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From the First Date to the Broken Plate

Yisroel Besser

They get hundreds of calls and e-mails a day, and can’t walk into shul without being approached by desperate parents and relatives. A private conversation with Lakewood’s busiest shadchanim — Rabbis Meir Levi, Shloime Lewenstein, and Tzadok Katz.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

shadchanimThe three men seated around the table look like hundreds, even thousands, of otherLakewoodresidents. Young, bearded, standard-issue yeshivishe white shirts, open at the neck.

Then, as our conversation is interrupted yet again — “Gentlemen, sorry to intrude, I just happened to notice you guys and I wanted to mention my sister-in-law again,” or “Hi, guys, just a quick reminder about my cousin,” and “Hey there, just to make sure you didn’t forget my number” — I suddenly imagine the inside of a shadchan’s brain. The image that arises is something like the space between the large stones of the Kosel, crammed tight with tiny slips of paper, a repository of desperate hopes and dreams.

The shadchanim seated around me seem to understand that even more than a response, the steady stream of visitors seek assurance, confirmation that they haven’t been forgotten.

Each of the shadchanim around this table has his own unique personality, but they share a common trait: empathy, an “I’m thinking of you” expression that speaks volumes. They certainly break the stereotype of the shadchan that has been caricatured through the ages, he of the umbrella, spectacles, and briefcase bursting with exaggerations.

 

The New Advocates

Rabbi Tzadok Katz offers an interesting historical perspective of his chosen profession.

“Until fairly recently, a shadchan was a rich man’s luxury. The middle class made do with a well-intentioned neighbor or connected uncle setting them up — only the wealthy had a personal scout, looking out for their interests. That changed in the last few decades, as we began to see more and more professional shadchanim who worked for everybody, regardless of income or social status.”

“The community simply exploded,” adds Rabbi Meir Levi, “and there was no other option. There were suddenly so many marriageable young men and women, and someone had to advocate for them.”

In fact, it was that realization that drove Meir Levi and Shloime Lewenstein in this direction. Fifteen years ago, they were part of a group that was formed to help parents with gathering information and setting up shidduchim; most of the others in that original group moved on, while these two knew it was a calling. Becoming a shadchan 15 years ago was a bit like opening an umbrella just as a hurricane erupts, but they’ve been valiant throughout.

Tzadok indicates his two colleagues, who served as his own inspiration. “I was still a bochur when they came on the scene and they represented something new; young shadchanim, the type that bochurim could feel really comfortable with. They were able to connect with the bochurim as friends, and that was a huge help.”

Tzadok, who came on the scene younger, considers himself a “talmid” of Rabbi Lewenstein. What are some examples of things he’s learned from observing his mentor?

He doesn’t hesitate. “Not to be too aggressive, accept a ‘no’ even when you think the parents are wrong or that they’re being too stubborn. Give people the freedom to make their own decisions.”

 

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