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Mix & Match: “Ashkesfard” Version

Ashira Davidson

What happens when you match a Sephardi with an Ashkenazi? “Ashkesfard” couples share their stories about the culture shocks, halachic adjustments, and other unexpected surprises

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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BLENDED FAMILIES She grew up eating polo Khoresht; he grew up with borscht. Her mother tongue is Arabic, his is Yiddish. “You need an ayin tovah, a sense of flexibility, and the ability to get out of your little box of security and comfort and realize that not only is different tolerable, different can be better”

S ally Cohen’s parents are Syrian immigrants — her mother was born in Damascus, her father in Qamishli. Arabic was the language spoken in her childhood home, and the aromas coming out of her mother’s kitchen were distinctly Syrian, with foods like yibra, lahmagine, and kibbeh prepared every day. Surrounded by Sephardim in her tight-knit community in Brooklyn, New York, Sally never actually befriended an Ashkenazi peer until high school, when she joined a teen Motzaei Shabbos program.

Her greatest exposure to the Ashkenazi world came when she decided to go to seminary in Israel — not a given in very traditional Syrian families. “When I first introduced the idea to my mom,” Sally says, “she just blinked at me. ‘Seminary? What’s that?’ ”

It was in Israel that Sally realized just how vast the spectrum of Jewish life really was. “Going away for Shabbos was fascinating because certain minhagim I took for granted were not ‘Jewish across the board’ but simply Sephardi,” she remembers. “One of the first things I learned was that it’s only Sephardim who have the custom of laughing out loud during Havdalah. I learned this the hard way.

“And before the Yamim Tovim, I had no idea why my friends were scrambling to purchase a lulav for Succos or a menorah for Chanukah — my father did these things on behalf of the entire household, so there was never a need to purchase them for myself.”

Little did Sally realize that one day, several years later, she’d be comparing prices for lulavim and menorot as well — when she married Simcha Lustig, an Ashkenazi young man from Brooklyn with Gerrer chassidish roots. 


Making Mixed Shidduchim 

In the Olympics of redting “mixed” shidduchim, Monsey-based shadchan Chaya Landerer could easily win gold. She’s lost count of the Ashkenazi-Sephardi matches she’s made over the past 25 years. 


“I have two out right now,” she says with a touch of pride. “Right this second, two Sephardi sisters are out on dates with two Ashkenazi boys.”

Mrs. Landerer, who was raised in both Switzerland and America, says her dual upbringing has made her skilled in putting together couples with disparate backgrounds. She also spends a lot of time listening — her meetings with singles sometimes last two hours (complete with coffee and cake). She says the prerequisites for an “Ashkesfard” marriage to work are a sense of open-mindedness and a positive outlook toward differences: “You need an ayin tovah, a sense of flexibility and the ability to get out of your little box of security and comfort and realize that not only is different tolerable, different can be better.”

Her most common shidduchim are the ones between Sephardi girls and Ashkenazi boys. “I find that Sephardi girls bring a lot to the table — a lot of warmth, spirituality, and refinement. There’s a certain kindness, a caring… a delicate vibrancy, a soft energy… that I find many of my Ashkenazi boys really need. On the other hand,” she says, “Ashkenazi men bring an open-mindedness, a freshness to the equation.”

When Mazal spent her first Shabbos at her in-laws, “the world turned on its head,” she says. “Suddenly, I was ‘one of them’”

There are benefits the other way, too, says Mrs. Landerer. “Ashkenazi girls bring open, honest communication to the relationship. They are often very comfortable in their own skin, and not afraid to tackle a challenge — they have a can-do attitude that Sephardi boys respect as long as the girls are not too independent and still retain their femininity.

“Meanwhile, the Sephardi boys possess a tremendous amount of inner strength — they very often are the stereotypical ‘real men.’ Usually very ambitious, they want to succeed in life, both in attaining high goals in their Yiddishkeit as well as in the financial realm. They aren’t afraid of hard work and will be very protective of their wives and children, making their Ashkenazi wives feel valued and provided for.”

When asked about how she chooses to make “mixed shidduchim,” Mrs. Landerer says she goes with her gut and reacts with her gut. As an example, she relates a story.

“A 27-year-old girl came to see me a few years ago — an adorable Ashkenazi girl from a heimishe background. I said, ‘Ruchi, what’s going on?’

“She said, ‘I don’t know, Mrs. Landerer, I’m trying so hard…’

“So I told her, ‘Ruchi, I know what you need. You need a Sephardi guy!’

“She said, ‘Me? I’m just a regular Ashkenazi girl from Queens!’ She didn’t know from Sephardim… she was so in the box. Anyway, three months later,” Mrs. Landerer finishes with a smile, “her name was Ruchi Ben-Maimon.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 541)

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