Say what?: Are these the Middot we want to encourage?
By Throwing Money at the "problem?"
This jem of a piece was published in the Yated two weeks ago and nearly every part of the letter blows my mind and leaves me saying "what???" since it brings to light so many different issues and highlights so many issues with the shidduch system that apparently some would rather encourage, instead of fight. Since it would be near impossible to write up an entire critique, I am publishing the letter below and adding my comments in the margins.
As a young kollel wife living in Lakewood, my husband and I often "dabble" in shidduchim. On a typical week, we spend between ten and fifteen hours redding shidduchim to family members, friends and acquaintances.
I dabble. You and your husband are obviously very involved.
Through our experiences, between speaking with girls' parents, boys' parents, rabbeim, mechanchos and professional shadchanim, we have come across an extremely disturbing phenomenon. Let's title it "The Support Factor."
I agree. The "Support Factor" is disturbing. But, let's face it, this is a creature of the community's own making!
A boy who wants to learn in kollel may realistically anticipate the need for solid financial support over the next few years. At the same time, parents of many girls express deep concern regarding how they will be able to support their sons-in-law who are learning. The parents of these girls come from many different places - some are from New York, others from out of town, some are mechanchim, while others are ba'alei batim with large families and many children to take care of. They cry to us, and to other shadchanim, that their daughters cannot get dates, though they are good girls from fine families. Other than the select few - meaning those who are wealthy or whose families are smaller - most of girls' parents seem to be saying the same thing: The numbers just don't add up.
- A few notes:
It is not impossible to "get dates," but it might be impossible to get dates with the people you desire to date. When an older Ba'al Teshuva Cohen with children is having a hard time getting dates, I cry. When a 21 year old lady cannot get a date with the exact type of guy she wants to date and she won't consider anything less, I don't shed so many tears. Many people can't have exactly what they want, whether it be materially or spiritually. That is life!
Parents: There is no need to stay up late at night worrying about how you will support your future son-in-law (more about this in a future column). My recommendation: give your daughter a budget that YOU can afford and that YOU are willing to give her with an open hand and an open heart. You can give that budget in anyway you choose: a lump sum, a monthly budget that increases, decreases, or varies with circumstances, or help with babysitting. Stop worrying and let figure out the best way to approach her goals in life.
Parents: There is no good reason to shield your daughters from reality. If they are old enough to marry and old enough to have children, they are old enough to prioritize and make decisions for their (future) family and for their children's chinuch. Protecting your children from making decisions within the confines of reality will only lead to disappointment. By shielding your children, are you really doing them a favor?
An elementary-school rebbi recently called my husband to ask for a shidduch for his daughter. This rebbi has a large family and is now looking for a shidduch for his eldest child. He told my husband, "My wife and I can barely cover our own mortgage and make it through the month. How will I be able to give my daughter $1,000 a month? If I squeeze, I can maybe afford $300 a month. "
Wait one minute! We are constantly being told that a wife can support a family in a "kollel lifestyle" on her job alone. If the parents can squeeze $300 a month out of their budget to "support," and the daughter and her future husband make a conscious decision to live on the bare minimum, it doesn't sound like anyone will starve! And, if they do suffer? Well, once again, they can make decisions to reflect their reality!
My husband explained to him that a young couple living on the bare minimum in a basement that is a 35-minute walk away from the yeshiva (Bais Medrash Govoah) will require at least $2,000 a month (and that is the smaller end of the estimate). If a couple would seek a larger apartment, or if they need to cover their own health and car insurance, the monthly sum is much greater. How is this rebbi to cover even those basic costs?
Well, I don't know much about the living costs in Lakewood. But, I'm having a hard time believing that a couple can't get by on anything less than $2000 a month. And, I see no problem with living on the "bare minimum" in a basement apartment or living a 35-minute walk from the Bais Medrash.
Let us not mistakenly think that it is only the rabbeim who are suffering. After speaking with the elementary-school rebbi, my husband received a call from a different mother regarding her single daughter. This girl's parents both work and earn a nice living, yet they, too, felt that they could not give more than X dollars a month, a sum which would be balked at on today's discriminating shidduch market. The mother explained that, as working parents, they do not enjoy some of the "breaks" that those in klei kodesh, such as a rebbi, receive. At the same time, the simple fact that her husband is a ballabus does not guarantee that extra money is available each month. These parents, who are both hardworking people, have seen their daughter rejected many times because of their inability to give more than a certain amount of money per month.
The writer is correct that, by definition, a ba'al ha'bayit is not loaded. But, once again, this crisis is, in many ways, brought on by the demands of a single who can only imgine herself married to a kollel yungerman. To me this demand is as ridiculous as a young lady refusing to date men who are not M.D.'s and then proceeding to complain to all their friends how they cannot get dates. Yes, I understand that it is more difficult for young ladies to find dates than young men, but when you categorically refuse entire classes of dates, you aren't helping yourself!
My husband is in daily contact with one of the known shadchanim in the Jewish world. Often, the two of them share stories and exchange ideas for shidduchim. Recently, while discussing this dilemma, the shadchan told my husband an outstanding story, which my husband has repeated (with permission) to several rabbonim and known askonim in our community.
The story goes as follows: This shadchan was recently out-of-town for a chasunah. One of the baalei batim from the community approached him during the chasunah and said, "What do you think we should do about the shidduch crisis? While I myself do not have any children in shidduchim, I would like to do something to help the situation. What can I do?"
The shadchan noted another man standing nearby and said, "You see that man over there? He has a daughter in shidduchim, but she cannot get a date because he can only afford to give her $500 a month. Match that amount, and pledge an additional $500 a month on her behalf?" "Done," the man said, pledging himself to $6,000 a year. "Would you be willing to pledge to support them for five years?" "Done," the ballabus said, now increasing that amount to $30,000 over five years.
Ah, the solution to every problem. . . throw money at it! I should have known.
The shadchan then explained to my husband that he encounters, on a day-to-day basis, girls who are rejected for shidduchim because their parents do not have a certain amount of money to "put down." The shadchan proposed that the askonim in our community, who are so willing to give tzedakah for yeshivos and other worthy causes, help the shidduch crisis in an innovative, practical and concrete way: by pledging money to help support girls who wish to marry kollel boys. This can be organized on a community-wide basis, meaning that each community can "match" an askon to a girl who would benefit from the extra support. In a larger community, this can be organized by shul, school, or neighborhood, meaning that people from each neighborhood can be matched together in a type of "Yissochor-Zevulun" relationship.
So, basically the solution proposed is that the community should encourage what can only be considered bad middot, by giving into the demands of boys who refuse dates with fine girls because their parents can't provide? I wouldn't call this is a solution at all: I'd call it aiding and abetting terrible middot!
Basically, we should encourage less support for Jewish education, and more support for young men who are demanding that everyone (the wife, the parents, donors, grandparents, the government, and the community) should support them? I wouldn't call this is "Yissachar-Zevulan" relationship at all!
Funds pledged to these girls now have a two-fold purpose: Firstly, these funds can help alleviate shidduch-related stress from parents who previously had difficulty with support. An indirect, though by no means secondary effect, is that this money will help support a kollel couple in need when the girls do find their zivugim. In this way, the money will be working double-time, doubling the dividends and zechuyos achieved.
After discussing this issue with the shadchan, my husband approached an askon who is a close family friend, and presented this idea before him. Surprisingly, without batting an eyelash, this man thought of four girls he knows in need of shidduchim, and personally pledged money on their behalf.
The problem is not that the money isn't there; it's that the idea is simply yet to be implemented!
Well, the money might be there. But, there are still limited funds. And, when the money from big donors is re-routed from Kollelim to Chatanim, it will come as no surprise when kollelim as coming up short for payroll. As it is right now, elementary schools in Lakewood are unable to fund themselves. Let's not be surprised when these schools are in more red than they are in currently, if this plan takes hold (and, judging by the fact that nearly every program, but funding K-12 education is able to take hold, I won't be surprised if I end up on mailing lists for such a program soon!).
Some of you might be skeptical, maintaining that the "support factor" is not what is hindering many girls' shidduchim. You may be shocked to hear this: A girl's family was finding it difficult to get through to a boy. When my husband called up the boy's mother, she explained that she had heard the girl's name, but she had also heard that the girl's parents could only afford "X amount" per month.
When my husband mentioned that this was no longer the case, as a "wealthy grandparent" was providing additional funds for the girl, the mother thought about it and said, "Well, now it's a different story. We'll definitely look into it again since that was the only issue stopping the shidduch."
As a parent, I personally wouldn't be thrilled to look into the shidduch at all now! But, I digress. Let's just hope that the donor doesn't default on a payment and the "grandparents" end up with one angry chatan on the telephone line.
Oh, and goodluck to a kallah who is only being looked at for her "assets." I'm glad my husband doesn't think of me as a balance sheet and income statement! (Although, I should add, my husband is thrilled I know how to run a fiscally sound household!)
Members of our community, and Yated readers in particular, are acutely aware that we are in the midst of an unprecedented shidduch crisis. The number of single boys and girls increases each year. Girls despair over the lack of prospects, while boys complain that they are inundated with "names" and "lists" of girls. Our response to this crisis has been: shidduch forums for discussion, shidduch meetings to help minimize the crisis and community-based funding offering shadchanim "bonuses". Jewish newspapers, such as the Yated, print letters almost every week, filling column upon column of readers lamenting the shidduch crisis. In the end, we have only achieved a sad awareness of how hard it is to tackle this issue and how far we have to go.
And the bottom line is this: People are willing to do almost anything to help with shidduchim. With the crisis gaining momentum each year, we must be "michadesh"; we must come up with new and innovative ways to help each other. Responses and comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tizku l'mitzvos and thank you.
(I'm guessing that my ideas of expanding the shidduch pool for young ladies and accepting the fact that not every parent can or should try to "support" is neither "new," nor "innovative," nor "wanted" advice?)