ByÂ By Larry Gordon
The event took place in the epicenter of what can conceivably be referred to as the shidduch headquarters, if there is such a thing. It was last week in Lakewood, New Jersey, at Beis Medrash Govoha, and the annual event billed as Keren HaChasanim was under way. It is a wonderful experience. I traveled to Lakewood after work last Tuesday night with Yoeli Steinberg, the CEO of the Gourmet Glatt stores.
Over the previous Shabbos, he suggested that I accompany him to Lakewood, and though the Lakewood culture, so to speak, is really not part of my purview or usual domain, I agreed because it would be a new experience and possibly–as you can see–something I could expound upon that would end up in our newspaper and on our website, as well as posted on our other digital outlets.
Lakewood is more than just a city deep in the state of New Jersey. Lakewood is one of the leading yeshiva centers in the world, a bastion of scholarship and a beacon of the light of Torah to the world. But Lakewood is also a city made up of diverse people within both the similar but simultaneously different parts of the Jewish community. That dichotomy is more pronounced when it comes to the matter of making matches between the young men and women. While shidduchim thankfully occur every day, there is a still a crisis of sorts that looms large.
So let me first tell you about the wonderful event we attended last week that is somewhat unique and also inspiring before I get bogged down in the discussion of other issues.
The dinner, which was sponsored by Gourmet Glatt of Lakewood, featured the participation of hundreds of young men who were there to ostensibly pledge their support for one another by committing to donate $300 from the gifts accrued at their own weddings, once they take place. Building this type of internal charitable mechanism results in young men who require assistance in preparing for their own weddings receiving a stipend of $3,000 each.
So I am introduced to the “Lakewood shadchanim,” the men who make it happen in that community. They are headed up by the personable Meir Levy. When I asked Meir straightforwardly how many shidduchim he has engineered, he quickly responded “328.” But that was last week so the number might have increased.
Aside from Meir, who has developed quite an international reputation for making shidduchim happen, there are two or three other Lakewood matchmakers. All are busy as there are thousands of boys in the yeshiva, many in the same age bracket with the same interests–getting married and learning for a while in yeshiva either here in Lakewood or in Israel.
I overhear someone talking to Rabbi Levy about a couple of ideas for his daughter and he immediately discounts both of them almost reflexively, saying that they are just not good ideas. I was interested in the mechanics of how he knocked those ideas down so quickly and asked him about it.
He explained to me that the girl in question was from a “balabatish” home but that she was looking for a “yeshivish” shidduch. I must have looked a bit confused so he immediately gave me a brief crash course on the different types that exist not only in Lakewood but in just about all frum communities, including the Five Towns.
He explained that there are three major categories of homes from which both boys and girls can originate, and that is how they are naturally divided in the shidduch world. They are, in no special order, “balabatish,” “heimish,” and “yeshivish.”
It seems that for the girls and boys from these homes, since their social lives are determined and directed by their parents most of the time, the dominant preference is to stay within the bounds of what they are most familiar with.
That means that heimish will be most comfortable marrying into another heimish family, yeshivish with yeshivish, and so on. It just might be that one of the causes of the inordinate number of older Jewish singles on the market–even in Lakewood–is the reluctance to intermingle within the different categories or classes, if I can call it that. When a child from a balabatish home becomes more yeshivish or more heimish, shadchanim like Meir Levy have to figure out where they fit in–which can be both time-consuming and problematic.
Even more potentially challenging is when there is a mixture or an overlap in a family, which is not uncommon today. According to the shadchanim who I spoke to for the purposes of this essay, the matter is becoming increasingly complicated as the crossover between the various classifications becomes even more blurred.
So what are these classifications or tribal affiliations really about in the first place? On the surface, it seems that the thrust of these lifestyles is not as important as what they seem to represent on the surface, and why they cannot be mixed or matched is even more interesting.
Let’s take a look at balabatish. The Jewish Language dictionary features several meanings for the word. It states that balabatish means: “normal, quiet, well-mannered, or middle-class.” When it comes to shidduchim, however, the meaning diverges quite a bit from those otherwise simple definitions. For shidduch purposes, it seems that balabatish essentially means that the folks in question–usually the parents of the boy or girl–are respectable people. They might be working people and perhaps even folks who have experienced some success in business. This is all fine and good and even a broadly popular lifestyle to maintain, but balabatish people usually need to do shidduchim with other balabatish people, though not necessarily.
Then there is the next category–heimish. That same dictionary defines heimish on an elementary level as “friendly, cozy, and informal.” But when the word is used in the context of shidduchim, it denotes a perhaps more intense type of frumkeit–if that kind of thing can be measured.
Actually, according to some shadchanim, heimish has the ability to contain within itself elements of both balabatish and yeshivish. And therein lies one of the potential pitfalls. While balabatish and heimish can mix when it comes to a shidduch, it is not so fast when it comes to yeshivish.
My superficial impression is that of all the members of these categories, the yeshivish folks might be the ones who are most determined to stick together. All those belonging to these categories are deeply religious, lead pious lifestyles, and are committed to tefillah and Torah scholarship. So where is the cultural divide?
It might be nuanced and not much of a discernable difference to us here on the outside looking in. If you are on the ground, however, there in Lakewood, the differences loom quite large.
Somehow the shadchanim in Lakewood–whether Meir Levy, Tzadok Cohen, or PD Roth–get it done with remarkable success, and that is only because they are the very best at what they do.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.