Melonie came to work with me as a Social Worker, and it was like a ray of light lit up our hospital. She was beautiful–5’10’ with strawberry blond hair and large blue eyes. But it was her inner beauty that drew you even more. Although not a religious Jew, Melonie had a strong Jewish identity and a fierce love for the State of Israel. Melonie and I spent many lunch hours in the park walking and talking about anything that did not include our intense cases at work. We grew very close.
Soon enough it became apparent that Melonie was disenchanted with the New York dating scene. Most of the men she met were interested in meeting a beautiful woman but not in a serious relationship with a quality woman like herself. At 46 and never married, she hoped to meet someone solid, kind and intelligent. She would tell me wistfully, “I wish I could skip the dating scene and just be married to the right person.”
For Yom Kippur I invited Melonie to stay with my family to observe the holiday, and she accepted. In between going to shul and back, she confided that she had never said Yizkor for her mother. She stated “We had a very strained relationship. I was so hurt by my mother that I could never bring myself to say the Yizkor prayer.”
We spoke together about the great merit that she would receive by saying the prayer to honor her mother, especially in light of the pain she had experienced growing up. I also explained that by this time–some years had passed since her mother’s death–according to Jewish tradition, her mother’s soul would have spent eleven months in a state of getting purified. No doubt, her mother’s soul was now able to perceive the truth and regretted the pain she had inflicted upon her daughter. I felt a little strange talking this way. In our prior conversations, we had talked about work and other things, but never such personal and spiritual topics. Perhaps the holiness of the day allowed us to discuss these things more comfortably. For good measure I said to Melonie, “In the merit of honoring your mother through saying Yizkor–who knows maybe your mother might intervene in the heavens for you to meet your other half.”
She looked at me through her large, beautiful and very skeptical eyes, and shook her head. “I don’t believe that,” she said in her quiet, yet forthright way. “But I want to say Yizkor because it’s the right thing to do.” When she finished she said “It felt right.”
That night, after Yom Kippur ended, my husband and I watched as Melonie packed up her things to return alone to her apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan. My husband looked at me incredulous.
He declared, “Why should someone who is such a fine person remain single? It is a tragedy.”
He paced the room, not knowing exactly what to do, but he had to do something. He logged on to the internet to a Jewish singles website and read the profiles of five Jewish men (This was 10 years ago, before this became a common practice.) He sent the same email to all five of them.
It went something like this: “My wife has a very attractive single friend who is looking for a suitable marriage partner. Would you be interested in meeting her?”
One of the five men never answered. One responded a little obnoxiously, “Why doesn’t she write for herself?”. Another was becoming religious. That left just two men. One was a nuclear pipefitter that lived in West Virginia and the fifth was a furniture salesman in New Jersey.
My husband said “Let’s go local.” and he contacted the man from New Jersey.
It was a very different process compared to making a match between two religious people. My husband took nothing for granted. He started by sending the man, Rick, a questionnaire to determine that he was marriage-worthy. That was both to protect Melonie (she’d seen more then her share of handsome, egotistical and frankly bizarre men) and to not waste her time.
His first question was “Are you interested in a monogamous relationship that would lead towards marriage?”
Rick answered in the affirmative.
When asked for references (something not commonly done in his world), he gave his parents in Arizona. My husband and I looked at each other and laughed.
I said “At least his parents like him.”
When we dug a little deeper we found out that Rick was 52 years old, he had never been married, he was close to his parents and siblings, that he owned a townhouse and that he had been at the same job for the last 25 years. He described himself as “a quiet person who has a strong dislike of the dating scene.”
We both looked over Rick’s answers carefully, hovering over it like protective mother hens. In the absence of her parents we considered her (and still consider her) “family”. Then we nodded. Rick was deemed appropriate. My husband said, “You take over for me from here. You call him. You’re better at this than I am.”
I called, and as I spoke to Rick it struck me that here was a male version of Melonie–solid, kind and intelligent, albeit more reserved (but this could be a plus–complementary temperaments and all that.) He also expressed the same serious attitude about dating and marriage.
Next I asked Melonie if I had permission to give Rick her phone number. She agreed. Rick called her that night. After Melonie spoke to Rick she called me back and she said words that I cherished: “I am very impressed.” It was then that I told her, “Melonie, if you are the least bit attracted to him you are going to marry him.”
On their first date Rick took Melonie to a nice restaurant in the city. He was smitten with Melonie from the first time they met. He decided there and then that she would be his wife. It took Melonie only slightly longer to come to the same conclusion. Rick and Melonie were married within three months from the day they met. They are still happily married after ten years.
And was it because she said Yizkor for her mother? Only Hashem knows how to make these calculations.
Elise Nerenberg, LCSW lives in Passaic New Jersey with her husband and children. Encouraged by her love of writing and an outstanding friend, author and teacher Ruchama King-Feuerman, this is her first published article.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.