Exactly two years ago, at the close of 2014, I wrote a post about that year. It was a gut-wrenching year full of bad news and sad moods. Since that time, I find myself getting especially reflective this time of year, looking back on the year and deciding what I want to say about it.
If I had to make up a typical Jewish American couple, I’d call them Bryan and Michelle. Or Julie. Or Lauren/Lori or some such form thereof. But if I had to think of your typical Orthodox couple, I’d call them Miriam and Moishy. Or Yaakov and Chanie.
From Mary to Lisa to Michelle and Jennifer, girls’ names in America have gone through their trends. What about Orthodox girls?
When I was a kid going to the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in the 80’s, there were 20 girls in my class. Three of them were named Estie – which is also my sister’s name. I have two sisters-in-law named Rivky. Chanies are everywhere.
As far as boys’ names, we seem to have tapped into the trends. Our son Moshe had a half-dozen boys with some form of the same name, and our son Avromi had about the same number with some form of his name (Avi included).
In the Modern Orthodox community, names are much more creative, such as Shai, Adir, and Tzahalah. But in the more black-hat world, the same old names are often chosen after grandparents and such. Yiddish names do seem to be going out of vogue, so grandparents’ names such as Baila, Faiga, and Zissel are becoming less common aside from the Chassidic and yeshivish (black-hat Haredi) communities. Parents might name their children these Yiddish names to honor loved ones, but, if they feel uncomfortable with them, will add another, more palatable name (sometimes the Hebrew form) and use that as the child’s main name. Some Yiddish names are considered even more old-fashioned and unpleasant than others (not listing them here for obvious reasons, haha) and if a grandparent carried that name, the parents might use a similar name or name with a similar meaning so as not to saddle their child – or themselves – with a social stigma.
Some kids love having common names, and others love having cool and interesting names. Either way, it seems to me that Orthodox trends in names change and move slower than in America in general. Then you also have Orthodox names that are cool in America (Ilana) but nerdy in Israel. Who knew? There are no studies that I know of, but I’d love to get some informal data here.
After crowdsourcing on Facebook I got some really interesting responses. Here’s one:
I was named after my mothers grandmother whose name was Hinda Necha. However, my mom couldn’t stomach the Yiddish version and we were living in Israel so I got Ayelet. Years later, I was in kindergarten in America and I hated my Israeli name. I asked my mom why she wouldn’t name me something “normal” like Gitty or Hindi! Growing up it was Esti and Leah and Chaya and Chani. Now it’s Ahuva and Aliza and Ariella and Yael and Meira and Tehila and Adina and Avigail and Leora. Some names that were nerdy in my day are cool now like Shayna and Kayla. Boys names tend to be pretty traditional still with lots of Dovid and Yosef and Aharon and Aryeh and Yaakov. But there’s also your Yonatan and Netanel and Ariel and Azriel.
What were the most common Orthodox names you knew of growing up? Which decade? What about now?
This past weekend, our educational organization, JFX, offered a little experiment: an “outreach” Shabbaton for Orthodox Jews. A Shabbaton is a weekend retreat, often at a hotel, where Jewish folks celebrate Shabbat together, usually with workshops or other inspirational and motivational sessions. In an Orthodox-led retreat, there is observance of Shabbat in public spaces (no photos, microphones, electronic media).
JFX is an organization that mostly services families whose kids are in public school (although we have a nice minority of day school families), so this “Orthodox-only” Shabbaton was new for us. Our thought process: often, people need to zoom out in their Judaism and seem to really appreciate a back-to-basics approach that organizations like ours offer, since we don’t assume that anyone knows or believes anything. We have found that Orthodox people, whether they’ve been so their whole lives, and thus never experienced this “outreach” approach to education, or whether they are “BTs” – people who have become religious as adults or teens – and have moved through and past the “outreach” approach, and miss it, very often crave the kind of positive, panoramic style of teaching we offer.
(Sidebar: in no way am I suggesting that “our” style of education is superior to “classic” Orthodox education. Different models are appropriate for different situations.)
So, the Shabbaton.
A lot of really interesting things came to light, in contrasting this particular Shabbaton with the others we run. Maybe another post one day. But for now, I wanted to focus on one thing. We had a panel discussion on Shabbat afternoon, which covered topics such as “Balance in Family – Kids and Marriage,” “Love and Discipline in Parenting,” “Making Judaism Real for your Kids,” and “Happiness.” One of the questions was:
We all know that in order to raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children, we need both unconditional love and clear boundaries. What is your red line in parenting? Which battles do you pick?
Every single one of our panelists gave the same response (which didn’t happen with other questions). I am really curious if this is an “Orthodox thing” or a “universal thing,” so I am turning it over to you guys.
How would you answer this question, and do you affiliate Orthodox? At the end, I’ll tell you what they said!
Most Orthodox people that I know just love to talk about being Orthodox and are flattered by interest and curiosity in their lifestyle. [GENERALIZATION ALERT.] Here are some questions we’re happy to answer.
1. How did you and your spouse meet?
While we know that the way we meet and date is very different from that of most people, we’re proud of our style and, like most couples, enjoy recounting the process.
2. (For women) So is it hard to shop for clothes? Where do you find your skirts?
Again, like most women, we like to shop and the thrill of the chase is a good part of it. So the limitations of our wardrobe make it kind of like a treasure hunt. When we find a good skirt, we Facebook it so all our fellow skirt-wearers can enjoy. It’s fun to share how we make “regular” department store clothing or Target finds “kosher” for our use. Go ahead, ask!
3. How do you guys manage with so many kids?
While sometimes this question will be met with a groan and some eye-rolling, because ALL of us struggle with raising kids (whether it’s one or ten), overall we are proud of having large families and have developed tricks and tips along the way. So it’s a good feeling to be validated for this and respected for meeting the challenge.
4. Do you mind that you can’t eat all these foods and that you’re limited with what restaurants you can go to? What do you do when you travel?
Kosher is another area that is all-inclusive in our lives. Like most people, when something is a big part of our lives, it’s fun to talk about. As we do, we revisit these concepts from a fresh perspective (yours) and are reminded that our lives are pretty cool.
5. (For guys) Do you wear your kippah all the time? What about sports? Does it ever fall off? Do you wear it when you sleep?
It’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of habit with observance. Being reminded about something that is a constant is good for us.
If you are Orthodox, what are some other questions you’re happy to answer? What are some questions you don’t want to be asked?
If you are not, what are some questions you’ve wondered if you could ask?
April, 1993. Jerusalem.
I am 18 and studying in seminary in Israel. I have never had a boyfriend. It is Friday during the holiday of Passover (Pesach) and I am at my aunt’s house. I call my parents to wish them a good Shabbos, and my mother asks me if I am sitting down. I sit, then say yes.
Mom: Someone approached me to ask if you would be interesting in dating while in Israel.
Mom: It seems the Koval boy is in yeshiva in Israel right now and was suggested for you.
Me: But-but I’m still in seminary.
Mom: Why don’t you think about it?
Most Orthodox girls “start dating” for marriage when they return from their year/s in Israel. Unless she’s not ready, a girl’s parents will start fielding suggestions from friends or relatives who “know someone” – ie, their neighbor, cousin, nephew. My case was unusual because the guy was my neighbor and our parents were friends, so his mother basically suggested the idea to my mother, whereas typically a middle-man or woman is involved to minimize the awkwardness if one party is disinterested. These are not “arranged marriages” – the dates are arranged, and not dissimilar from a classic blind date, and the marriage itself must be entirely consensual after getting to know one another. Parents typically do a rather thorough background check, talking to neighbors, relatives, teachers, roommates.
I’m not ready for this. This is so exciting! I’m not ready for this. How cool is this! Am I ready for this? The Kovals are really special people. Are you ever truly ready for this?
April, 1993. Jerusalem.
The holiday is over. I call my mother.
Me: So, what’s going on with the Koval situation?
Mom: Well, they are definitely interested.
Me: But I can’t go out while in seminary. That’s too weird. And everyone in the dorm will know! I think we should wait till after finals.
Seminary is a time to focus on spiritual growth and textual knowledge. I wanted to close one chapter before opening another. It helped that seminary offered philosophical lectures and practical advice on dating and marriage, and I wanted to get that all in before I got started with the dating bit. Also, typically the dating process is very private. The guy and the girl don’t share with friends whom they are dating. This is for two reasons: one, to protect the couple from awkward explanations and gossip in the event it doesn’t work out, and two, as the Talmud states: Blessing only rests on that which is hidden from the eye. Put differently, if you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it, or you risk losing it.
How will I borrow that killer outfit from my Belgian friend in the dorm without letting on that it’s for a date?
June, 1993. Jerusalem.
The “Koval guy” pulls up in a taxi to my aunt and uncle’s apartment in Jerusalem to pick me up. He knocks, comes in, and sits at the table that is set with refreshments no one will touch. We chat, and leave. All according to script. He speaks Israeli Hebrew to the cabbie and is very, very, nice.
After the date I return to my aunt and uncle’s apartment. I am happy. We went to a lounge and chatted for a few hours, then took a walk in a park. It was a good date. He’s very nice. I’m willing to go out again. My aunt and uncle are the “shadchanim” – matchmakers or middlemen, but that’s a lousy definition – meaning they mediate after each date. It is de rigueur for both boy and girl to get back to the shadchan within 24 hours. He does and also had a nice time. The second date is handled through the mediators and is set for a few days hence.
The purpose of Torah dating is for marriage – no delusions there. There is absolutely no touching before marriage, so the dates are spent chatting and in casual activities like touring, playing games, or eating out. The subsequent dates are either arranged via the shadchan, or by the couple themselves over the phone once they become more comfortable.
He’s so nice! Could I marry this guy? Wait. I don’t need to know if I want to marry him. I just need to know if I want to go out again. I do. That Israeli accent was pretty impressive.
End of June, 1993. New York.
We’ve gone out 4 times in Israel. Our dates have included a safari trip, an air hockey stint, a pizza date, and the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. He’s really, really, really nice. I respect his values and his opinions. I am truly impressed with how he treats the waitress, the toll booth guy, and the parking attendant. He is thoughtful of my schedule and respectful of Torah leaders. I like that he’s also normal. Very spiritual, but likes to have fun too. Great family. He obviously thinks this is going places, because he left his yeshiva mid-semester in Israel to continue dating. Our next date is to meet his parents, which is hilarious, because I totally know them from the block. But OK, to spend some time chatting. As a potential daughter-in-law. We meet in Central Park, then head over to a restaurant for dinner. Future FIL jokes about my boyfriend ordering garlic spaghetti. I blush. FIL is sweet. My parents are very supportive and talk me through the whole process. At this point we do blood tests to rule out Tay-Sachs incompatibility.
If all continues to progress, the sixth or seventh date will be proposal time. If either party feels they need more time, or are unsure if this is it, the shadchan will be notified and will relay this info to the other party with as much tact as possible. Ideal shadchanim are kind, thoughtful, tactful, reachable, and responsible.
If he would propose today, I would say yes. I feel that I know everything that I need to know. I feel confident that I making this decision with my head and not just my heart. Thank you, Hashem (God)! I am so grateful! Thank you for sending me such an amazing guy, with no effort on my part! You are so good to me. May this be good, may this be right, may I only know happiness. And if it’s not right for me, won’t you kindly alert me soon?
July, 1993. NY/Cleveland.
Three dates later, he proposes at Medici’s in Manhattan. I am glowing, I am ecstatic, I can’t believe it. We have to keep it a secret because his grandparents are on a cruise and we don’t want to announce it without them here. We’ll tell hand-picked family members only. My grandparents have tears in their eyes. They love him. I am popping with joy. A week later, we arrive in Cleveland, announce our engagement, and schedule a vort (engagement party), which the entire city attends. Delighted comments range from “I had no idea!” to “I should’ve thought of this one!” to “I thought of this idea, but you were in Israel/I didn’t think you were dating yet/you guys beat me to it” to “Mazel tov! May you build a wonderful Jewish home!” It’s wonderful and my cheeks ache from smiling. We set the wedding date for three months hence – October 18.
No touching = short engagements. Can’t say the David’s Bridal peeps were too keen on this. (“October 1994?” “No, October 1993.” “OCTOBER 1993?? That’s very soon, ma’am.”) However, all the Ortho-folk involved in this shindig are totally used to this (the caterer, the Italian hall owners, musicians, photographers, and flower people).
I’m so excited! I’m so lucky! This is serious. I have to start learning about marriage. I’m so excited!
August-September 1993. Cleveland.
We arrange for a local Jewish rebbetzin to teach me about a Jewish marriage. This includes all the mikveh laws. I read lots of books and take classes on communication, the holiness of marriage, and the spirituality in building a family. I feel very entrusted with millennia of sacred texts and learning. The “Koval guy” has returned to Israel to continue yeshiva study, much to my chagrin and pride. We talk once a week on the phone as he stands on his friend’s balcony in Israel with a cordless. It’s noisy and hard to hear him. It has to suffice. I am so happy knowing that he, too, is taking many classes on marriage and how to be a good husband. I pray a lot, in gratitude and supplication for our future. I turn 19 in August and my birthday is celebrated with my fiance and his family, as well as mine.
This is crazy! Is this me?? Getting married?? Am I playing house? Hashem, please let this be good. Please let me deserve this. Please let me know how to be a good wife and him to be a good husband. Let us be healthy and happy and build a wonderful family together, kind, spiritual, loving. This is crazy!
October 18, 1993. La Malfa, Mentor, Ohio.
Marty La Malfa joins hundreds of guests in our special day!
And… how did you meet?