Shidduchim: Whose Crisis Is It?

shidduchim

“It’s really too pathetic to talk about,” says Mrs. R, mother to a single daughter, age 22. “No one has redt my daughter a shidduch in nearly a year.”

Unfortunately, this mother’s pain is all too familiar. The phenomenon of young girls with lovely qualities and beautiful families who are just not getting many or any suggestions is widespread, almost chronic.

And it is pathetic.

“I’ve made all of the standard efforts — called shadchanim, taken her to weddings, networked with people … but nothing came our way.”

“It’s remarkable,” says Mrs. Haber, a high-school teacher who sees a steady stream of students enter shidduchim each year. “There are so many fabulous girls whose phones are just not ringing. I hate to say this, but sometimes it’s people with a lot of money, or yachsanim, or people with connections … but not necessarily with the most stellar daughters who are being sought after. Meanwhile, so many of our girls, regular girls, girls without challenging backgrounds, girls with so much going for them, from regular, Torahdig, middle-class homes, are just not getting calls.”

“Our communities are in crisis,” says a spokesman for Leshadech, an organization dedicated to motivating people throughout our communities to redt more shidduchim. “Today there are literally thousands of singles waiting ‘to be engaged tomorrow.’ Do your own math. If, let’s even say, that 20 years ago just 2,000 children were born and now, 20 years later, there are only 200 chasunos, that gives us a backup of 1,800 students a year! We need to catch up what we are losing on a monthly basis. (These numbers vary by community.)

“The decision to speak with Hamodia on this topic is motivated solely because of the pain of so many parents. A shadchan recently mentioned at Leshadech, ‘You can call the parents of these singles any time of night with a shidduch idea, because they don’t sleep anyway. Test it out. They will pick up after the first ring.’

“Now we have an additional achrayus because of the yesomim and almanos created by COVID-19. We need to step up and help them. How many of us will not hear their neighbor singing Sukkos songs this year, and where families sit in quiet, dark sukkos that need to be ‘lightened.’ The fact is that there are too many to contemplate — families with children in shidduchim who are now on their own. It doesn’t need to be Sukkos for us to remember.”

All of which raises the questions, what is going wrong and how can it be put right? Most importantly, what can the layperson do to help?

Serving as Shadchan

Mrs. Klein*, a New York-based shadchan, encourages what many are hesitant to do — noodge. “I once asked another shadchan, whom do you try the most for? And she said, ‘The people who noodge me the most.’”

While it may seem counterintuitive, and while it may seem like it would turn off a shadchan rather than the opposite, Mrs. Klein is not the first shadchan to admit as much.

Obviously, within reason though, which, for her, takes the form of monthly reminders. “Call back once a month, and don’t just say ‘Hi, I’m Chaya Katz, do you have an idea for me?’ Include a one-liner, like, ‘I am from the city of X, I’m 25, I’m looking for a short-term learner,’ etc. — a little context. People tell me, ‘I don’t like to be a noodge,’ and I tell them, ‘Everybody does it.’”

Mrs. Faigie Brecher echoes a similar sentiment. “Mothers of girls: exposure, exposure, exposure.”

She recommends sending emails rather than putting in phone calls, but whichever medium, just keep reminding. “If it’s on the front burner, then [the shadchan] remembers.”

Esther Ottensoser, who has a number of shidduchim under her belt, stresses that people need to advocate for their children, because you never know whom you might meet and whom that person might know.

“Recently I met a mother at a simchah and she told me her daughter has a medical condition,” she says. “I told her I don’t know of anyone suitable, but I’m going to daven for her to find the right shidduch. Literally the next day I was speaking to an acquaintance, and she mentioned her sister took a new job in Monsey and is involved in medical shidduchim. I quickly contacted her and got them in touch. I wasn’t able to help her daughter, but I was able to facilitate this connection. People shouldn’t be shy to talk about their children.”

Yet even with exposure and persistence, there still seems to be a shortage in ideas suggested.

“The biggest problem is that the numbers are staggering,” says Mrs. Brecher. “It’s not to be believed, the number of girls we have. Six parallel grades come out of just one school each year, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my, these girls all need shidduchim.’ So problem No. 1 is the obvious statistics. I think it’s more of an issue for the girls than the boys, but I can’t answer that for sure.”

If problem No. 1 is so many girls, problem No. 2 is too few shadchanim.

“The quantity is overwhelming,” she says. “There are not enough shadchanim to tackle this number of girls.”

She references Chana Rose, a famous shadchan who said how many, many years ago her database had five people and she got them all married!

“But now it’s just so overwhelming.”

Her advice to shadchanim: pick a niche and stick to it.

“I find when the shadchan stretches herself thin and works on everything, which I do — divorced, older, younger, second marriage, etc. — it’s not a good thing. It’s nice to help a lot of people, but it’s better to be more categorized.”

Ultimately, she believes, those shadchanim can be more effective.

Schools Stepping Up

Mrs. Haber, a New York-based teacher, describes the countless phone calls she gets from mothers on the subject, and the difficulty they are experiencing as their daughters get older and hardly a suggestion comes their way.

“Girls speak to me, mothers speak to me, and we tried to set something up a while back,” she describes. The initiative took the form of hiring a certain shadchan to redt shidduchim specifically for their students, but it fell flat. “Mothers would call me, upset, that nothing came of it.”

She references one school that did a beautiful job of taking care of its students, Bais Yaakov D’Rav Meir, where an initiative spearheaded by a few mothers works to set up their students.

“Every single school should have a vaad, a group of mothers, who take this upon themselves,” she says. “Maybe women who married off their kids, women who can facilitate girls meeting shadchanim, or women who have free time. Every single girl needs to have someone taking achrayus for her.”

And with the overload many shadchanim are experiencing, it seems they cannot manage that task alone.

The format for such initiatives can be different; each one can design a program best suited to its students and their needs. Mothers can meet with each girl or invite shadchanim to the school to get to know them. They can try suggesting ideas themselves and they can set up a network or support system to help girls when they begin the parashah of shidduchim.

“These mothers do not need to be professional shadchanim,” says Mrs. Haber. In fact, she says, many people prefer working with non-professional shadchanim.

Mrs. Brecher also encourages the idea of schools-turned-shadchan. “There should be an in-house shadchan for each school; schools should look out for their own graduates. I think it would be very important.”

While schools thought their work was limited to educational spheres, some are recognizing they no longer have that luxury.

Mrs. Ottensoser relates how at her daughter’s school, the principal addressed a room of mothers during a seminary meeting to offer support. “She told us, ‘I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to tell you later on, but if your daughter is not engaged shortly after seminary, please be in touch with me and let me know what she’s up to, what she’s doing, and what she wants.’ People call her. People call principals in general, and oftentimes they don’t know where a girl is at and what she is looking for. So I would recommend people connect with their daughters’ former hanhalah.”

Leshadech stresses the importance of schools getting involved. “We can talk for an hour about various ideas,” they say, “but the most important thing to mention is that there is nobody taking achrayus. … Parents are not getting phone calls because the youngsters are not known to the shadchanim. Schools and yeshivos need to keep a list of alumni that they update monthly, and which has current information on who is still single.”

On another note, Leshadech encourages schools to involve its married alumni for the project of making matches. “Every school should make a melaveh malkah or a luncheon for all their married students,” says Leshadech. “Provide them with a nice meal and give them chizuk, along with the updated list. However, don’t mail it and don’t email it. Hand-deliver it to them.”

“Last year, Shabbos Shuvah, the Rav of our shul, Rabbi Yoffee, got up to speak,” says Mrs. Ottensoser. “He was very short with what he said; it was not a long shmuess, but it was so powerful. He said, ‘Everyone thinks there’s a shidduch crisis. I think there’s a shadchan crisis. Everyone can get involved and help out.’”

Many people shy away from this particular sphere, feeling unequipped and clueless, but the only advice running persistently throughout the interviews was that laypeople need to step up.

“People say, ‘I don’t know any girls, I don’t know any boys, I’m not good at this,’” says Mrs. Ottensoser. “I try to tell them, everyone has neighbors, cousins, relatives … Find out what they are looking for. It can be someone down the block or cousins who have eligible children. I believe people know people.”

On a practical note, she recommends starting a list that is always handy to jot down names. “I have a paper with girls’ names and boys’ names,” she says. “Keeping a list ensures these names stay on top of our minds. I don’t mean entire resumes, but just names, which helps us remember who needs a shidduch. And of course, then you can daven for them as well.”

Even for those who try to bow out, claiming they are just terrible shadchanim, she argues they are not exempt. “Host a neighborhood shidduch networking once a month,” she says. “If you are getting together with your friends, take a few minutes to brainstorm, who has a girl, who has a boy. You just never know.”

Another tip for the non-shadchan-oriented among us: Tell others about a particular person.

“Even if you feel you are not great at redting shidduchim, talk about this person. Tell others, ‘I can tell you about her/him; maybe you have an idea.’ Make up that once a day I’m going to tell somebody about one person. Maybe every two weeks you take on a new person from your list, and you mention them to a lot of acquaintances. When you do that constantly, it gets into your kishkes.”

“Just call up and redt it,” says Mrs. Brecher bluntly. “Anyone can be a shadchan.”

Leshadech notes that 70% of shidduchim today are not redt by professional shadchanim.

“Think, who did your siblings’ shidduchim, your own shidduch, your neighbor’s shidduch? How many were professional, how many were nonprofessional?”

Leshadech’s primary goal is to encourage lay people to redt shidduchim. That is why they started a “redt a shidduch” initiative, with signs posted in Boro Park, Lakewood, Monroe and Williamsburg, encouraging people: “You do not have to be a magician for it to happen. The more shidduchim you redt, the more shidduchim will happen.” They also have a program called the Redt-a-Shidduch Raffle where people who redt a shidduch will be included in a raffle.

The latest Leshadech initiative is AMCHA, which encourages people on Shabbos to think of two shidduch ideas, which they will suggest immediately on Sunday. “We anticipate hundreds, if not thousands, joining this program which will enable thousands of shidduchim in the next few years.”

Spiritual Development and Support

Another common thread running through these conversations was the need for consistent exercises in bitachon, a concept suggested by everyone interviewed without prompting.

“An older single girl recently started putting out an inspirational message nearly every day,” says Mrs. Brecher. “It is absolutely phenomenal. Targeted to older girls, it incorporates a little humor and gets the message across: Don’t feel sorry for yourself; just get out there. It’s an excellent thing to tap into.”

“There is no power but Hashem,” says Mrs. Klein earnestly. “You can run, you can chase. People call me and say, ‘How is my daughter going to get married if shadchanim don’t answer my call?’ And I say, ‘Do you really think a shadchan can help you?’”

She gives singles two pieces of advice. “No. 1: call Rabbi Galumbick’s phone line (732-719-3898). He records a lesson a day, and he has so many stories of people who came to him saying they felt there was no shidduch in sight, and he would answer: ‘Work on your bitachon.’ I would really guide people to listen to his Bitachon line.”

Mrs. Klein describes how she used to feel hesitant to push people toward spiritual support, but now she has gotten bolder and more confident.

“There is a woman I know whose son was divorced and needed a shidduch, so she got together a bunch of women to learn a lesson in tznius as a zechus. It expanded, and they began learning for many more people. With so many girls coming to me for shidduchim, at first I didn’t feel comfortable telling them to call this woman. Then one day a girl met with me and told me, ‘I have two cognitively impaired siblings, and no one is redting me a shidduch.’ I finally got up the courage to suggest she contact this woman, and she did. She called me a few weeks later that she was engaged. I started sending more people to her, and I felt more assured.

“Another thing I tell people — no shadchan has any power. We have to feel we are turning the wheel, but there is nothing but Hashem. Nothing else works.”

Esther Ottensoser points to another source of inspiration, Ohel Sarala. “This organization connects girls who need a shidduch and couples waiting for a child, and each daven for each other. It’s a beautiful concept, and encourages both parties.”

Beyond the spiritual muscles, Mrs. Brecher urges girls to build their character and maturity as well.

Mrs. Ottensoser also encourages girls not to wait for their match to arrive, but to fill their time. “You have to keep busy; you can’t just sit around waiting for your shidduch to come. Go to the gym, get an interesting job, plan a vacation, get involved in organizations; just focusing on your single status isn’t good.”

As a final note, Mrs. Haber makes a passionate plea to all members of the community to rouse themselves and contribute in whatever way they can. “People say, ‘I’m not the type. I’m not good at suggesting ideas.’ Well, then you can get help from coaches, or get help from people who are more professional. Everyone should have the attitude of ‘I can think of somebody,’ and if you can’t carry it out, call someone who can. Everyone has to step up. Schools should take achrayis. Rebbetzins in communities should take achrayis; everybody must take achrayis. There are so many girls in pain.

“There are a lot of taanos against shadchanim. Instead of having taanos on them, get involved. They are really trying. Some limit themselves to a certain clientele, but most put all of their efforts into it; they even have secretaries to shoulder the workload. They are trying. But everyone has to step up. I do feel people who married off their children, people who have hakaras hatov to the Ribbono shel Olam, must get involved.”