I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish world where at age 22, a girl was considered a cat-collecting spinster if she was heaven forbid, knock-on-wood, still single. In my world, girls at 22 were on the brink of “spinsterdom,” and girls who were 23, 24, or worse, 25 (gasp!), well, they were just ancient.
After graduation, I traveled to Jerusalem where I studied Hebrew, Israeli culture and customs, and visited the grave sites and the places of my Jewish ancestry. Each landmark visited reminded me that there was a world much bigger than Miami Beach, Florida, where I had lived for most of my life. Much like my classmates, I was studying in Israel for a year following high school. But unlike me, the girls I shared rooms with planned to continue on The Plan once they returned home. The Plan was to get “set up” with a suitable religious guy from a “good” family, who was either ambitious or extremely learned (depending on said girl)–a guy who would provide a comfortable life for the two of them and their soon-to-be children. The Plan was flawless.
I returned home more knowledgeable: I knew the right man to bargain with at the shuk just by looking at his eyes; I knew where to go for Sabbath depending on what kind of mood you were in; I knew that if you wanted to kill yourself, Nahal Yehudiah was just the right kind of tiyul (hike) to embark on, and most importantly–I definitely knew how to hold my liquor. And although a very serious part of me felt deeply connected to the land, the less spiritual side of me couldn’t wait to get back home and move to New York City. You see, that had always been part of My Plan.
Some time later, when I was 20 years old and beginning to settle into my new life in a city I began to call my own.. my mother flew in for a cousin’s wedding and requested that I meet her at the wedding hall. “Oh, and Mimi? Look beautiful,” she commanded. I was actually looking forward to seeing her and sharing some of my new experiences with her. I wanted to tell her about the law firm I was working at, about my interesting roommates, how I was still writing.
But before I could muster up the congratulatory “Mazel Tov” to the new bride, I was whisked away (more like tugged away) by a familiar hand. “This is my daughter, Rachel…I told you, didn’t I?” It seemed that I was being sized up by the woman I faced.
“Who was that?” I whispered to my mother once the appropriate 30 seconds had passed since the woman had turned away. “That was the shadchan!” she admitted, using the old Yiddish term for matchmaker. That was it; I’d been duped by my own mother. I was officially on The List.
At the following weddings I attended, I became accustomed to the optimistic mothers staring me up and down, eager to discover a worthy prospect for their respectable sons. Maybe I would stumble upon my future mother-in-law at one of these ridiculous events.
I would hear the women whisper while they picked at their fruit-filled glasses from the dessert table.
“Is he good looking?”
“Does he read?”
“Is he in school?
“Then what does he do?”
“Is he a learner or an earner?”
Where was the fun? Dating was hard work, and each new guy was an enthusiastic burden. I’d sit and smile and pretend to listen while thinking there was no way in hell I’d go out with that dude again. Ha, never mind my exciting life in New York; dating was my real new job. And, Ohmygawwd, was it exhausting!
“Did she like him?”
“He was probably nervous!”
“She ordered a salad.”
“He said WHAT?!”
“Oh, I have a good feeling about this!”
But then came Josh. And no, I’m not about to tell you he was so handsome and that his eyes sparkled and in that first moment I laid eyes on him I absolutely knew he was the one. Because that’s not at all how it happened. The real story? Josh’s macho Israeli dad decided that his son should get married. So he calls a matchmaker in Brooklyn to meet with his son (i.e. force Josh to meet crazy matchmaker lady). And a few days later when my mom is on the phone with Matchmaker Rachel, she recounted her meeting with the great guy she had recently met. “He’s ambitious, he has a great job, he wants to settle down… oh yes, very tall and good looking.” What Rachel didn’t say? Josh was 21.
Rachel got lucky because Josh was my happy ending. He is a brilliant thinker and possesses a fiery ambition.
This past July, our son was born.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe the wild child running around the city streets is now mommy who changes “poop” diapers and mommy who takes manic high pitched voices to an entirely new sort of level.
I can’t say that this girl, eager to navigate her own route, fell back into The Plan. But, I did learn something. Even those girls with their carefully mapped out strategies encounter a few minor setbacks. Because that’s the thing about life; there is no plan.
Even though I may not have thought that I’d be here now sharing my life with an Israeli and our new baby, I cannot help but think that this is where I belong. And as I look around my Brooklyn apartment and at the pictures that cover my walls, I cannot help but feel at peace.
And then I chuckle to myself as I reminisce about the old days, back in high school, arguing with a friend. “Married at 21?! You’ve got to be kidding me.”
In my corner of Brooklyn, the joke is on me.