I’ve always been skeptical about “love at first sight” stories. Instant attraction is one thing, but I never believed that true love, the real deal, could blossom the instant one person first set eyes on another. But then it happened to me.
I hadn’t even been wife-shopping. But nearly three years ago, a beautiful, bright and charming 20-year-old young woman named Aliza waltzed right into my living room. She and her parents, Sharon and Manny, had come to spend the Rosh HaShana holiday with us in our home, to be within comfortable walking distance to synagogue. Our families are Orthodox, and their family still maintained many close relationships in our neighborhood even though they had moved a few miles east several years earlier. I observed Aliza for less than two minutes before concluding that this girl was the perfect wife for our eldest son, Avi.
I loved many things about her instantly: her genuine smile, sense of self, sincerity, grace and smarts. I had a sixth sense that Avi would love her, too. Our families also had much in common, including the fact none of the parents had grown up Orthodox; we had embraced our spiritual roots as young adults and had raised our kids as “frum from birth.” On paper, I figured Avi and Aliza were a perfect couple. Now I had to finagle a way for them to meet, since Avi lived in New York and Aliza was in nursing school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
In Orthodox Jewish circles, dating is a highly orchestrated affair. Matchmakers are often involved and character references are carefully checked out. You can get government security clearance easier than you can get approval to date certain candidates. Only after a successful vetting process can anyone begin planning a “vedding.”
Parents usually are not the primary matchmakers, but I was not about to let this girl slip away. I sidled over to Sharon and asked her what she thought of my brilliant idea. When she reminded me of the protocol, I said, “Sharon, we’ve known each other for nearly 30 years. I think we can bend the rules.” She smiled, and we agreed to keep the idea under our wigs.
A romance between our children was ironic for several reasons. Sharon and I had been college housemates at UCLA, in a Jewish co-op called the Westwood Bayit. While we didn’t keep in active touch after college, we bumped into each other now and then. One night, we saw each other at a nice restaurant. The night was special for Jeff, and me since it was our first night out since Avi had been born a few months earlier. It was far more momentous for Sharon, though. With a flower garland in her hair and a huge, almost giddy smile, she introduced us to her husband, Manny. They had been married that afternoon.
I saw Aliza infrequently after that Rosh HaShana visit, relieved each time to see she was not sporting an engagement ring. The following summer, Avi announced he was ready to date, which meant he felt ready to get married. In our circles, courtships and engagements can be very short. I called Sharon and Manny, who checked out Avi’s references and resume. I did the same with Aliza. When the investigation was complete, both parents and the kids agreed to a first date.
Avi was not obligated to agree to meet a woman just on my say-so, and I was happy he trusted my judgment. His only complaint was the travel time: “Why do I need to go to Baltimore to meet a religious girl, Mom?” he asked. “I’m in Brooklyn!” Across the miles I just smiled and said, “Just go meet her. If I didn’t think she was special I wouldn’t suggest it.”
Avi and Aliza dated through a long, muggy Baltimore summer. Avi spent most Thursday evenings on the bus to Baltimore, but no longer complained about the travel time. On our family vacation that summer in Yosemite, Avi spent much of his hiking time on the phone with Aliza, boasting that while his cell phone was almost comically antiquated and far from “smart,” he got great reception from the high mountain peaks. During post-dinner games of Boggle he often spaced out, distracted by his long-distance romance.
Aliza came home that summer, too, and right before she had to return to school, Avi proposed to her on the same bench in Marina del Rey where Jeff had proposed to me twenty-four years earlier. While the kids were out getting engaged, our two families set up the fastest impromptu engagement party ever. They were married the following December.
Many people expressed amazement that I was able to pick my son’s wife, and a local girl, too. Often, parents “lose” their children to spouses on the other side of the country. Now when Avi, Aliza and their darling toddler, Ahuva, visit L.A., we do our best to share them equally and not be too grabby, but it’s hard to get enough of a first grandchild.
With three more kids to marry off, I’m under some pressure to repeat this matchmaking feat. Could I do it? Only God knows, but I’ll do my part by keeping my door open to hosting guests for Shabbat and holidays.
(This essay appeared in slightly different form in the Winter 2013 issue of Jewish Action magazine.)
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