By Judy Gruen
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 three years ago, a beautiful, bright and charming twenty-year-old named Aliza waltzed right into my living room. She and her parents, Sharon and Manny, were staying with us over Rosh Hashanah, as they had done off and on for several years. They had moved to another Orthodox enclave of Los Angeles years earlier, but maintained close friendships in our neighborhood. The last time I had seen Aliza, she was so young that the idea of matching her with one of my sons didn’t even register. This time, almost instantly, bells went off in my head: I think she’s the one for Avi!
I loved many things about her, including 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 two sets of “BT” parents who raised their kids as “FFBs.” On paper they seemed perfect, but I had to finagle a way for them to meet, since Avi lived in New York and Aliza was in nursing school in Baltimore.
Avi was planning to use a shadchan when he was ready to date; I was less than thrilled with the idea. The highly orchestrated business of frum matchmaking felt too business-like to me. “Avi,” I said, “a shadchan doesn’t know you or love you like I do, and when the time comes, I want to be involved.” I didn’t know exactly what “being involved” would look like, but I wasn’t willing to outsource the most important decision in my son’s life to an outsider, no matter how well intentioned or experienced.
My sense that Aliza could be my son’s “bashert” was so compelling that I sidled over to Sharon and shared my brilliant idea. When she reminded me of the protocol, I said, “People who have been friends for nearly thirty years can afford to bend the rules.” She smiled, and we agreed to keep the idea under our wigs.
Sharon and I had been college housemates in a Jewish co-op at UCLA. Neither of us were Orthodox at that time, and after college we bumped into each other now and again. One night, as my husband, Jeff, and I were leaving a restaurant, in walked Sharon on the arm of a young man, both of them smiling broadly. Sharon wore a flower garland in her hair and proudly introduced us to her husband, Manny. They had been married that afternoon.
I thought about Aliza frequently after that Rosh Hashanah visit, and hoped she wasn’t “busy.” When I saw her again at a bat mitzvah five months later, I was relieved that she was not sporting an engagement ring. The following summer, Avi announced that he was “ready.” I called Sharon and Manny, who checked out Avi’s references and resume. I did the same with Aliza, only because Avi insisted. With the “vetting” completed, the kids went on their first date, and I started fantasizing about a wedding.
I was gratified that Avi trusted my judgment. His only complaint was the travel time: “Why do I need to go to Baltimore to meet a girl, Mom?” he asked. “I’m in Brooklyn!” Across the miles I smiled and said, “Just go meet her. If I didn’t think she was special, I wouldn’t have suggested it.”
Avi and Aliza dated through a long, muggy Baltimore summer. Avi became a regular on the Thursday night bus to Baltimore, but no longer complained about the travel time. On our family vacation that summer in Yosemite, Avi talked to Aliza while we were hiking, boasting that while his cell phone was more antiquated than ours, he had the best reception from high mountain peaks. He spaced out during family Boggle tournaments, distracted by his long-distance romance.
Aliza came home to LA that summer too, and the night before she returned 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 busy getting engaged, our two happy families set up a joyful “L’chaim” at our house. They were married the following December.
I became the envy of several other mothers not only for having picked my son’s wife, but having found a local girl to boot. It makes it much easier to share married kids when the distance between the in-laws is only five miles and not 500 or 5,000. However, Avi and Aliza have a beautiful baby daughter, Ahuva, and 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 Hashem knows, but I’ll do my part by keeping my door open to hosting Shabbat and yom tov guests.
Judy Gruen is the author of Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping (2012), and writes the Mirth and Meaning blog on www.judygruen.com.