By Baila Sebrow
Let me tell you about myself. I am a 52-year-old divorced female (but I am told that I look like I am in my late thirties/early forties). I am college-educated and have had a career for over 20 years in information technology. I attended New York University, and after I became religious, I went to Touro College and Machon Chana Seminary in Crown Heights. I have two wonderful children, ages 15 and 19, I am well-read, learn with two chavrusas each week, fight against anti-Semitism, and I am politically active.
Reading this, you would consider me a great catch and would think of a number of gentlemen with whom to set me up for a shidduch date. If you are a Modern Orthodox shadchan, you would probably be excited to work with me.
Oh, by the way, I am also black.
Most people never try to find out anything I just mentioned other than that last sentence. They see that I am a black Jew and assume that I must be matched up with another black Jew no matter what, since we would “have so much in common.”
In fact, one lady wanted to set me up with a gentleman, but she was not even sure if he was halachically Jewish. All she knew was that he was black and had “Jewish heritage,” and thus it could have been a good fit. This issue came to a head for me this weekend when everyone was suggesting a famous basketball player as a shidduch. Again, no one paid attention to the age difference (he’s 13 years my junior) or anything else about me. All they saw was: he is black and Jewish, and she is black and Jewish; thus, it is a match. Heaven forbid I object or give them mussar on the situation. I am then seen as ungrateful or not wanting to get married. If I dare ask if they do something similar for their daughter or other female relatives, they stop talking to me altogether.
I am writing this today because I want people to stop, think, and then internalize the words of Hillel, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; that is the entire Torah…”
Your heart-wrenching letter unfortunately describes the frum shidduch world perfectly. I believe one of the reasons you wrote to me is because you know I would never glaze a bitter-tasting pill with sugary toppings. Undoubtedly, you surely heard enough phony and bogus responses when you voiced your genuine complaints to those who do exactly as you describe. As a shadchan, I will share with you from my experience that your treatment as a black Jewish woman would not be that much different than if you were white and divorced with kids. Shadchanim would typically want to match you with a man who is white and divorced with kids.
Whether it is about the color of one’s skin, financial, or family status, type of employment, schools, or camps attended many decades ago, or anything else that diverges slightly from the norm, people size up others and determine what they deserve without giving thought to what they need to make a happy marriage. Most of the time the rejections are not only nonsensical, but cruel. There is no end to the biases that exist when it comes to shidduchim.
You are correct in your assessment that the shadchanim help foster shidduch discriminations. I can appreciate that a shadchan wants to give her or his clients what they want. But it does happen that there are quite a few singles who are open-minded, particularly in your age bracket, and who are not only attracted to a black woman but have come to the realization that happiness does not include abiding by the rules imposed by self-appointed experts. Some of these shadchanim will not give these singles the chance to meet by making the suggestion and have them figure out compatibility for themselves.
It goes so far that there are shadchanim who specialize in very specific kinds of shidduchim, and they will decline anyone else. Since when did that become OK? A shadchan is a partner with Hashem in bringing souls together on this earth. I don’t claim to speak for G-d, but I have a pretty good hunch that He does not discriminate when He is mezaveig zivugim. In fact, when singles are left to their own devices in meeting their match, more often than not they will marry someone who falls within an “out of the box” sphere of their community’s trend of shidduch suitability.
It is interesting that you brought up the famous basketball player whose search for a shidduch went viral. Everyone and their grandmother started contacting black Jewish women they know to suggest him as a shidduch. A fellow shadchan, in fact, called me about a black woman I am assisting with shidduchim, and she had the bright idea that I should set her up with this gentleman. To validate your point, the only reason she thought it was a good idea was because they both have the same color of skin. I couldn’t help myself, and I humored this shadchan by asking her why she thinks it’s a good idea. She matter-of-factly responded, “Well, they are both black and Jewish.”
I replied, “And what else makes this a good match?”
As I live and breathe, she answered, “Well, what else do they need? There aren’t too many other possibilities for him!” My heartrate went up after hearing that, and I cannot share with my readers what I actually told her, but I don’t think this woman will ever want to talk to me again!
You are right in quoting Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; that is the entire Torah…” Sadly, the shidduch world has lost the real meaning of that verse in more ways than one could imagine. Every day, something else pops up that contradicts the way frum Yidden need to conduct their lives.
The fact that you had the courage to raise this issue and bring awareness to a hushed-up topic is praiseworthy. You are a beautiful soul. You have accomplished tremendously in your life, as a Jewish woman and professionally, while raising children as a single parent. That is no small feat. You have so much to be proud of.
Because of your letter, this topic will be discussed in many homes and circles throughout major communities. There will be those who will now look at wonderful singles such as you and realize how wrong they were, and hopefully bring about changes in their perception and the manner in which they address shidduchim, whether for themselves or others. But even so, you and everyone else who experiences any injustice or inequality cannot change each person.
You convey incredible strength and spirit. For starters, stay away from anyone who make you feel uncomfortable in any way. I am referring to all aspects of your life, not just shidduchim. People who are insensitive and discouraging emanate enough negative energy to bring down your morale. Surround yourself with positive people and be proactive in getting the word out that you are seeking a shidduch based on compatibility. List those facets that you consider important to you. When someone suggests a shidduch that you do not feel is right for you, do not worry about offending them for rejecting the suggestion. Thank them for thinking of you and politely decline the shidduch. If they pressure you to go out on a date with a man you don’t even want to meet, end the conversation.
Nowadays there are more prospects available to meet like-minded singles than ever before. Singles events on Zoom can afford you the opportunity to get to know men in other cities, states, or countries. I am not sure if you can relocate or not, but oftentimes there are men who are able to do so. You might even be able to meet men in your own city in such a way. If you are amenable to in-person events now, utilize that option, too. I am also a believer in singles forming their own private events. Many shidduchim have come about from inviting friends who are also single to join in pot-luck dinners or get-togethers with light refreshments.
Be as sociable as you can, and continue to do whatever you have been doing thus far with regard to your profession and spiritual growth. With Hashem’s help, you will find your bashert who has been on the hunt for a special woman like you. May you be zochah to find each other easily and build a beautiful bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com and Israel News Talk Radio. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.