,” said Asher. He was smiling. The ceremony seemed to take minutes. Then Asher and Rahely disappeared into the heder yihud, a small room at the back of the hall to break their fasts together and perhaps have their first kiss. It all seemed so strange; Asher locked in a room with a woman.

Molly sat at the head table surrounded by her new machatenesteh and other assorted female Silvers. She washed her hands made the blessing and bit into a pita. She hadn’t really eaten properly.Maybe the calories would lift her spirits. Then Shulamis Black came to her side. “Everyone says that weddings are the ultimate joy but they can be tough. You won’t be bringing Asher home anymore.” Molly forced a smile.

“You’re going to make me cry and ruin my makeup.”

Shulamis wrapped her arm around her friend. “”You’ll get used to it. but it will take time. And please
G-d the grandchildren will come. And you’ll find yourself a new life.”

Just then the music swerved into a lively crescendo. Shulamis grabbed Molly by the arm. Come let’s dance’ she said. And that is just what they did.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8I – The Engagement Rituals

Chapter 8I

The engagement party, a combined vort and lechaim the two events merged on account of frugality, and the exigencies of the Jewish calendar, the three week period before Tisha B’Av looming ahead, was held at the Silver’s house. This time there were were even more marshmallow skewers and even more paper streamers and a huge banner declaring ‘Mazal Tov Rahely and Asher.”

The Silvers were all smiles, Rabbi, Rebetzin fourteen children plus another twelve children by marriage and assorted grandchildren in various shapes and sizes

“By me, machutonim are mishpocha,” Rabbi Silver told Nahum as he shook his hand. In her modest but decorous way Rahely dazzled in a salmon pink dress studded with tiny pink sequins and Asher looked happy. Surrounded by his new brothers in law and yeshiva buddies he seemed to glow.

This night marked the culmination of all a year full of phone calls, investigations, prayers .

After the guests had gone home, Molly and Asher sat down with the Silver’s around their dining room table where they discussed when to have the wedding and wear. They agreed on a four week engagement. Once the couple had agreed to be wed it seemed pointless to make them wait.

The next few weeks were a blur of shopping trips Molly running around trying to organize the required gifts for the bride. First she had to find a diamond bracelet and then a diamond engagement ring , a complicated procedure as the diamond is purchased separately from the setting and then must be put together. After that came a leather bound prayer book and psalter with Rahely’s name stamped in gold on the cover.and finally pearl necklace which Asher would give to Rahely at the wedding.

For their part the Silvers presented. Asher with sets of the Talmud, the Code of Jewish Law which arrived in large cardboard boxes. . Following the so called Shabbat out of Hell, the slang moniker for Asher’s first Sabbath visit to the Silvers he came home with an expensive Swiss watch.

“Do they have to do this, “said Nahum.

“Well, it’s become customary.” said Molly.

“But really?”

“No it’s not a mitzvah. It’s a cultural thing and it would be weird to opt out.”

“But how can they afford to buy all this stuff.’

Molly lifted her eyebrows. “Don’t ask me. I’m not going there.”

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8H – Rav Amram Helps Bring Clarity

Chapter 8H

Even though Nahum woke up with a headache he dragged himself to minyan. Services with a prayer quorum was non-negotiable and they were a good idea. Even if he slept or daydreamed through his prayers they would still be carried to heaven on the backs of those who carefully recited every word.

There had been a terrorist attack that morning, a molotov cocktail thrown at a car. The service included a lengthy recitation of the psalms for the wounded. Nahum grew impatient. He felt guilty for it—he hadn’t been attacked and yet all he could think about were his own troubles.

After services, he’d speak to Rav Amram. Rav Amram would tell him what to do, but today the tiny synagogue was more crowded than usual and everyone wanted Rav Amram’s attention.

One after another the worshipers approached him as Nahum sat in the back row waiting in the hot stuffy synagogue.

Finally it was his turn.

Nahum spilled out the whole story.

“Wow, tough.” said the Rav. Nahum leaned over toward him.

“Do you think I’m wrong. I mean what you would do”

“I’ll look into it. Call me in the afternoon.”

Instead of going home, Nahum bought breakfast at a falafel joint and ate alone in the office at his computer.
Work would distract him from his new status as the family ogre but what else could he say. He’d been fed false information, deceived, lied too.

At midday Rav Amram called to tell him to come to his home.

The door to the Rav’s apartment was half open “Come in,” he heard the Rabbi say “Sorry I’m not getting up.” He found the Rabbi seated on a bar stool alongside the kitchen island eating a grilled cheese sandwich. ‘Can I make you one too.”

For the first time he’d laughed since this whole thing started Nahum laughed. “So tell me about this girl. I mean do you think she’s a good match for your son otherwise.”

Nahum thought for a moment. Finally he shrugged his shoulders ” I don’t really know. He met her five times and I met her for five minutes. What can I know.’

“Well what do your wife and your son say?”

“Oh they think she’s great.”

“Please write out everyone’s names. Your’s your wife’s your sons and the kallah.” The rabbi handed him a legal pad and a pen.

“Can I write it in English. ”

“That’s fine.” For a long time the Rabbi studied the paper. What was he seeing in those hastily scribbled words? What sort of mystical magic was he performing?

“Nahum.’ Rav Amram “Do you know what your name means.”

It was his grandfather’s name meaning “It means comforter. ”

“Nahum melishon rahamim.” Said Rav Amram. “You’ve got the quality of mercy and mercy brings blessing. ”

“But do I have to pick up the pieces for the Silvers”.

“You feel like a frier,” the rabbi employed the Hebrew slang term for a sucker, a chump.

Nahum blanched.

“Someone else was here this week, seated exactly where you are right now. A fellow whose made beautiful shidduchim for his kids, and he always splits the costs precisely down the middle, on principle. Well this time he married off another daughter and made the usual deal .” Nahum nodded. “So what is so bad about that.”

“Yes except that it’s a half year later and the poor girl is going for a get, The chosson had an internet addiction and he’s refusing treatment.”

“Okay so,” Nahum shook his head.

“You are right. Fifty fifty is ideal but I know that Rahely Silver is an excellent catch, even if she comes without a dime.”

Nahum grimaced.

“The Rav stretched out his hand. ” Mazal Tov Nahum – smile.”

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8G – A Big Surprise at the L’Chaim

Chapter 8G

As they sat down to dinner Esther phoned. “The Silver’s just got back from the Rav. They can continue seeing each other.”

Molly let out a huge yell and jumped into the air. “Yahoo ,! We’re on.”

Asher threw his arms around his mother.

“Esther says that tomorrow night you’re going to meet Rahely at the Renaissance.”

“Why there,” Asher frowned.

“She says that’s what the Silvers want”

“Does Esther get a kickback from the hotel? , “said Nahum.

Molly shot him a harsh glance. “Who cares? The main thing Is that it’s on. Can’t you be happy?”
But Nahum just sat in his place cutting up his chicken.

As they stood in front of the reception desk Asher took Raheli aside and popped the question.

The previous days events had caused Asher’ emotions to rise to the surface. “Rahely, I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

Rahely’s cheeks turned a bright pink.

“Rahely I think you know what I’m……”

A piano played in the distance as the words fell from his lips.. “Rahely, don’t want to lose you. I want you to be mine, forever, for life.”His entire body trembled.

“To get married?” Her smile accentuated the dimples in her cheeks.

“Yes,.”Maybe we could do the wedding here,” Asher said.

Right then Rahely pulled her phone from her purse to call her parents. “Don’t’ you want to call your Mum and Dad as well.”

“No, ” said Asher. “This is something I’m going to need to tell them in person.”

As soon as he got off with his daughter Rabbi Silver picked up the phone to Nahum Tumim. It was an ingrained response, the way he’d done it with all the others.

“So mechutan. Mazal Tov. Come over now. We’re going to have a LeHaim.”

“Wait a minute.. Can we put this off another day.”

Nahum was about to go to sleep.

“Sure , sure, but Mazal Tov.”

Rabbi Silver hung up the phone puzzled. “Eda,” he called to his wife. She was putting on night crème getting ready for bed. “Yes dear.”

“The father didn’t sound like he knew what was going on.”

“Oh. There’s always something Just go to sleep. I’m sure Hashem will help” said Eda. She recited evening prayers and was soon asleep but Rabbi Silver got up and settled himself at the kitchen table where he spent the night praying and studying. “I wish I had her faith, “he told himself “but I’m going tostorm the heavens. I won’t let my Rahely lose out.”

In the morning Nahum’s head throbbed. His face was pallid and his eyes ringed with dark circles. After he washed his hands, he checked his phone. “Are we supposed to have a vort today?”.

“Let me see that. ” Molly read the message. “They are inviting us for a lehaim at nine for a Le’Haim, not a vort. The vort comes later..”said Molly.

“What’s the difference?”

“Well the LeHaim is the unofficial celebration and the vort is when they actual contract to marry. The two mother-in-laws broke a ceramic plate —“.

Nahum yawned and turned away.

“I’m not ready for any of this and I need to get ready to go to shul.”

Just then Asher phoned from the yeshiva. “So is it on? Tonight?”

Molly held the phone speechless. She didn’t know what do say.

“Is there some kind of problem? With Dad.”

“Just daven.”That was always good advice. “We’ll keep you posted.”

Right after services Nahum rushed to the office and didn’t come home until late at night. Throughout the day Molly tried to reach him with calls and texts but he didn’t answer. He arrived home well after dark only to find Molly standing at the door wearing her best wig, high heels and a shimmery black dress.

“Where were you? They are expecting us at nine.”

“I’m not up for this. What if I say I’m sick? It isn’t a lie. “She widened her eyes in a gesture of mock solicitude.
“. “We need to be there in fifteen minutes. If there is the slightest bit of traffic.

Nahum headed toward the bedroom. ‘I’m going to lie down. ”

“Then I’ll take a taxi and go by myself..”

Nahum turned around following her out the door and into the car.

“What is your problem? Your son has met a great girl. He’s in seventh heaven. After all the searching, we finally got what we dreamed of?”

As they turned off the highway toward Ramot Nahum suddenly looked lost.

“Just make a left at the traffic light and then a right and a left again,” said Molly.

“How do you know.”

“I’m not quite as big a jerk as you think. Please , try to be polite.”

After several wrong turns they reached the Silver’s building. The hallway walls were dirty . The paint was peeling and just outside a family of cats rummaged through a dumpster. “Doesn’t seem like a place someone with money would chose to live ,” Nahum said.

“These apartments go for almost two million.”

‘On the front door someone had hung crepe paper streamers and a large handwritten sign with the words “Mazal Tov Asher and Rahely.”

“How sweet” said Molly. Nahum frowned. Inside the dining room table was laden with cakes and soft drinks and, marshmallows and sour sticks threaded onto skewers. They were surrounded by Silvers In every corner another child emerged, three generations gathered under one roof.

Rabbi Silver extended his hand to Nahum. Then he led him into a tiny room filled with floor to ceiling book shelves.
“Can I get you a drink, something cold, a scotch? You don’t have to be ashamed. “I’m an Irishman, born in Dublin. We like our drink.”

Nahum could have drained a shot, even more but he shook his head.

“I believe in being frank,” said Rabbi Silver.

“So do I, “said Nahum. His smile looked forced.

“I don’t know what you’ve been told about me, but I haven’t a nickel. In fact all I have are debts. I’d love to help Rahely. I’d love to buy her a house, even two houses, one to live in and one to rent out for the income but I’m afraid I can’t. If my situation improves I’ll gladly do my share, even more but right now those are the facts. If that isn’t to your liking….” He dropped his gaze …”. I will understand”

Rabbi Silver’s great bushy brows covered a pair of soft grey eyes now soft shrouded by a thin veil of tears. For a long time the two men sat together in silence, while Rabbi Silver buried his face inside of his hands.

“I hear you but the kids need to start a life… The shadchan said….”

“Yes you think I don’t know that. I’ve married off a half dozen already. I thought I could raise the funds but the deal that I was counting on had fallen through…” Rabbi Silver bent forward again his eyes cast downward.
“We’ll let you know.”

“Come on, ” Nahum said to Molly. “We’re going home.”

“How could you do this to Asher. He was going to bring his friends from the yeshiva…..”

“Esther said the guy was good for some help. $100 grand was it? ”

Molly leaned into her tissue. She didn’t pick it up again until they were back in Har Nof.

Just as Asher was about to leave for Rahely’s house she phoned.

“Something has happened. I can’t talk about it on the phone. Meet me in a half hour at the corner of Rehov Bar Ilan near the Sanhedria Cemetery.”

“A cemetery, at night? . Was Rahely sick? Asher grabbed a taxi on the street in front of the yeshiva. His heart beat like a Tom Tom while his sweat glands worked overtime.

“Please drive faster,” he told the driver.

“I’m doing the best I can.”

Asher found Rahely standing alone at the cemetery gate. “Together they walked through of the crowded graveyard, the tombs covered with stones and chips from roof tiles laying She stopped at the resting place of Rabbi Aryeh Levine, a 20th century holy man famous for his great and open heart. ” There’s a problem with the shidduch. I don’t want to get into the details but please, we’ll both recite the Song of Songs every day for the next forty days.”

That was a segula, a spiritual remedy capable of arousing heavenly mercies. Rahely smiled at him, her soft cheeks dimpling up as she did. “I’m sure it will all be fine.” Then they said their goodbyes, waving to each other. The tears in Rahely’s eyes reflected the tears in his own.

Asher went home to find his parents arguing.

“The Silver’s misrepresented themselves. We went into this under false pretenses,” said Nahum.

“I don’t think they meant anything bad . They seem to be good people. Maybe we would have done the same in their position. Why can’t you have some sympathy?”said Molly.

“I know . You want me to give in. We’ll just take the whole thing on. Well how do you think we can afford it. Do you know how much a young kollel couple can cost?”

Molly sobbed loudly.

So that’s what it boiled down to. Money. Asher could hardly believe it. And what a gem Rahely for holding back and not telling him.

“Mom, Dad,” he stood right between them. “You forgot about me. I want to marry Rahely and she wants to marry me. We aren’t asking for your money. . It doesn’t have to be all on you.”said Asher.

“Oh come on be realistic. You don’t know how expensive life can be. How will you two every put a roof over your heads?” said Nahum.

“Mom, Dad. I want this It’s my life. Please let me marry the person I want to marry.”

Asher turned and went into his room.. “Why me G-d. I finally meet the right one and then this. Oh help. “Then he remembered Rahely’s words. The Song of Songs . He recited the Solomon’s poem about the love of G-d and the Jews and then he was able to sleep. At dawn he tiptoed out of the apartment and went back to the yeshiva.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8F – Meeting Rahely and New Complications

Chapter 8F

At nine PM the doorbell rang. Molly ran to answer it half expecting to see a beggar; they were the only people who rang on doors. Instead she saw Asher in his best suit with Rahely at his side. She hadnt seen Rahely until now. There had been on exchange of photographs .She felt a wave of disappointment. In her mind she’d imagined her as like a movie star, Nicole Portman or a very young Natalie Wood. The girl she was looking at wasn’t bad looking, smooth dark hair, a wide face, small eyes a decent figure, not skinny and not fat but she was tiny, almost a midget. They’d have short children.. Molly sighed and then she opened the door.

“So nice to meet you”. Then she reached out and offered Rahely a hug. She wanted to appear warm, to accept this girl with her less than perfect features and size deficiency as if she were her daughter. The gesture felt forced, artificial, as if she were on the stage and not in real life, but what else could she do? She led everyone into the living room and for a few tense moments they sat down, she and Nahum on the coach and Rahely and Asher in the wing chairs. “Come have something to eat, to drink. “said Molly. Rahely shook her head. “Thanks but not right now.”

Molly felt slighted. Her new daughter in law had refused her food. Was that a bad omen.

“You know what, “said Rahely, Her eyes were full of light.”I can’t right now. I’m just too nervous. ” she giggled. “But it all looks so good . I’ll take some for later if that is okay.” Asher smiled at her approvingly. Through all those hours spent in hotel lobbies and at parks talking and talking had caused them to bond.

“Fine, ” said Molly . She liked the way that Rahely handled herself, quietly assertive and polite. Asher had chosen well. Rahely was a girl who knew her own mind.

As she folded the cakes into a napkin Asher rose and Rahely following ..”We’ve got to get going.”

The clock said 9:10— they had spent a total of ten minutes together.

“Isn’t she lovely. ” Molly beamed but Nahum didn’t return her smile.

“I hardly got a feel for her. I think this is moving a bit too fast.”

“That’s how it goes, They all do it like this.”

“Yeah but this is a big decision. I want Asher to take his time.”

“But look what a wonderful girl. Can’t you see how good they are together?”

“Frankly, I could hardly see anything.”

During her morning walk, Molly hashed the date out with Shulamis Black. “She seems lovely. I got a really good feel but Nahum …”

“Well this is a bit of a shock to his system. I’m surprised that you are taking it so well.”

“I really feel like I know her and I liked the chemistry. I’m just worried about Nahum.”

“Don’t’ worry,” said Shulamis as she bent down to retie her sneaker. “It’ll all work out. You won’t believe it but it will.”

As soon as she got home Esther phoned.

“This is getting serious,” she said. Her voice was tense and shrill.

“Yes he seems to care for Rahely. We met her last night and —

” Asher should think about closing ”

“Closing?” Wasn’t that a real estate concept?

“A ring, popping the question.”

“Yeah, already,” Molly’s voice quivered. Hearing Esther speak this way frightened her to the core.

“Isn’t this great,”

“Ummm, I mean Yes, ” said Molly. Her voice was cracked and low. This was what she wanted, worked for, hoped for , prayed for but as soon as she got off the phone she ran into her bedroom sobbing as she wrote in her journal. ”

I wish I could say that I’m crying tears of joy. I don’t know what kinds of tears these are, maybe tears of fear. Last night I felt so confident but now I’m just terrified. Rahely seemed sweet but they left too quickly. She’s a stranger. I really don’t know her at all. Oh G-d I hope this is a good move.

That afternoon Asher came home from yeshiva.

“It’s off. “His voice was flat, his eyes dull.

“What?” Molly threw her arms around him but he shrugged off her embrace.

“A problem with Rahely?” It seemed implausible to imagine them getting into a fight.

“No, we’re great. It’s her name. She’s called Rachel Malka . I can’t marry a girl with your name “Are you sure? “No ever calls me Malka ”

Asher settled down into the wing chair. She sat opposite him . Above them the ceiling fan noisily twirled the warm air .

“And it isn’t only that. Somebody told them about Grandpa Fred And they heard about Bella and Elazar.”

“Oy,” Molly held her fingers to her mouth and chewed on the tips of her nails. Over the past few weeks both Bella and Elazar took a turn for the worst. Her latest crime, being seen with a boy, according to her version of the story, Elazar’s friend to whom she had innocently delivered a package, had reached Rabanit Stark’s ears and she was expelled. To her credit, Rabanit Stark spoke softly “She cried. I think she really cares. I broke the school rule book and she can’t behnd the rules anymore,” Bella told her. Bella was actually looking forward to beginning a new school, a boarding school for rebellious girls in the fall and Molly was doing her best to be tentatively optimistic.

And Elazar, he left his yeshiva . He now spent his days delivering pizzas and waiting to be drafted. While she wept copiously at first Molly had almost adjusted. Part of her felt good to see Elazar applying himself to his job.

“They don’t have kids with issues?”

“Mom, you checked them out….”

“No, Their kids seem to be perfect but I’ll be that the other in-laws have kids like ours..”

“I don’t know but Rahely said that they are going to speak with their Rav” said Asher. Molly took his hand. It was twice the size of hers and covered with black hairs that stuck out like wires. How did her baby boy turn into a broken hearted man? “Can I get you something to eat or drink? An iced coffee? Some of the brownies. I’ve got plenty left.”

“No Mom, I can’t eat.” He sounded as if someone had died.

When Nahum came home from work he told Asher not to be sad. “It’s good to have a breather. Maybe she’s not for you after all. Maybe you’ll like the next girl much more.”

“Doesn’t Dad care “Asher asked Molly as he helped her set the dinner table.

“Yes of course he does but he never experienced a shidduch before. He doesn’t know how to react.”

“So I’m the guinea pig. again? The FFB child of BT parents “.

“We both want the best for you. Let’s wait and see how this plays out.”

Molly’s heart was clearly with Asher. He seemed to want this girl so much. From the moment he was born she’d always been a sucker for him. Less than twenty four hours ago she’d wept from fear but now she wanted was to see him marry Rahely. .

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8E – Dropping the Shadchan

Chapter 8E

On their second date, Asher and Raheli talked for six hours neither of them checking their watches even once.

“What could you possibly say to each other for all that time?”, Molly asked. Asher just giggled into the phone line.

“Sounds good “said Nahum.

“Our dates weren’t like this.. I mean we didn’t talk for four hours ”

“No,” said Nahum. “But hey, I’m glad he’s excited..”

“Do you think these kids fall in love,” asked Molly.

“I didn’t think so. I never thought shidduch dating included romance buy hey this sounds like love.”

In the morning Esther phoned Molly to arrange the third date “This should be a day time date.”

“Tell your son to take Rahely to the biblical zoo.”

But Asher resisted. “Mom

Rahely doesn’t like zoos. We thought of going to the Tayelet to ride the Segways”

“Okay, I’ll tell Esther, but when she called Esther, reaching her on the ninth attempt she got an earful.

“Molly do you live under a rock. Didn’t you hear the news? A rocket almost landed near the Tayelet yesterday.
Asher can’t take Rahely there. The Silvers will think he’s irresponsible.”

Molly called Asher back. “Please, listen to her.—”

But Asher refused to back down. ” What do you want us to do? Make funny faces at the orangutan.”

“Please, just got to a hotel. Esther’ is giving me a terrible time. Listen Asher, do you want to blow this. She’s saying that the Silvers may pull out. Please….”

“Okay Mom, The King David. and then we can walk to the kotel”

Date three was very much like dates one and two . At the end of the date Asher and Rahely swapped phone numbers. “Lets be in touch directly, Not through the matchmaker,” said Rahely.

“Fine what about we go to the dead sea . We’ll travel separately so no one will see us and then we can meet there.”

Rahely agreed.

As he rode the bus back from Rahely’s parents apartment after the date Asher decided that he was ready. Rahely was it. As the sun set over the Dead Sea, he’d ask her hand In marriage.

He analyzed each of the formulations as if they were Talmudic phrases. There was “Raheli, will you marry me,” which gave her a choice—but what if she chose to say no. Or he could say “Rahely will you be my wife,” That sounded cold but the alternative “Raheli I want to marry you,” seemed too forceful. Like an actor learning his lines, he practiced the each of them still not sure which one to select. And he worried that his throat would betray him, his vocal chords shutting down just as he was about the pop the question and the Rahely would conclude that something was wrong with him and break it off.

The morning after date #3 Esther phoned Molly as she was ironing.

“Nobody in their right mind takes a girl to the Dead Sea. Dead, It funerals, corpses. That’s not the kind of imagery we want to conjure up.”

“But the Dead Sea is beautiful.”

“Beautiful, shmeutiful. It’s not a place to take a date and besides Rebetzin Silver is horrified that your son would dare to let her daughter travel for three hours alone on a hot bus—especially with everything that is going on. You’d better talk to your son this time or this shidduch is going to self-destruct.” The words made her so dizzy that she put down her iron and grabbed the nearest chair to sit. Then she phoned Asher.

“No Dead Sea.” Her tone was sharp and edgy, as if she’d caught Edie’s mood.

“But Raheli loves the Dead Sea “From his tone, it sounded as if they were an old married couple.

“Esther said no.”

Asher grew silent. Molly overheard the symphony of hundreds of young voices merging in the ancient Talmudic dialectic.

“Okay … we’ll meet at the Crowne Plaza instead.”

“And afterwards please bring her over. Your father and I would like to meet her.”

“Are you sure”

“You’ve met her parent’s right? ”

“Yes but….”

“But so bring her over tonight.”

“Okay but just make sure that nobody’s home except you and Dad.”

Molly jumped up in the air and clapped her hands together. She twirled around the living room singing the lyrics from West Side Story. “Tonight, tonight won’t be just any night.” She felt like she herself had fallen in love. Then took another look around. In the harsh morning light the scuffs and dents and scratches on her furniture had become all too apparent.

“This place is a mess! I don’t want to kallah to think that we live in squalor.”

“They’ve had four dates. I think it’s a little premature to refer to her as his bride.”

“These kids, they get right to the point. They can see into eachother’s souls without distractions.”

“Okay, I get it but I still don’t want to see Asher rushing into anything.”

“Oh c’mon,” said Molly. “Let’s accept this in the spirit of gratitude.”

Molly spent most of the day getting ready. She gave the living room a thorough washing the floors and windows and even taking down the dusty drapes, washing them and hanging them back up and she baked chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars, brownies and blondies. Then she showered and applied fresh makeup. Then she put on her wig and her newest outfit, , a silky sleeveless top which she wore with a long sleeved shell underneath a black pencil skirt and a pair of high heeled wedgie sandales.

“How do I look.”

” Fine but It’s not your date,” said Nahum. Then she returned to the kitchen to lay the cakes and cookies out on a silver tray with a doily underneath and she prepared a pitcher of lemon aid with ice cubes and lemon slices floating in the sweet water.

“Gourmet. Can I have one?”

“Wait. Otherwise you’ll mess up the symmetry,”

“How did you keep everyone else from eating them.”

“Elazar is in yeshiva, I think…and I sent Moshe and Bella to the pizza store with a two hundred shequel note. and told them not to come back until 10.”

“So you’re thinking this will take a while.”

“Well I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about.”

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8D – Asher Has a Great First Date

Chapter 8D

In his latest shmooz Rav Benzi had a new message.

“When you are out with a girl don’t lose your head — even if she’s the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen.. Listen carefully to what she is saying and how she is saying it.” He repeated himself as if repetition would seal his message onto his listeners’ brains. Asher arched forward his hands pressed on his cheeks.

And yet Asher had, no dates scheduled Scarcely a week had passed since he’d met Sarena but he was gloomy. . “It’s dead. Nobody wants me, ” he told Itamar Levi when they returned to their room.

“Well there are other matchmakers, amuka, forty days at the kotel…”

“Yeah.” Asher’s head hung low as he hunched over his dormitory bed. “That might be a vision of my future. ”

“It’s not so bad.” Levi smiled

“Are you still seeing that girl? ,”Asher asked.

“Baruch Hashem,.”

Just then Asher’s phone rang. It was his father.

“Can you go out tomorrow night?”

That was a first, a date offered by his father of all people. He wasn’t a mystic but the timing, the call coming on the heels of Rav Benzi’s talk convinced him that this was more than this. coincidence; it was bashert, preordained. He didn’t use to think this way. Just a few months ago he would have demanded more information and certainly a photograph but his cancer scare had changed him. Marriage wasn’t a game. It was a mitzvah part of his pact with G-d, something he needed to do and according to Ethics of the Fathers he was four years late. He couldn’t put up roadblocks anymore. If his father said he should meet this girl, then he would.

“Yes, that’s fine,” he said. He didn’t even ask her name.

Asher meet Rahely at the same hotel where he’d met Elisheva Lefkowitz seven months before. Raheli’s parents brought her. Her father was a stout grey-bearded man in a black rabbinical coat and a homburg , her mother thin, scrawny looking, plain. Would Rahely look like her in thirty years?

Rabbi Silver quizzed him on his learning, but the questions were easy and superficial. His smile was warm and his handshake solid.

Rahely was tiny,. Even in heels Rahely barely reached his chin and Asher was average height. . How could he marry someone who was so short? Their kids would be midgets. Otherwise she wasn’t bad looking but her cheeks were red and bumpy, her eyes tiny dark slits but her smile was electric and her laugh was filled with music.. They sat together until a waiter warned them that if they didn’t leave soon they’d miss the last bus home.

“Yes too bad, ” said Rahely. “I usually hate these things. They are so awkward, but this has been lovely.”

Asher ‘s face turned warm and flushed.

Her words energized him. He took her home by taxi and then spent a half hour lingering at her door saying goodbye. When he got back to the yeshiva his room was empty. Good. He didn’t want them to ask questions. He would keep this quiet, to avoid the evil eye. As he brushed his teeth he hummed the Jewish wedding song his feet tapping along. Was Rahely doing the same thing? He hoped so but then he remembered Sarena Feldman. He’d come back from that date humming too but she rejected him. Looking back, he was glad. She may have been prettier that Rahely, certainly taller, but he liked Rahely better. There was something about her, chemistry. They laughed at each other’s jokes, liked the same music, the same books, the same places.

“Please ,” he prayed ” Let Rahely want to see me again too.”

Just as he was about to sit down to breakfast his father called. “Esther phoned. she says that Rahely wants another date. I’m really happy for you but can you call her yourself.”

“Sure , not a problem.”

This wasn’t the way things were usually done but Asher didn’t mind. He was glad to be in charge of his own dates.
He left his breakfast cottage cheese with a few slices of bread and a half a tomato untouched., Nothing would happen to it and he slipped out to a nearby playground. The place was deserted, only him and a very young mother and her pudgy faced toddler daughter, who played quietly in the sandbox.

Asher paced the circumference of the park punching Esther’s number into his phone over and over again the mother eyeing him suspiciously. . On the eleventh try he got through.

“Yes, she said she likes you. She wants to see you again” With that Asher leapt into the air and yelled yes, but the mother had already grabbed her daughter and they were making a hurried exit from the park.

“Esther, excuse me for a second…”

“Lady,” he yelled. “I’m not a terrorist,” but she’d already left.

He resumed his conversation with the matchmaker trying to schedule the next day as quickly as possible.

“Don’t see her today. Give her another day or two to digest this.”

“Why?. I like her . She likes me..”

Esther’s voice dropped an octave. “Please, just listen to me. I know what I’m doing. The date will be the day after tomorrow, And in the future I’d prefer to deal with your father or mother, not you.”

“My parents are okay with whatever I do. Just tell her that we’ll go wherever she wants to go Whatever is convenient for her. ”

After that Esther phoned Nahum. “Please, I’m in shul. Asher is an adult.”

“Yes he is but he isn’t . I know my business. If you want me to continue you’ll have to cooperate.”

“So call my wife.”

Molly was on her way to a new exercise class, soul cycle, dance moves performed on a stationary bike when Esther phoned. “I thought Nahum would be handling this.”

“He told me to call you. Doesn’t anyone in your family talks to one another”

“How dare— Molly was just about to give Esther a piece of her mind when she caught herself. “Please , give me a minute.”

She poured herself a glass of ice water and took long slow sips. No she couldn’t yell back. Esther had introduced Asher to a girl he actually likes. And yet she still felt insulted.

“I’m going to phone you. You are my contact person from now on and you will relay the messages.”

“But I think things went better without me.” Molly was was the kiss of death. Every match she’d researched or proposed had been torpedoed . For once she’d stepped out of seemed to be going.

“Your son can’t do it and your husband isn’t available. You’re going to have to take my calls.”

“Okay,” Molly felt like a private saluting a general. If only Esther weren’t so annoying but the circumstance beyond the call excited her. Asher seemed to care about this girl and she seemed to care about him. Love was in the air and she had a contact high.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8C – A New Shidduch is Proposed

Chapter 8c

At morning services, during the silent amida the solution appeared—. Rav Benzi . Lots of guys turned to him for dating help.

As soon as he unwrapped his tefillin and put them away in their velvet pouch he headed to Rav Benzi’s office. The door was open, the desk cluttered with open volumes of the Talmud, legal pads, pencils, a pen and a highlighter. The Rav Benzi arrived slightly out of breath. “I’m running to my next class but I’ve got a few minutes. Now what can I do for you?”

Once again, Asher opened his mouth but nothing came out. Why did his throat constrict whenever the subject matter of the conversation became uncomfortable. Would it clamp down when he had to ask his bride to marry him. He nervously fingered the loose change in his jacket pocket.

Rav Benzi tapped his pen on the desk. “Problems with shidduchim.?”

Asher’s face turned hot..

“Did you meet someone.’

Again he nodded. Rav Benzi dropped his pen and looked into Asher’s eyes.

“And she said no,”

Did Rav Benzi have, ruach hakodesh, a mystical sixth sense?

“I told my parents I didn’t care but I really do care and I can’t figure out why this girl doesn’t want to go out with me again. I hope I’m making sense”

“You didn’t want to tell your parents so as not to hurt them?”

“I guess so.”

“And you want to understand why the girl rejected you,’

“The shadchan said she wanted someone more spiritual.”

The rabbi chuckled.

“This girl clearly is not for you. Just be grateful that you figured it out so quickly. You wanted to save your parents from pain. That’s very noble. Hashem will reward you.” The conversation took under four minutes but a huge weight had been lifted.

On L’ag B’Omer Mrs. Attias’s grandson would be getting married on a distant kibbutz. When the invitation arrived a glossy gold postcard with an airbrushed photos of the bride and groom Nahum asked if the postman had made a mistake.

“Look” said Molly pointing to the handwriting beneath the raised gold print. “Please come it will mean so much to me. Miriam Attias.”

“Since when do you keep company with Moroccans?”

“You’re worse than Donald Trump; I drove Mrs. Attias to chemo. It’s her grandson. ”

On Lag B’omer night as the entire neighborhood glowed with the light of bonfires Driving through the smokey streets her windows rolled up to keep out the smell Molly thought about Asher’s recent date. Had he sabotaged himself? Did he open the door for Sarena? Did he let her sit down before he did? Did any of this even matter in shidduch dating?

Waze had offered her a route which cut through an Arab village. Molly drove a different way and got a bit lost. By the time she arrived, the huppa was long over and everyone was eating dinner. Mrs. Attias ran to greet her, smothering with her kisses, seating her at her side and loudly introducing her to the other guest as the “the angel who saved my life”.

When the music turned Middle Eastern Mrs. Attias got up to belly dance leaving Molly alone with a gaggle of French speaking Morrocans. Molly had taken Spanish in high school; she didn’t understand a word so she busied herself with eating — there were at least seven different kinds of salads and dips on the table not even counting the first course. The out of no where Esther Bernstein walked into the hall. The last time Molly saw her was that fateful day almost a year before when they met on the bus.

“What are you doing here? ” both women asked each other?

“I’m mishpoche. My stepson is married to an Attias.”

“Small world.”

“Isn’t it min shomayim how we just happened to meet? It always happens to me that way when I’ve got someone on my mind.”

Molly rolled her eyes. This sounded like a repeat of the Ayelet Gold fiasco. She wasn’t the same naif she’d been twelve months ago. She wasn’t going to go down that road again.

“I know you don’t believe me, but suspend you skepticism. I’m going to make your son’s shidduch and I’ve got his kallah Rahely Silver and she’s from Ramot Polin.”

“Have you got a thing for precious metals?”

“Molly you were always a scream. She really is a jewel.” Edie laughed loudly.

“If they live In Ramot Polin can they help with an apartment?” It didn’t seem possible that a family that lived in that neighborhood of bizarre beehive shaped apartments could be come up with serious sums.

“You never know what people have. I’ve seen families survive on bread and leben buy apartments for their kids but I know for a fact that they have $100,000. They’ve come up with that for the all the other kids.”

“So they’re Israeli’s.” Molly took a sip of water and looked away. ” Asher will only consider a girl from an Anglo home.” She hoped that would scare Esther away.

“Oh, heavens no.” Esther shook her so vigorously that the curls of her wig broke open. “They’re English, From Manchester. ”

Molly removed a pen from her evening bag and scribbled the name on a napkin. and then she left. She’d congratulated Mrs. Attias, discharged her social duty. Now it was time to get home. She put the napkin into her purse and forgot about it until the following morning. Then during her daily walk with Shulamis she asked Shulamis who was from Manchester. She’d know and she did.

“Fine family, lovely girl but the parents are very yeshivish people,” and then Shulamis’s voice dropped. “Not really your type, Molly”

“I didn’t really expect that she was.”

When she got home Molly threw the napkin away. Then Esther called.

“So did you look into this girl.”

“This just doesn’t sound right .”

“What? The Silvers want an answer. They heard about Asher and they think he’s perfect for Rahely. Please get back to me as soon as you can.”


“Boy,” she told Nahum. “That Esther is so pushy. She’s giving me the hard sell on this girl Rahely Silver from Ramot Polin”

“Oh yeah. I’ve got some contacts there from Rav Amram’s hevra. I can find out for you.”

That was a change. Nahum doing the legwork. Molly happily relinquished control. Despite Esther’s hard sell she still wasn’t convinced that this would go.

At dinner Nahum reported back. “I heard a lot of good things and I got a confirmation of the $100 grand. I vote yes.”

“Fine but you are in charge. You sell this to Asher.”


After Nahum went out to evening services Molly rifled through the file of resumes she had in her desk. She had four of them, two with pictures attached. She glanced at the resumes and picked the one that sounded the best. Avigayil Ginsberg aged 21 occupational therapist from Ramat Beit Shemesh. She picked up the phone to call the first references. “Oh didn’t you hear. Avigayil just got engaged last night.”

“Okay. I guess that wasn’t meant to be.”

She tossed Avigayil’s and picked up the next one. Yosefa Katz, aged 20 social work student. Ramat Shlomo. A helping profession–that meant that she was good hearted but also possibly neurotic and codependent. She’d make a note to ask about that but meanwhile she looked and sounded good enough to check out . She took out her notebook and wrote Yosefa Katz on the top of a clean page. Then she called a reference. “Sorry, she’s engaged.” Her too? Was having one’s resume sent to her a segula. Were the other girls engaged too?

She still had two left. Atara Braun aged 19 from Neveh Yaacov, studying architecture and a flaming red head. Asher didn’t like red heads and Shani Hochhauser, no photo, no profession, no age. She called Atara’s first reference only to be told that Atara and her family had relocated–to New York .”Well I guess that wasn’t beshert either,” she mumbled as she balled up the resume and pitched it into the trash. And as to no photograph Shani, the erstwhile matchmaker said that she’s presently busy. “I’ll phone you if she can date.”

So that left Esther Bernstein’s girl, Rahely. Nahum had volunteered to handle that one. That pleased her–a few less phone calls to make, a bit more free time on her hands. Nothing would happen. She was sure.

But Nahum came home from shul with a surprise. “That matchmaker, Bernstein texted me. She says the Silvers agreed. Asher and Rahely can go out.”

Now Molly was besides herself. Was this good news? She’d scarcely done any research. Should she ask for more time? Even though it was nearly eleven pm she phoned Shulamis Black. “They said yes.”

“They. Cant this wait until tomorrow”

“No, The Silvers said yes. for Asher.”

“Well mazal tov. I guess they are more open minded than I thought. That’s wonderful news. Baruch Hashem. I hope we hear good things. ”

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

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8B – A New Zman and A New Possibility

Chapter 8b

The day after Passover Molly stood inside closet pulling scarves. “The pink or the teal.”

“Either is fine” said Nahum. He hadn’t lifted his eyes to look. “What are you getting so dressed up for anyway?

“I’m going to a job fair.”

“A what? But you’re a yoga teacher and what about your volunteer driving??”

“I haven’t taught in months and even the volunteering dried up. Mrs. Attias is in remission and no one else seems to need me..”

“Well, “he looked at her. “Do you have a resume and business cards”

After Nahum left for morning prayers, Molly printed out an ancient resume. College, graduate school, yoga teacher training followed by a long list of all of the classes she’d ever taught, over fifty in all. Was that who she was now, who she wanted to be? Beyond that single instagram photo her food business had never moved from dream to reality. She was ambivalent about cooking for a living. While she loved cooking for her family she didn’t want to spend all her time in the kitchen. Years ago, she’d studied psychology but she didn’t want to spent her days in a chair listening to other people’s problems. She could sell real estate—she liked meeting new people and being on the go, but real estate could prove to be a dead end. What career was there for her? Her friend Shulamis Black babysat for her grandchildren while her daughters went out to work. One day maybe she’d be able to do that….if only Asher’s bride would appear.

The fair was in a community center auditorium across town, a clean modern place, with bright lights, white walls. The only employment available were computer jobs at US hours, a workday that began in the late afternoon and ended late at night

Why had she bothered . The night before staying up late storing the Passover dishes and returning the hametz dishes back to the kitchen. While she loved the work of creating the holiday restoring the status quo after was grunt work..

There was nothing here for her. She’d leave, go home, have a nap but as she made her way to the exit she saw a swathe of purple cotton rising up above the crowd. The only person that could belong to was Emuna Brod. Tall and stately as a palm tree Emuna Brod was an almost mythical figure, single-handedly supporting her scholar husband and thirteen kids with the English language school she conducted in her living room. All four of the Tumim children had been students at various times.

Molly eventually found Emuna ,manning her own table. She was expanding, seeking to train others to open similar schools.
“Interested?” she asked Molly.

For split second Molly imagined herself guiding a group of preschoolers to fashion letters from playdoh but then remembered how frustrated she got while she helped her own kids to plow through Emuna’s homework books.

“Let me think about it,”

“Well if you are interested I think you’d be smashing.. ” Emuna’s leathery face seemed to shine.

“Well good luck,” Molly turned to walk away when Emuna called her back. ” I was thinking, not about English. You know I do matchmaking. I’ve got a fabulous idea for you’re Asher. How I loved teaching him”

Molly was a sucker for compliments. ” Yes, tell me more.”

“I almost went mad when my kids were going through it but this girl will restore your faith. Sarena Feldman. Have you heard that name?”

Molly shook her head.

“She’s from Har Nof. Her mum is called Leah. ”

“Ah yes”. Years ago Leah Feldman had briefly attended her yoga class. She dropped out when she started going out to work but Molly had liked her.

“Sarena is a complete doll, gorgeous, ” Emuna added emphasis to that adjective. “intelligent and she comes with an apartment. Not that the Feldman’s are wealthy but they inherited two apartments and they are giving one with each daughter.”

By evening Sarena’s resume and photograph had landed in Molly’s inbox . She could have easily sponged off 50 per cent of her eyeliner but Sarena was indisputably pretty long slender face, an aquiline nose and dewy ski and an impressive list of accomplishments ; She danced, sang, baked and cared for mentally handicapped children and crafted beaded jewelry. At the bottom was a long list of references and phone numbers. Molly recognized all of them. Within a day she had the goods on Sarena. “Nahum, she sounds like a winner. Lets go for it.” and Nahum agreed. Almost as soon as they’d decided Emuna phoned. “See” said Molly ” that’s not a coincidence. That’ synchronicity. I can feel it in my bones.”

“The Feldmans are interested,”.

“That was fast,” said Molly.

“They heard very good things.”

Molly smiled. But then she thought of the photograph; how she’d show it to Asher and he’d point to the tiny pimple on the nose, the slight sprinkling of freckles, the teeth spaced too closely together. “What if you don’t show him the picture,” said Nahum.

“He’s going to ask. You know him.”

It was the final week of the month-long Passover vacation and Asher was in his room strumming plaintive Carlebach melodies on his guitar. “So Mom, are you just here for the chorus ”

“There’s a girl.”Daddy and I think it’s a good idea. The matchmaker is waiting for our answer. What do you say.

Asher strummed another chord. “Can I see a picture?”

“I thought you weren’t going to do that anymore.” said Molly.

“You are right. If you don’t have one then you can skip it but if you do—”

Molly brought him to the computer. For a very long minute he sat in front of the screen staring at every pixel of Sarena’s computer generated image. He’s never going to go for this, Molly told herself . Not in a million years. The he lifted his head and smiled. “Okay. A bit too much makeup but she’s fine.”

Four days passed from the moment Emuna made the suggestion until Asher met Sarena; In their circles this was almost speed dating.

The date took place at an old hotel in Geula, Sarena arriving with her father, a small trim man with a long beard who quizzed Asher on the Talmudic tractate he was studying.

“He actually seemed very nice.” Asher told his parents when he got home.

“You’re not marrying the father. What about Sarena,” said Nahum.

“She wore a striped mini dress with a skirt tucked underneath to conceal her legs and knees. “I don’t usually like that look but she pulled it off.”

A fashion critique was a bad sign but Asher was beaming. “I’d see her again.”

Molly threw her hands around Asher and let out a shriek that filled the entire apartment. Elazar ran into the living room and began to strummed od yeshama the Jewish wedding song on Asher’s guitar and Bella and Moshe started to dance.

“Not yet,’ said Asher. He gestured for them to tone it down but he was laughing. Then he grabbed his suitcase and returned to the yeshiva. “Call me when you hear from the matchmaker. I’m available whenever she is”.

That night Molly dreamed about her new daughter in law and her grandchildren to come. Nahum dreamed about the money he’d be saving by not having to buy an apartment . Bella dreamed about her makeup and up do and satin bridesmaids gown. Moshe and Elazar dreamed of the wild dancing and shots of whiskey at the wedding and Asher well he dreamed about what all prospective bride grooms dream about.

Though shidduch protocal decreed that the boy report back to the matchmaker the morning after the date, Molly was unable to reach Emuna. “Why don’t you text her,” said Nahum. “She has a kosher phone. No texts.”

“What about email?”

“I did. She didn’t answer.”

“Well with all those kids there must be something going on in her personal life.” Molly nodded in agreement. It never passed through either of their minds that that Sarena might not want to continue to date their son.

As stars began appearing in the night sky Emunah phoned

“I’m sorry. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but she said no. She liked him a lot but she’s looking for someone more spiritual.”

“No???”.How could she say no and what a lame reason.

“Asher spends twelve to fourteen hours a day learning the Talmud. What could be more spiritual than that.”

“Shall I to point that out to her?.”

“No,” Her future daughter in law would need to recognize Asher’s sterling qualities on her own.

Nahum had just returned home from evening prayers when she broke the news. “I can’t believe it. She said no.”

“Well then she’s clearly out of her mind.”

Molly didn’t smile. “I don’t know why she couldn’t give him one more chance. One date. That just doesn’t seem like enough. And Asher seemed to really care for her. How are we going to tell him.”

“I’ll help. He’ll be okay. You’ll see.”

Asher had just returned to yeshiva for the new zman. Just as he was leaving the study hall his parents phoned both of them speaking into the receiver together, a parental chorus in two part harmony.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” Asher’s voice was soft but flat.

“He didn’t sound so bad,” said Nahum after they hung up. ” I think he took it rather well.. “Yes Molly agreed. “Yeah but these kids play by a different set of rules. It isn’t as intense for them. I’m so happy that they don’t have to deal with the garbage we had to deal with.”

“Yes,” said Nahum. He doesn’t even sound hurt but Asher wasn’t quite as indifferent as his parents believed.

When he spoke to his parents Asher had purposely wrung his emotions from his voice just as he’d wring water from a floor mopping rag. His real feelings were like the murky puddle of water on the bottom of a bucket, complex and dark.

Standing under the shower, the hot water coursing over his body, he imagined Sarena, her thick blonde hair tied into a pony tail, her bright blue eyes, her general loveliness. She had smiled , she answered his questions, laughed at his jokes. Should he have discussed his Torah studies, told a Hassidic story, hummed a nigun.

He needed to hash this out but with whom? His parents wouldn’t get it—his mother would be too intense, and his father would brush him off and none of his friends, were available. Ezi had gotten engaged to a girl so amazing that his parents let him skip over his five single sisters. Yidy was busy with his wife and baby so,. Even Itamar Levy was dating someone.

Maybe he needed to go to an empty field to yell out to heaven like the Bratslav Hassidim but all the open fields had become construction sites.

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

Musical Chairs – Chapter 8a – The Cystoscopy

The morning before the cystoscopy Asher joined his father at Rav Amram’s little synagogue for morning prayers.

“Are you sure you want to come? You always said that that we daven too long.”But Asher insisted . For the first time in his life he appreciated the subtle beauty of the slow service with it’s contemplative melodies and extended meditative silences.

In many synagogues he got the feeling that the men were racing through their prayers eager to get them over with so that they could get to work or even to yeshiva.Though the yeshiva prayers tended to be slow, he knew that most of the guys preferred the intellectual exertions of study to the work of the soul. He’d been like that too but now ever since he’d become, sick, not really sick but health challenged he’d come to value prayer. He was utter powerless over the most elemental functions of his own body. . Prayer was the only real card he had to play and it felt good to be around people who understood this.

After the service ended told his father that he wanted to speak to Rav Amran. “Are you sure?”

In the past, Asher had avoided his father’s Rebbe preferring the Lithuanian Rabbis from his yeshiva. “Yes, I feel like I need a brocha. Does Rav Amram know what is happening with me?”

“No, I never said anything to him.”

Asher slid his hand into his fathers and together they walked to the front of the synagogue where Rav Amram studied from a holy book, wrapped in tallis and tefillin.

“I’m running to a bris now but come to my house at noon.”

Asher spent the morning helping his mother prepare for Pesach which on this day meant scrubbing the fridge gasket with a q tip and scraping around the cabinet knobs with a tooth pick, to extricate any residue of hametz, leavened substance .In the past he’d avoided Pesach cleaning spending hours in a neighborhood Bais Medrash and doing the bare minimum but this year he found the simple physical tasks soothing rather than tedious. As he work he sang loudly to the latest Schwecky CD which he played at full blast, the music filling his mind and pushing out the space where worry might have crept in.

At noon Asher arrived at Rav Amram’s to find the rabbi laying underneath his stove holding a power screw driver in his hand.

“This holiday, brings you down to earth before it takes you up to heaven. “.

Asher smiled wanly

“Feel free to talk. ” The rabbi rose up. He was in shirtsleeves.

“Should I wear my hat and coat or am I alright as is?”

Once again Asher voice failed him again . He stood at the entrance to the Rabbi’s kitchen stuck in awkward silence until Rav Amram looped his arm around his shoulder.

“So, what can I do for you.”

He’d never before noticed that Rav Amran’s eyes were bright blue and his face was open and full of light . He thought for a moment. Should he retell his story with all the gory details. No. He’d just ask for a blessing.

Rav Amram laid his hands on Asher’s head and whispered the priestly blessing. Then he mumbled a few more words. “Refua shlaima, complete healing, Hatzlacha, success and a zigug hagun benekal, a proper match easily located. Simchas. Celebrations.

On C-day Molly and Nahum escorted their oldest son now two months short of his twenty third birthday to the hospital, In the back Asher dozed a baby in a car seat. The day was warm , the sky a bright blue and the hills around Hadassah hospital swathed with green like a Middle Eastern Switzerland.

A stocky bleached blonde nurse with a thick Russian accent escorted Asher into the treatment room handing him a pair of hospital pajamas and leaving him alone. As, Asher waited he bit his nails as if he were a child again. His head throbbed, The night before he’d tossed as his mind explored his worst fears. What if the doctors would find something and even if they didn’t what if his body had a reaction to the anesthetic like Grandpa Fred?

He took a deep breath and then began to pray in his own words. “”Help me, Please don’t end my life now. I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll get married, I promise I won’t be too picky. I’ll find a good girl and build a family to give you nachas. G-d just let me live.”

Where were the doctors? How long would they leave him alone on an operating table shivering in threadbare pajamas.

In the morning his urine had been normal. Maybe he didn’t really need to do this. But just as he began to step down from the bed a deeply tanned man wearing scrubs arrived. .”I’m Dr. Moshe the anesthetist You like you’re getting off. ”

Asher obediently climbed back on the bed.

“Afraid?” Asher nodded slightly. What kind of question was this? Of course he was afraid. This man, had the power to end his life.

“It’ll be fine. You have a girl friend?”

Asher burst into laughter. Other than a non Jewish fellow, his father worked with no one ever asked him that.

“I wish I had one. I’m divorced for two years. I want to marry but this job doesn’t give me a moment to date and women aren’t’ interested in men who have no time for them….” Asher had never heard anyone talk this way and he was captivated Maybe he told this to all his patients, a bizarre ploy to calm their nerves but it worked. As Dr. Moshe continued his monolog anesthetic dripped into Asher’s vein . By the time, he finished Asher was unconscious.

Just outside Molly and Nahum sat nervously, Nahum scrolling through his email as Molly recited psalms. Then Nahum lifted his head and turned to his wife. “Are you thinking about my Dad?”

“Oh Nahum.” She clasped his hand in hers. It was trembling and cold.

“I can’t get it out of my head. I’m so scared.”

In a soft voice Molly hummed Shlomo Carelbach tunes with words from the pslams” I lift my eyes up to the mountain, where will my help come,” Nahum joining her until the nurse returned to tell them that the procedure was over.

When they entered the treatment room, Asher was wearing street clothes and Dr. Sadeh was there too, dressed in surgical scrubs. “Looks good, “he nodded. ” No need to worry”

“What about the bleeding?” Asher asked.

“It’s very minor. You’ll probably bleed today but I expect that it will stop very soon”

“And what about growths, can—” Asher could hardly say the word.

“Nothing, absolutely clean. ”

Molly threw her arms around her eldest son. Then she hugged Nahum and then all three of them huddling together in a circle of love.

On the ride home Asher asked about Shidduchim.

“Already? Molly face clouded. Don’t you want to recover from this first?.”

“Soon there will be a new crop of girls on them market.”

“Crop.????”Potatoes are crops, not girls”

“You know what I mean. Another bunch of girls. ”

At Passover a new group of 19 year old girls would enter the shidduch market— more girls for Asher to meet.

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

Musical Chairs – Chapter 7 – Asher Tries Some Alternative Medicine

Chapter 7

The night before his appointment Asher’s body passed a new shade—dark brown as if his bladder had turned into a cola machine. Lying awake on his dormitory mattress,he looked around at his roommates, all of them asleep. Why wasn’t he? Why was G-d torturing him? Where he’d gone wrong? He tried his best to stay away from girls. He rarely watched movies and never looked at porn. So why him?” G-d please show me what I need to fix and I’ll fix it. But please make me better.”

Towards morning he fell into a deep dreamless sleep and he woke up still feeling tired. In taxi to the hospital he felt so drowsy that he asked the driver to wake him when they arrived.

Dr. Sadeh was hardly the imaged of the distinguished professor of medicine. He wore jeans and a rumpled blue chambray shirt that hung tight over his oversized belly. His white hair was long and uncombed but diplomas on his wall said Hebrew, University, Harvard and Sloan Kettering.

“So,” the doctor tilted toward him, his pince-nez.dropping to the tip of his bulbous nose “You are still passing blood?”

Asher nodded.

“Then we must do a cystoscopy.”

“A cystoko what?” Asher could scarcely wrap his tongue around the word. He had readier grasp on thousand year old Aramaic phrases.

“A tiny probe inserted inside the organ determine if you have a growth.”

“Like cancer.”

“Well there are many types of growths but we have to rule that out. That’s why I’d like to do this quickly..”

Asher’s heart went into a rapid flutter. “Does it hurt?”

“No, I wouldn’t say. We do it under general.”

“General???” Asher’s heartbeat grew even quicker. Grandpa Fred, his father’s dad died under general during a routine procedure. Asher barely remembered him; Grandpa Fred lived in Minnesota where his Dad had grown up. He always remembered birthdays and every winter he sent each of Tumim children a bright red greeting card emblazoned with the words “season’s greetings.” When Asher asked his father to explain the phrase he said that it was like the greetings for a good week or a good month or a good year .It wasn’t until years later, when Fred died and his father didn’t sit shiva that Asher learned that Grandpa Fred was a goy. That didn’t bother him ; he liked the guy. How could he dislike a grandfather who mailed him a $100 bill twice each year?

“Call the office to schedule it but don’t wait too long.”

Asher paused to think There were still three weeks left to the zeman. It would certainly be easier for him to do this when he wasn’t at yeshiva. . Then no one would notice his absence but if something was growing he didn’t want to take any chances.

“Can I wait three weeks?”

“Yes but not a day more.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 7 – Asher Tries Some Alternative Medicine

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.”


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


“The shidduch or the cookie?”


“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.”


“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?”


“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, 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

A Member of the Tribe

By Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz

Before my family moved to Baltimore, I spent a great deal of time traveling internationally as a scholar in residence, speaking primarily on the topic of sustainability as refracted through the prism of a Torah-true lifestyle. My venues typically included shuls, Hillel and Chabad houses, JCC’s, Pesach programs and various environmental conferences. This week marks the anniversary of one of my most memorable teaching – and learning – experiences.

Several years ago, I was asked to participate in the Tribal Lands Climate Conference jointly hosted by the Cocopah Nation and the National Wildlife Federation. The conference, which that year was held on the Cocopah reservation on the outskirts of Yuma, AZ, highlighted the debilitating challenges facing the Native American population and their fight for survival in the face of crippling poverty, disease, rampant alcoholism and drug abuse all set against the backdrop of the tragic loss of tribal traditions which for a variety of reasons are not being transmitted to the next generation. I felt simultaneously honored and humbled that I was being asked to present a Torah perspective in an effort to help address their existential threats.

To be sure, despite the serious nature of the conference, there were lighthearted moments. A question on the registration form asked “What is your tribal affiliation?” Naturally, I responded in kind – “10 lost tribes – not sure which one”. Similarly, several of the media figures asked me to pose for photos with several of the tribal elders. One of the elders quipped, “Back in the day, we used to get 50¢ to pose for photos” to which I responded “Surely then a photo of a rabbi out here has to be worth at least a dollar!” He began asking me questions about shrouds and sitting shiva – it turns out he had done a stint with the Chevra Kadisha in California! Truth is often stranger than fiction!

So there we were – 155 Native Americans, including tribal elders from a score of tribes together with members of the AYEA (Alaskan Youth for Environmental Action – sort of an NCSY for Native American youth) and one bearded Orthodox Rabbi. One by one the speakers approached the podium each greeting the audience in their native tongue. Each tribal elder articulated their tribe’s historic but now tenuous relationship to the natural world. One of the elders lamented that his people were the People of the Salmon. Now that the (Colorado) River had been diverted, the salmon were disappearing and “once the salmon disappear, the People of the Salmon disappear”. Similarly, a tribal elder from Alaska (who lived more than 200 miles from the nearest road!) added that his people were the People of the Bear. Now that the bear were disappearing, it spelled certain death for the Bear People.

When it came my turn to speak, I greeted the crowd with a “shalom aleichem” to which the attendees joyfully responded “shalom” and “peace”. I explained that in my world there were no coincidences – that this conference could have been held anywhere in the universe but instead it was being held here in Yuma which in my sacred tongue meant “judgment day”. Further, I pointed out that 364 days a year, my people were people of the moon but on one day a year – December 5 – that very day – we were considered the people of the sun as we shifted the language of our prayers using the autumnal equinox as a baseline.

After my presentation, in a ceremonial gift exchange, one of the tribal elders presented me with a vial of what he called “living waters” from the pristine Navajo aquifer which his tribe (the Hopi) safeguards. The aquifer is reputed to be one of the purest water sources in the world. As the author of an article entitled “Water Conservation and Halacha – An Unorthodox Approach”, the gift was especially meaningful to me. I explained that in our culture as well the waters were similarly designated as “mayim chayim – living waters”. According to chassidic tradition, the well of Miriam – which sustained B’nai Yisrael through the desert until Miriam’s passing -courses through the veins of the earth and ascends every motzaei shabbos through all water sources the world over – even running up and down the maple trees on our farm as sap. I then closed the circle by presenting him with a bottle of maple syrup that we had produced on our farm in Vermont, ostensibly including the waters from his aquifer.

On the flight home from Phoenix, I contemplated why Hashem had sent me to this remote corner of the earth to speak. What was I doing there? Was I sent to “give over” or to receive or both?

Several months later, I was invited to conduct a “maple tisch” at a Jewish food conference where the sweetness of Torah, chassidishe stories, zemiros, niggunim and maple syrup flowed freely. I was sharing my experiences out in Yuma and then touched upon my unsettledness – as of then still unresolved – as to why I had been sent. I began to narrate the famous passage in Rashi’s Torah commentary wherein he describes the ephod worn by the high priest as an apron worn by noblewomen while they ride horseback. I explained the celebrated back story of Rashi seeing a noblewoman riding one day. Characteristically modest, he was bothered by the sight and he wondered why he had had to experience it. It was only years later when he sat down to compose his immortal commentary on the Torah and needed to describe the ephod, that he realized that in retrospect, his seeing the noblewoman afforded him an insight as to what the ephod probably looked like as well as what function it served.

I shut my eyes during a soulful niggun and began to hear the words of the Native American tribal elders in my head – “When the salmon disappear, the Salmon People disappear – when the bear disappear, the People of the Bear also disappear.” Suddenly it became clear why I had been sent. When we concluded singing, I continued to the mostly not yet frum audience, “So too, we are the people of the Shabbos – the Shabbos People. When Shabbos disappears, the Shabbos People also disappear. We are the People of Kashrus – the Kosher People, if you will. If kashrus disappears, then the Kosher People also disappear. Heads nodded knowingly, smiles all around, glasses raised, throaty “l’chayims” offered and the niggunim continued to echo over the frozen lake into the small hours of the wintry Shabbos night.