By Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld
Rahm Emanuel is well-known for a political judgment he once uttered: “Never waste a good crisis.” Perhaps in keeping with this way of thinking, we have become very comfortable in tagging various societal challenges as being a crisis. It is questionable though whether every challenge that we face rises to such a level. More importantly, do we profit as a group if we are quick to depict every challenge in such stark terms?
One of the terms we have become well acquainted with in recent years is the “Shidduch Crisis”. The number of Jewish singles is growing percentage-wise in our community and we need to strategize. We have meetings with Roshei Yeshiva, we provide incentives, monies are set aside, and articles are written. In this piece I would like to present a simple thesis. Whether we have hundreds of Jewish singles or tens of thousands of singles, we have an obligation to act as a community. However, there is likely no “magic bullet” and the challenges may not be imposed solely on a few individuals who we hope will save the day by utilizing remarkable talents and efforts. This issue needs to be addressed by one and all, and we have the ability to ameliorate the situation. We need not have large resources available to us nor do we need to possess prodigious talents. We simply need to work together, across all “party lines”, and act in accordance within the spirit of Torah, which embodies “Darchei Noam”.
There is a basic reason why I feel the issue of our singles requires a concerted effort of our entire community. It is based on a story I heard years ago concerning the Chofetz Chaim and the communal leader, Harry Fischel. It seems that the Chofetz Chaim was at a meeting and made a passionate appeal for a Mikvah to be built in a far-flung community. Mr. Fischel was quite moved and after the meeting he presented a check to the Chofetz Chaim to underwrite the cost of the entire project. This offer was refused. A chagrined Harry Fischel asked why his largesse had been spurned. The Chofetz Chaim stated that the mitzvah of building a Mikvah is so great, it must be shared by the multitudes. Some mitzvos cannot be handled in any other manner. The solution rests with the community first and foremost. This is likely true with our efforts for Jewish singles.
We all can emphasize with the plight of Jewish singles. The status of being single in a society where much involves family life is obviously one with undertones of isolation and vulnerability. In order to reach out to as many individuals as is possible, we all need to be enlisted in the task. Not all of us are naturally drawn to a life of activism or speechifying. But we have a greater weapon at our disposal; we are “Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim”. This is perhaps the greatest prerequisite to being able to assist in this area. I will outline some simple proposals below. If you are serious about helping singles, consider one, if not all, of these proposals. Keep in mind the teaching of Rav Yisroel Salanter; “Mir darf Tahn Un Nisht Oiftahn”. (We need to act; we need not be fully successful.) Every effort will be worthwhile and will allow you to receive much more than you give.
1. In my community, there are a few individuals who get together on a regular basis and exchange information about people who may be seeking a Shidduch. Information is exchanged, ideas are shared, and people become aware of who is “in the parsha”. Age of the candidate is insignificant as the idea is to reach out to as many people as possible. Recently, a woman in Israel wrote about how she and her neighbors spent the many hours in their shelter, this Summer, after the sirens beckoned them to safety. High on the list was a discussion among the neighbors regarding Shidduch needs. It was a beautiful insight into who we are as a people, but don’t wait for sirens to gather some friends for a discussion on this topic.
2. I was in a new Shul once on Shabbos. After davening, the rabbi said that he wanted two lines. All who needed an invite for a Seudah formed one line and all who were privileged to provide the same formed the other line. If you are waiting for singles to come to you and ask if they can join you for Shabbos, you may have a long wait. Many singles stick with their friends because they are not comfortable venturing out into the larger Shul population. Many may even fear their request will be rejected. Seek out the singles in your Shul and make them part of your family for a few fleeting hours. It will mean much to them. It will mean more for you and your family.
3. If you know of a single who is seeking a Shidduch, talk it up. When you speak to friends, mention whose match you are looking for. It will take seconds of your time. It will also sensitize others that finding a proper Shidduch for singles is a high priority.
4. Commit yourself to one, two, or many singles. It means more than asking others about Shidduchim. It means an occasional call to ask about their welfare. A single may be far removed from their own family. Allow them to share their news with you as well as their hopes and aspirations. A brief phone call to ask if there is anything you can do for the person will go a long way.
5. If you are in a leadership position, use opportunities before groups, classes, etc. to speak about the need to reach out to our singles. Advocate that programs and special events always consider the needs of our singles. We have set up invisible barriers at times between those married and those who are not. It is time to lower those barriers.
6. Yom Tov time is a difficult time for singles. A few years ago I read an ad by an area Rav. He invited all single women in his area to his Purim Seudah. Some had children and some did not. Is such outreach not the highest manifestation of a true Purim Seudah? This holds true even more so for Yom Tov and Shabbos meals when feelings of isolation are at their greatest.
7. Try to get to know some of your local Shadchanim. Engage them in conversation. Find out what they do, how they do it, which populations they serve, etc. Then if you find someone who needs some assistance, you can better go about the business of serving their needs by proper referrals. Perhaps you yourself might consider being a Shadchan, volunteer or otherwise. Some Shadchanim work jointly with their spouses. It will be a wonderful mitzvah to do in joint concert with your life partner.
8. Read about the issues involving singles, talk about the issues, and share good ideas with others. Create a “kol” that this is a priority you have assumed. Perhaps you will be able to draw others into the undertaking, as well, through your efforts.
9. I do not have all the answers to the challenge we are facing. By writing this I am hoping that others will use the comments below or Emails to me to provide additional, more effective proposals. No one person can do all the work that lies ahead, but as Pirke Avos reminds us, neither are we free to beg off from our commitment. Assisting those who are single is a great challenge, but the rewards for those who try to help are great as well.
Rav Yisroel Salanter once remarked that when it comes to our own needs, we must be “Maminim”; Hashem will help. When it comes to the needs of others, we may need to appear as Apikorsim; i.e. if I don’t help, it will simply not get done. As a community, we have met challenges on many fronts. May we work together to extend the hand of Chesed and activism to those who will rarely ask for our help but who will be most grateful when we come forward to be counted.
Note: The author is most grateful to TS for providing many thoughts that became part of this article.
Rabbi Rosenfeld is a Family Mediator in Fair Lawn, NJ and can be contacted at Rosenfeld@Juno.Com.