Thursday, November 30, 2006

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

It starts at shul. I’m just standing, enjoying some snacks laid out on the table after davening, when I feel a pair of eyes on me. She’s late-middle aged, her hair is covered (she’s married,) wearing glasses, a masticated baby rattler from her children or grandchildren trailing from her pocket. Slowly, she weaves her way across the room, husband in tow.
“Hi my name’s Michael, and this is my wife…”
“… Sarah,” she finishes for him. “We haven’t seen you here before.”
His mission on this Earth now discharged, Michael submissively bows his head and tries to drift off.
“Well, I moved into town three months ago,” I respond.
Now she’s perked up. I’m potentially single guy, and I’m local. Blood in the water!
“Where are you from what do you do?”
“Walnut Creek, California. I’m an engineer.”
And now to work the conversation towards the real question. It’s a delicate question and must be asked with tact and subtlety. It can come in the form of, Are you living alone? Or, Did you arrive with family?
“So are you single?”
The direct approach. This one’s been in Israel for a while.
Her mind rushes into action. Single. Employed. Not a psychopath. Her eyes glaze over as she re-routes all available brain power to scanning her mental rolodex of single girls. At this point, I could say just about anything. I try to make conversation to fill the dead air.
“You know, the hills sure are steep here in Jerusalem. It’s tough to ride my bike.”
“Did I mention that I’m a world-class athelete? I took home gold in the water balloon toss in the 2003 Fall Olympics.”
“And in my spare time I’ve genetically modified the Holstein cow to excrete four different flavors of ice cream, one from each teat.”
“And I’ve…”
*BING* The glaze vanishes from her eyes. Her mental search has yielded a fruit. “I think I know someone you might be interested in.”
Next comes the glowing description, followed by a strong personal recommendation.
“My husband will call you Motzei Shabbat.” (Saturday night.)
Sometimes she forgets and I don’t have her name, so the opportunity is lost.
Sometimes, she calls me back with a negative answer.
“She said she’s not interested right now.”
“She’s out of town for the next month.”
“I didn’t realize she’s married with four kids already.”
But once in a while, I get a positive lead, and a phone number. Then comes the first phone call.
I’m praying she doesn’t pick up. Just let me leave a message. It’s sooooo much easier.
Ring… “Shalom?”
“Wait, who are you?”
Name! Think, now, what’s my name?
“Uh… Ephraim?”
“Oh yeah, my aunt/grandmother/dermatologist told me you’d be calling. Sure.”
Score! El-Smootheo strikes again!
Next comes the first date, stammering at each other at a coffee shop over a cup of orange juice (she’s just learned I’m caffeine intolerant.) We’ll get the ball rolling with a search for common acquaintances.
“Uh… do you know Motti, the guy at the door who checks your backpack for explosives at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry?”
“I was born here. I’ve never been to the Absorption Ministry.”
“Oh. Uh… do you know Shlomi, my barber in Pisgat Ze’ev?’
“No. And what are you doing living in Pisgat Ze’ev?”
“I had cousins there and they offered to take me in until I got settled.”
“You mean you’re still living off your family?”
“NO! It didn’t come out right.”
Hmmm… best to just take a breather and sip my orange juice for a bit. Veeeeeeery slooooooowly. Let’s see if she takes a turn.
“So what did you do in the Army?” she asks.
Uh-oh. This is the big Israeli thing that I have no experience with. And I don’t really care what she did in the Army. Actually, most religious girls go through national service, but it’s still conscription, something all Israelis go through.
“Well, so far they haven’t called.”
And that’s what it usually comes to. My dates hit a roadblock, or at least a severely congested checkpoint, because I don’t share any common experiences. I don’t know if the last four years in America have fossilized me as an outsider, if it’s personality or lack of experience, but the female Israeli mindset is very difficult to navigate.
Speaking with one of my Rabbis, I hear some sage advice, “The fact that you’re a guy and she’s a girl will give you enough work, don’t add to it the fact that you’re an American and she’s an Israeli.”
But where to find immigrants? It’s time to seek professional help. Enter the matchmakers, the shadchaniyot!
Ringing the doorbell, I’m welcomed in and shuttled off to an antechamber in the apartment.
“We’re finishing up with someone else, and we will be with you in fifteen minutes. Please, make yourself comfortable.”
The waiting room even has a magazine. Talk about professional! All that’s missing is the strip of butcher paper over the bed. I feel like I should be stripping down and changing into a gown.
The door opens, “We’re ready to see you.”
The shadchaniyot crouch poised over their forms, pens at the ready. I hand over my passport photographs and references. The questions come rapid fire:
“Date of birth?”
“Religious from birth/newly religious/convert?”
“Level of religious observance?”
“How would you describe yourself?”
Next, questions about the girl you’re looking for:
”Do you want a television in the house?”
“What age range do you prefer?”
”Do you want her to cover her hair?”
“What midot (personality traits) are you looking for?”
“Don’t be shy. If you don’t tell us exactly what you’re looking for, we won’t know.”
And now, with the questioning done, it’s time for the matchmaking minds to begin working. Most communication is done telepathically, although sometimes sentence fragments slip out.
“What to you think about…”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“But wasn’t she involved in…”
“Yes, but that was before, now it’s…”
“No, I don’t remember if that was a problem…”
“It wasn’t…”
”Now do you think he would work with Leah…”
“… no, too Israeli..”
”But she’s over… no she’s not yet.”
”Well, I think that Illana, would, you know,…”
“…yes, of course!”
Suddenly, both heads turn towards me.
“Okay, we have a list of names that we think you would go well with. We’ll call them, to make sure they’re available, and then we’ll call you.”
An hour after entering, I step back out into the cold winter night. Still single, but hope springs eternal.


Yaakova said...

I love this post!!!
I know, I'm such a girl. :)
Best wishes with your search!

Baleboosteh said...

Good luck Evan!

Ephraim said...

Yaakova & Baleboosteh,

Thanks. I'll need the luck. Just gotta keep getting out there!


Yaakova said...

I have an idea to solve the would-be shadchan comments that end up going nowhere. It takes a little courage, but it's something that I'm learning to do in my business. People are always telling me they know of someone who might need my real estate services, but they give no contact info, and it goes nowhere. I've started asking for a phone number right away. Otherwise, I never hear from these phantom clients.
Not that you would ask for any girls phone numbers, mind you-- but you could carry a pen and a little pad of paper in your pocket, and jot down the impromptu shadchan's (or more precisely, her husband's) phone number. Just doing that would probably encourage them to take your number, and it would remind them to follow up. (Or if you don't hear from them, you could follow up by calling to ask them if they've had a chance to talk to so-and-so and is she still available?)
Seriously, you'd get more dates that way. And being a guy, people wouldn't think you're being too direct. In fact, they'd probably respect you for it.
Of course, if a woman tried this, it wouldn't work: she'd look desperate and pushy...

Ephraim said...

Actually, I carry my palm pilot at all times, so if someone gives me a lead, I can pick it up quickly.

The only issue is that on Shabbat, i can't write (it's one of the melachot, activities Jews do not to on Shabbat.) Perhaps I could make myself a shidduch business card?

Yaakova said...

Hee hee... an actual shidduch business card.. that's a little over the top. But giving them a regular business card (and asking for theirs) would work! As long as you can carry those on Shabbat; I'm not sure. (I know observant women don't carry their purses, but ? I really don't know about carrying other stuff.
Good luck!