Esther Schonfeld, Esq.

By Larry Gordon

On Wednesday night here in the Five Towns there was an Orthodox Jewish singles extravaganza that featured some of the most noteworthy and proficient shadchanim who have demonstrated the aptitude to get things going for young men and women looking for a suitable match, marriage, and the ability to move on with life.

I’ve said and written this for many years, and an abundance of people seem to agree–there is something terribly off-balance with this system that many in our community have been employing now for decades. That is not just here but in Orthodox communities around the world.

Sure, there are plenty of young people dating, and, thankfully, on a daily basis there are engagements and marriages. At the same time, however, too many of these young people are being left out of the loop, by the wayside, and missing opportunities because they are beholden to a system that has too many flaws and is not comprehensive enough.

Just take a glance in this publication at our weekly shidduch column by Baila Sebrow. Week after week, it features expressions of frustration, with those who write in saying repeatedly that they have older single children at home with no avenue or direction to pursue in order to go out and explore possibilities that may potentially lead to achieving the desired objective of marriage.

Some people will comment that the system is corrupt. They might insist that it is only young men and women from families of means who are getting the attention needed from the matchmakers with track records of success.

While that theory features some traces of truth in it, that way of thinking is too cynical and is just not helpful or productive. However, this matter has evolved over the years, and the result is that a generation or two of young people have surrendered control to whatever extent. Their social lives are now exclusively beholden to the time and magnanimity of people they hardly know, in most cases, if at all.

Over the last several years, as this aptly labeled “shidduch crisis” has intensified, there have been suggestions in some circles to loosen the social restrictions that have contributed to the devolvement of the matter into this sorry state. Good and fine young people with much to offer to a life partner have been reduced to sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with a dispassionate third party on the other end of the line hopefully there to make a shidduch suggestion that may or may not come to fruition.

The issue has become untenable for many. And it seems that society’s burden has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the women. Shadchanim estimate that there are more than 10,000 Orthodox Jewish single women in New York over age 24.

On the matter of loosening the so-called social restrictions on the frum community, one of these ideas was that at weddings–when usually everyone looks and is dressed their best–an environment should be constructed where the boys and girls are able to interface in some fashion.

It is fairly obvious that maintaining a strict separation of men and women seeking a shidduch and suitable marriage partner is exacerbating the crisis rather than addressing it or alleviating in any way.

To that end, the intriguing if not puzzling thing about Wednesday night’s shidduch event is that the organizers insisted that the matchmakers first meet with all the eligible women for two hours and then meet with the men after the women left.

At first it struck many as not just odd but even counterproductive. If nothing else a meeting with shadchanim would potentially be a perfect venue for boys and girls to casually or incidentally associate with one another. If this could be arranged in some circuitous fashion, then the event could be considered kosher according to most, if not all, opinions and, more importantly, it could help foster what these events are truly all about in the first place–arranging dates amongst the participants.

It might be time that as a community we come to grips with the fact that there is a serious problem out there and that some responsible if not drastic action needs to be taken. Up until perhaps 15 or 20 years ago, young men and women often met at social functions without the strict focus of going to all lengths to keep them apart.

Perhaps it is a bit too logical, but how is keeping boys and girls strictly separated supposed to create an environment that is conducive to dating and eventually marrying? More than anything it is the proverbial enigma wrapped in a mystery.

As far as the shadchanim are concerned, in all fairness, they are for the most part just human, usually with their own families, trying to do good and bring people together. They should probably not be blamed for not getting the job done to ameliorate a continuing blooming problem.

Some people that I have spoken to on this subject and for the purpose of this story complain that they call shadchanim incessantly about their children but that they rarely receive a timely return call. But what do you want the shadchan to do? Call and say that he or she really does not have any ideas at the present time?

No, I am not an advocate of the fact that sometimes there are just problems without solutions or questions without answers. Somewhere buried in this mess is a workable solution that has to be found.

The matchmakers themselves in many instances will tell you that they do not like what is going on either and that the system as it exists is a combination of imperfect and unbalanced. At the same time, they are uncomfortable suggesting any radical solutions that might end up subjecting them to unneeded ridicule.

Off the record, several said that they think the shidduch process as it is currently administered is an absolute disaster and will only worsen as time goes by. But they maintain that this is the way the community has grown accustomed to doing things and, at present anyway, there is no better way.

On a related topic, this past Saturday night on our weekly radio program on AM970-WNYM, we featured a panel of frum divorce lawyers who shared with us why they feel there is such a dramatic uptick of divorces in our communities.

The three–Esther Schonfeld, Rachel Marks, and David Seidemann–concurred that in a matter that is somewhat related to the way shiduchim are made today, many of the divorces taking place amongst young couples in their twenties involve untreated mental-health issues.

The three agreed that often there is a concerted effort orchestrated to conceal the fact that one party to a proposed shidduch is on some type of medication to deal with these types of mental-health issues.

They said that often family rabbis instruct one party or the other to stay on their medication being taken for whatever reason until after they are engaged or married, and then it is OK for the young man or woman to stop taking the medication.

This is a recipe for disaster and divorce, they said. The point they were making is not that there is the reality of mental-health issues, but that those dealing with this type of situation don’t seek relief or treatment, as it might stigmatize the family if word gets out. The attorneys said that they see far too many cases like this and the unfortunate results could be avoided if only professional help was sought.

A final word on our shidduch process. No, the alternative to the girls sitting around, sometimes waiting for months for someone to call about a proposed shidduch, is not running around to parties at all hours of the night to meet members of the opposite sex.

But it cannot be that there is no happy medium between these two extremes. There is an answer and it is somewhere out there. All we have to do is seriously look for it and not be content with other people’s misery about whatever they are enduring.

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