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Personal Experiences From Our Readers` Author: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: A few weeks ago, I published a letter from a single woman who was in conflict as to whether or not she should accept a marriage proposal from a man whom she described as “kind, smart, but nerdy”. Subsequently, I have received many letters from our readers who wrote of their own experiences. The following is just one of them:

Dear Rebbetzin:

First, I want to thank you for all your hard work and writings. I am a sixty-five year old Jewish woman, and although I am not a member of the Orthodox community, I love reading your column and advice to the people who write in because I find it so inspiring.

I felt the need to write because I empathize with the two “youngish” single women who have written recently. Both are confused as to whether to accept proposals from nice, religious men who are either “nerdy” or too slight of build. They say they don’t feel the “magic” they believe they are supposed to feel. Although I understand their dilemma, I laughed out loud at the incongruity of the situation. You see, I was once one of those youngish women, and now that I’ve had time to put things in perspective. I was really laughing at my former self.

I began dating in high school and always wanted to marry young and have a large family. I was slender, pretty and popular and I assumed that finding the man of my dreams would be easy. It wasn’t until my early twenties however, that I became committed to raising a Jewish family. At twenty-two, I thought I had met “the one”. He was older than me, an attorney, and Jewish. I thought the sun rose and set on him, and I felt more “magic” than they have in Disneyland. What more could one ask for? I spent five years hoping we’d marry, but he was afraid to make that commitment because his first marriage had been very traumatic. I wasn’t bitter toward him (after a while), and we remained good friends, but I had to move on and find the one with whom I could raise a family. I resumed dating, but the scene was much like the young woman described – the same singles going to endless parties until you could smell the desperation in the air. I compared everyone to my first boyfriend and none could compete. I was almost tempted to go back to him since he lived just a few blocks away.

So I left the East coast and moved to California at age twenty-nine. Here, people were less judgmental about my age or the fact that I was still single. However, finding marriage-minded Jewish men was not a simple task. Finally, I met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and joined the community of “hippies” who davened at the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco. There was a synagogue on the first floor and two apartments upstairs – one for women and one for men. Anyone could “crash” (find a place to stay) here. Although Shlomo himself wasn’t there often, there were other rabbis who came to teach as well as countless young people who were visiting from Israel or other parts of the U.S. I never saw so many single Jewish men in one place. And they were looking for wives! I was sure I would find someone here….I watched as my new friends paired off and were married. Then the babies started to arrive. Of course, I was happy for everyone, but when would it be my turn? There were men I liked, but they didn’t like me in the same way. And there were men who liked me, but I just didn’t feel the “magic” or the “special connection” that Hollywood has trained young people in our society into thinking they should feel.

After I had lived in the community for two and a half years, many of its members moved to the East coast or to Israel and the House of Love and Prayer was closed.. I joined a Sephardic shul that had many young people in the congregation. I fell “head over heels” for a young man and we became engaged. Our wedding date was announced to the congregation and my fiancé provided a seudah. Finally, I thought – this was it by this time, I was thirty-three years old. However, it was not to be. I discovered that the young man had misrepresented some important facts about himself and our relationship deteriorated. I learned that I couldn’t trust him. How could I have been so gullible? I began blaming myself and wondering what was wrong with me. Why did my dream of a happy family life only happen to other people?

I’m a very determined person (okay – so I’m stubborn) and I couldn’t imagine giving up. So after a recuperation period and some therapy, I began dating again. I moved in with my best friend and her husband (I had introduced them) and their little daughter, so I didn’t feel so alone. My friend’s husband is a rabbi although he was employed in another field. He likes to give advice and I listened to him. He helped me see that some of my preconceived, romantic notions were causing me to overlook the good qualities in others. I began to realize that some qualities on my “must have” list weren’t important. Just in time, too, I was now thirty-seven years old.

A short time later, I met a young man at an organization where we were doing volunteer work. When I say young, I mean it! He was twenty five years old. He asked me to go out for coffee afterward. I only said yes because I had nothing planned that afternoon and didn’t feel like going straight home. I didn’t feel attracted to him – he was about two inches taller than me – too short in my opinion, and I knew he was younger than me. But he seemed eager and I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything if I were nice to him.

We went to a vegan restaurant and he offered to buy me lunch. We drank carrot juice and when my glass was empty he offered to get me a second. “He’s awfully nice”, I thought to myself. Then, he told me he’d had a crush on me for weeks! He asked me if I would go out with him. I thought his behavior was cute, and I was flattered that he liked me, but had decided never to date anyone younger because my previous boyfriend (the one to whom I’d been engaged) was younger than me. I wanted someone mature. He said, “Well if the age difference doesn’t matter to me, who should it matter to you?” I realized that my own obstinate notions could cause me to miss a great opportunity and I decided to get out of my own way and see what happened. What had I to lose? The worst thing that could happen was that I’d be disappointed, and I had already learned how to deal with that.

We began dating, and I told myself “I’ll just keep seeing him as long as things are going well and see what happens.” We got along very well and seemed to enjoy the same things and have the same values. We saw each other every day and on the 16th day, he asked me to marry him! I was taken aback at first, and told him I needed some time to think about it.

After a month, he asked me again. This time, I said “yes.” We were married six months later under a chuppah in Golden Gate Park. He wanted a large wedding so we invited about 300 people. My best friend was matron of honor and her husband, the rabbi, “gave me away” because my parents couldn`t attend. Their little daughter was the flower girl. What a joyous day it was!

Today, we`ve been married 27 years and have a 24-year-old son (born when I was 40). We are retired and our son is about to graduate from a prestigious university. We`ve had our “ups and downs” but have never forgotten our commitment to support each other. Of course, the things that were “wrong” with my sweet husband are still there – his neck is short, he is short, his grammar and spelling are bad, he eats too fast, – should I go on? But what does all that matter, when we are so happy together?

Rebbetzin, I hope you will forward this letter to those two young women who wrote you. You can publish it if you want to (although it`s rather long). Even though I`m from outside your community, I want to share my odyssey with others in the hope it will help some one see clearly when faced with this decision. I feel this is a situation many young people struggle with because the media has influenced us – even subconsciously- to value things that, in the long run, don`t really matter

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