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Friday, December 13, 2019

With only one experience under my belt, I don’t know whether the phenomenon I witnessed was singular or representative of a larger trend. After tremendous collective anxiety about applying to seminary in Israel and the subsequent wondering and waiting came to an end at the beginning of yeshiva week, two amazing things happened. First, within hours, my daughter showed me an extensive Google doc that detailed where nearly every girl around the country was attending seminary. That was truly remarkable, but that modern technological feat was dwarfed by what I saw next. The days that followed were a flurry of texts and phone calls about roommates. But not only about my daughter finding her own roommates. It was largely about “setting up” her friends with roommates. The rules were patiently explained to me: While one may go to a particular seminary with her friends, the goal is to meet new people, so rooming with your good friends is not ideal. Instead, the girls think of people they may know who might be good roommates for each other. I have learned long ago to not question the logic or the rules of the teenage set. But I did watch in wonder how, after many more texts, phone calls, ideas, back-and-forths and combined efforts of friends looking out for friends, everyone seemed to have found roommates!

I was told that a similar phenomenon happens in Lakewood (at least twice a year) when the zman changes and everyone needs to find a new chavruta, aka the “Chavruta Tumul.” Again, there is a method and a process. It was explained to me that someone cannot ask another person directly to be his chavruta because that would be putting him in an uncomfortable situation. Your friend or acquaintance has to ask the prospective chavruta for you. And it seems that after a flurry of activity, of friends thinking of ideas for friends, and friends intervening on behalf of friends, the dust settles and it all works out: Everyone has a chavruta (thank you to my nephew and nieces, Refael, Rivky and Fruma Steiger, for sharing this with me!).

The common denominator here is friends setting up friends—not as an afterthought, not as a “nice thing to do” but as a primary course of action. It sounds as if this happens in many circles to varying degrees (I heard two such stories the other day!). But, perhaps, broadening this as a l’chatchila and not a b’dieved, and bringing it into mainstream dating practices may be something to consider.

First, our young adults know their friends. They are the ones meeting the people they date. In some ways, they are uniquely equipped to make suggestions. Second, it has been said that the dating process can feel disempowering and frustrating. That experience can shift if friends are the ones who are actively involved in the process of setting each other up.

Now the concerns. In an attempt to refine this thought process, I did run it by a few people and am grateful for their feedback. One concern I heard is that people have to look out for themselves. Those who are in the process of dating may be hesitant to set each other up because it may take away from their own prospects. Definitely an interesting point, but there is the concept that someone will not lose out by setting up someone else. Hashem has a cheshbon that is not susceptible to what we do. In addition, ensuring the next generation of Jewish observance needs to be a group effort. We need to facilitate the building of families across the generations, not just for my child, your child or my neighbor’s child. Moreover, our young adults have demonstrated that they have an enormous capacity to look out for each other to their collective benefit.

When I spoke with my aunt before Rosh Hashanah, she mentioned that on Tu B’Av the girls would borrow dresses to wear. She emphasized that if girls were borrowing dresses, it must mean that there were girls lending dresses. Girls were not refusing to do so because it would cause them to miss out. They were generously sharing with one another, pointing to the fact that this process was designed to be a group effort! This is supposed to be a larger endeavor! (Thank you, Tanta Faigy.) A friend, shadchan and very special individual, Iris Borger, reinforced this idea stating that everyone comes out ahead by working together and thinking of others. Thinking of others and taking care of oneself need not be mutually exclusive. Advancing the mindset that “friends set up friends” as an expected social norm, as is the case for matching seminary roommates and yeshiva chavrutas, capitalizes on a familiar skill set and helps ensure that no one is left behind or forgotten.

Another concern I heard is that sometimes young adults are not equipped to handle the nuance and life experience needed to navigate the process of making a shidduch. Valid. Toward that end, Iris Borger suggested that a collaborative approach may be best. That is, our young adults work with an experienced adult by sharing his or her ideas with a shadchan, and then the shadchan can help with its execution. In an excellent shiur by Rabbi Ahron Ciment and Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky this summer, “Ahavas Yisroel: Best Practices in Dating” (available on YU Torah), Dr. Sobolofsky suggested that after going out with someone who isn’t for you, you should give the shadchan two other ideas about whom to set this person up with. (Dr. Sobolofsky shared that any of the connectors are happy to facilitate any ideas, and that several engagements have happened this way.) Partnership between young adults and experienced shadchanim can be both helpful and productive. This week someone shared with me a story of a couple who initially dated thanks to the suggestion of a thoughtful peer (yay!), but ended their courtship after a period of time. A few months later, the couple decided to revisit their relationship with the invited guidance of an experienced shadchan and they are to be married soon. The combined efforts of young adults and shadchanim has the potential to make a difference.

While this essay presents a simplified thought with many inherent holes and flaws, it is intended to foster conversation. In recognition of the ways our young adults help one another and of the many organizations, groups and individuals who truly advance our singles’ ability to find their partners, may Hashem give us the zchut to collectively participate and be successful in this holy work.

By Grunny Zlotnick