Quest over a Narrow Bridge: Asia, Harvard, and Shidduchim

By Ben Clayman

I wrote my last article on the day I graduated university last summer. A lot has happened since then and I thought that Hashem’s loving kindness in showing me new insights in my life could help others in their life journey towards growth.

The Talmud says that when a baby is born, the parents have a level of prophecy when choosing the baby’s name. Benjamin is the name of the famous Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, who went around the Jewish world during the Crusades almost 1000 years ago. He chronicled most of the major centers of Jewish life.

I also set out to see the state of Jewish people on my journey. Rashi comments at the beginning of Exodus (2:11) that “Moshe saw their [Israel’s] burdens”. He focused his eyes and heart to be distressed over them. The most important lesson from my trip is the status of the Jewish people is a tale of two cities, both the best of times and the worst of times. Me, with my beard, kippa, tzizis, went around the world without a single negative incident. There was kosher food available, helpful locals, and strong communities in the farthest corners of this world. I met many converts and people wanting to convert. I met Jews from all backgrounds strengthening their commitment to Judaism. I met an Israeli who met his New Zealander wife in Laos at Kiddush in Auckland. I learned with a Swedish yeshiva student who was just in Germany for the year in Kowloon, Hong Kong. On the flip side, I got to give a small present of kosher candy to a Jew in prison in Cambodia. I saw a neglected, weatherbeaten Jewish cemetery and dying smaller communities. I witnessed missionaries preying on needy and ignorant Jewish youth.

My Rebbe, Rav Noach Weinberg ztl, said to me, Never forget how amazing it is to simply be part of Am Israel. I once got in an argument with him over whether kiruv was really focused in the right place. I argued that in my generation it is exceedingly rare to find someone who is passionate, who cares at all. All this talk about saving the Jewish people would fall on deaf ears, instead the message should be solely personal enrichment by Jewish teachings. He told me, “Make sure you can make them passionate, get them to care.” Hillel blew the famous clarion call, “If not me, then who? If not now, when?” Rav Noah expected everyone to be on the front lines and to answer the call.

I met a Jew while skydiving near the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, Australia who taught me that no matter where you come from, all that matters is where you are going. In Hong Kong and Sydney, I bumped into a doctor (three times across continents in grocery markets, what hashgacha pratis!) who invited me to meet his wonderful family for Shabbos in Melbourne. On my return from China in Los Angeles airport, I asked the guy sitting next to me what time it was. He responded with an Australian accent and so we started to schmooze. Turns out, he is a Jew in university who lived close to where I stayed with a warm Rabbi and his awesome family and we spoke about Jewish views on business. A few weeks after my return to America, I was on the subway heading towards Brooklyn and the guy next to me said a few words in Hebrew on his phone. We started to talk and it happened that he grew up with the Aish Rabbi of Melbourne I spent Shabbos with. The world is a tiny place, do not let the size fool you.

Then after the highs of traveling, I returned to America to decide what to do next. I turned 22 on March 7th while visiting my parents in Boca Raton and the next day I got accepted to Harvard for graduate school. I was soaring, my life was exactly on course to becoming what I always wanted to be. I went back to Eretz Israel for Pesach to be by my Rosh haYeshiva, Rav Hillel Weinberg shlita. If you have not yet met the new Rosh Yeshiva of Aish, he is a Talmud Hacham par excellence and who has profoundly influenced me with his middos, advice, and sensitivity. After a month in Israel (with stories involving ruach hakodesh that I witnessed with Rav David Abuchetzera shlita, of the Baba Sali’s family and receiving brachos from Rav Elyashiv shlita), we spoke about the direction of my life. I really thought about it and decided that what I needed was at least another year in yeshiva and that Harvard could wait. If you know of someone going through the same debate or your child decides to push off higher education, I would be honored to explain to you the pros and cons and relieve any parents fears.

Which leads us to a new chapter in my life: shidduchim. I started my search for my bashert quite unprepared, thinking this was like any other competition in my life. Oh was I naive! I have never gone through such a character building, soul searching, and emotionally charged experience so far. Before exploring this part of my life, if I could not quantify it on a balance sheet or a logical flow chart, I tried to ignore it. Getting in touch with my emotions, attempting to be sensitive and nurturing for another human being, willing to give all that I have for the betterment of another is an amazingly tough time. Yes shidduchim are tough, being rejected is not walk in the park (and far worse is saying no to someone else), feeling as though you are being judged, investigated for your past (especially as a BT), and having your life questioned are part of the process. But with the right attitude, it becomes a cleansing process where you start to appreciate who you are a lot more and also what you have to offer your future soulmate. However, I have never felt more close to Hashem, feeling His guidance in all of this. I have also never fully appreciated Jewish women until now, every girl I have met so far is a diamond. Shidduchim has had me go through a paradigm shift when looking at my fellow Jews. We are all one family, and like I always look at my mother as the most beautiful woman only out for my best, I started to see the girls I am meeting as such as well. They are kind, sweet, smart, tznius, yirei shamyim, and all around phenomenal people. Mi K’Amecha Israel, Who is like you Israel?

I continue to daven that everyone single find their zivug emes very soon. Bezras Hashem, we should merit quickly the reestablishment of Beis David, our majestic capital city of our hearts and souls, and this upcoming Tisha B’Av be a day of celebration and preparation for the Tu B’Av where everyone will find their bashert!

4 comments on “Quest over a Narrow Bridge: Asia, Harvard, and Shidduchim

  1. Nice article.

    Just wanted to comment on “The Talmud says that when a baby is born, the parents have a level of prophecy when choosing the baby’s name.” – I am not aware of such a teaching in the Talmud. While some teach and believe that, it is not in the Talmud as far as I know.

  2. Ben Clayman, I thank you for your kind words about Jewish mothers, women and girls. There are so many negative stereotypes out there abusing Jewish females as spoiled princesses and shrewish harpies (see Woody Allen, Philip Roth et. al.) that it’s refreshing to find a man who wants to praise us. What a wonder when someone believes the phrase “Jewish mother” is a blessing and not the punchline to some old-time comedian’s joke.

  3. Hi Mr. Clayman, Yasher Koach on a great article. I am wondering if any information is available about the Jew in a Cambodian prison that was mentioned. Do you know his name? Is there any way to help him. It sounds like he needs a pidyon shevuyim.

    Kol Tov,


  4. For those interested in a compelling, realistic, funny and fascinating novel on this subject,try Ruchamma King’s “Seven Blessings.”

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