By Dodi Lee Hecht
For some people it’s the “I’ll never let go” moment – unsinkable love against the backdrop of the sinking ship; for some it’s the classic balcony and those favorite star-crossed lovers; others prefer the higher altitude of the Empire State Building, whether involving memorable liaisons or insomniacs from the West Coast; and, of course, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for two dogs and a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
But for me, the quintessential romantic moment has decidedly been, since I was a young child, a simple pictorial: The scene is Paradise, and from the distance there is a great Voice which proclaims “It is not good for Man to be alone.” The girl isn’t even there yet but nothing gets me to swoon like the idea of God looking over His world and deciding that the only thing missing is a partner for Adam.
The truth is, as much as I’ve protested it, I’m quite the romantic. Growing up my favorite fairy tale was Cinderella. I fell in love with the heroes of Louisa May Alcott books. And, every year, I’d read that passage in Bereishis and stare out at the heavens, wondering what my beshert, soulmate, would be like.
But, at the same time, I grew up. I loved Cinderella but I majored in math at college. I swear by Little Women but went to law school. The feminist movement happened decades ago in the secular world but if I had a dollar for every stare I’ve gotten over the years for my career choices…well, I’d still become a lawyer but I wouldn’t need the salary.
People in the Orthodox Jewish community constantly ask me how I plan to have a family and be a lawyer. One, a family is not a current concern for me since I’m still unmarried. And, two, who says I’m the one who’s going to stay home with the kids? I don’t hear people asking my male classmates what they plan to do about a family.
However, this isn’t meant to be a tirade about women in Judaism and the perception of women in the Jewish community. No, this is a much bigger tirade than that. Recently a good friend asked me when her beshert is going to hurry up and show up already. She and I both belong to the over 26 category of unmarried women and have danced at more than our fair share of weddings with younger brides. I told her that he’s out there and he’s making his way as fast as he can. I believe that. God said it isn’t good for Man to be alone and then He created Eve – I believe with almost no doubt that God does that for each of us.
Still, at the same time, Adam did a hell of a lot before Eve showed up and God instructed him in how to live his life, how to conquer the world and actualize his potential. Why do we skip over that step?
I get lonely. I know my friend does too. But she and I are kind of lucky in a backhanded way – circumstances of our lives have allowed us a rare gift that many in the Orthodox Jewish community don’t get. We’ve had the time to build relationships with our selves. I know myself really well. I know what I believe; I know what I want out of my life; I’m figuring out the best way for me to serve God and contribute to the world. So, when I do meet my soulmate, I’ll (please God) be the person I want my true love to be with.
It makes me sad that the Orthodox community stresses marriage so much that so many people don’t get the opportunity for personal growth before they intertwine their journey with another person. Rabbis throughout history have left their communities for short periods to wander alone because it is only in solitude that we can truly face ourselves. And to know ourselves, intimately and honestly, is just as important as knowing that one other person.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a romantic, remember? We can’t choose when love hits us square between the eyes. And once it hits, I don’t blame all the young ‘uns for getting hitched. Life’s tough and going it alone is tougher. But, something is lost and I wonder if there would be such an epidemic of young love if our community encouraged more personal development first.
And as to the question of how I plan to have a family and be a lawyer – of course I’ve thought of it, you idiots. I’ll make it work because God wants me to be a mother and a wife but he also wants me to emulate Him and be a creator and my career is one part of how I think I can best do that. And it isn’t stupid that I get asked the question – it’s stupid that my male colleagues don’t get asked it. Marriage and children aren’t just a part of the lifecycle and they shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s belittling to what they are. They are important decisions, important choices. But they aren’t being treated that way. Decisions and choices demand thought.
I disagree with the Beatles – Love is not all you need. We made a pact with God at Sinai to serve God and “walk in His ways.” Part of that is love, marriage and children. Part of that is learning, personal improvement and Tikkun Olam. The Orthodox world would do well to ask each young girl, as she sets her sights on marriage before she graduates college, how ever she will manage to make her contribution to the world with a family. If she doesn’t have an answer then maybe the ring should wait.