The day after Passover Molly stood inside closet pulling scarves. “The pink or the teal.”
“Either is fine” said Nahum. He hadn’t lifted his eyes to look. “What are you getting so dressed up for anyway?
“I’m going to a job fair.”
“A what? But you’re a yoga teacher and what about your volunteer driving??”
“I haven’t taught in months and even the volunteering dried up. Mrs. Attias is in remission and no one else seems to need me..”
“Well, “he looked at her. “Do you have a resume and business cards”
After Nahum left for morning prayers, Molly printed out an ancient resume. College, graduate school, yoga teacher training followed by a long list of all of the classes she’d ever taught, over fifty in all. Was that who she was now, who she wanted to be? Beyond that single instagram photo her food business had never moved from dream to reality. She was ambivalent about cooking for a living. While she loved cooking for her family she didn’t want to spend all her time in the kitchen. Years ago, she’d studied psychology but she didn’t want to spent her days in a chair listening to other people’s problems. She could sell real estate—she liked meeting new people and being on the go, but real estate could prove to be a dead end. What career was there for her? Her friend Shulamis Black babysat for her grandchildren while her daughters went out to work. One day maybe she’d be able to do that….if only Asher’s bride would appear.
The fair was in a community center auditorium across town, a clean modern place, with bright lights, white walls. The only employment available were computer jobs at US hours, a workday that began in the late afternoon and ended late at night
Why had she bothered . The night before staying up late storing the Passover dishes and returning the hametz dishes back to the kitchen. While she loved the work of creating the holiday restoring the status quo after was grunt work..
There was nothing here for her. She’d leave, go home, have a nap but as she made her way to the exit she saw a swathe of purple cotton rising up above the crowd. The only person that could belong to was Emuna Brod. Tall and stately as a palm tree Emuna Brod was an almost mythical figure, single-handedly supporting her scholar husband and thirteen kids with the English language school she conducted in her living room. All four of the Tumim children had been students at various times.
Molly eventually found Emuna ,manning her own table. She was expanding, seeking to train others to open similar schools.
“Interested?” she asked Molly.
For split second Molly imagined herself guiding a group of preschoolers to fashion letters from playdoh but then remembered how frustrated she got while she helped her own kids to plow through Emuna’s homework books.
“Let me think about it,”
“Well if you are interested I think you’d be smashing.. ” Emuna’s leathery face seemed to shine.
“Well good luck,” Molly turned to walk away when Emuna called her back. ” I was thinking, not about English. You know I do matchmaking. I’ve got a fabulous idea for you’re Asher. How I loved teaching him”
Molly was a sucker for compliments. ” Yes, tell me more.”
“I almost went mad when my kids were going through it but this girl will restore your faith. Sarena Feldman. Have you heard that name?”
Molly shook her head.
“She’s from Har Nof. Her mum is called Leah. ”
“Ah yes”. Years ago Leah Feldman had briefly attended her yoga class. She dropped out when she started going out to work but Molly had liked her.
“Sarena is a complete doll, gorgeous, ” Emuna added emphasis to that adjective. “intelligent and she comes with an apartment. Not that the Feldman’s are wealthy but they inherited two apartments and they are giving one with each daughter.”
By evening Sarena’s resume and photograph had landed in Molly’s inbox . She could have easily sponged off 50 per cent of her eyeliner but Sarena was indisputably pretty long slender face, an aquiline nose and dewy ski and an impressive list of accomplishments ; She danced, sang, baked and cared for mentally handicapped children and crafted beaded jewelry. At the bottom was a long list of references and phone numbers. Molly recognized all of them. Within a day she had the goods on Sarena. “Nahum, she sounds like a winner. Lets go for it.” and Nahum agreed. Almost as soon as they’d decided Emuna phoned. “See” said Molly ” that’s not a coincidence. That’ synchronicity. I can feel it in my bones.”
“The Feldmans are interested,”.
“That was fast,” said Molly.
“They heard very good things.”
Molly smiled. But then she thought of the photograph; how she’d show it to Asher and he’d point to the tiny pimple on the nose, the slight sprinkling of freckles, the teeth spaced too closely together. “What if you don’t show him the picture,” said Nahum.
“He’s going to ask. You know him.”
It was the final week of the month-long Passover vacation and Asher was in his room strumming plaintive Carlebach melodies on his guitar. “So Mom, are you just here for the chorus ”
“There’s a girl.”Daddy and I think it’s a good idea. The matchmaker is waiting for our answer. What do you say.
Asher strummed another chord. “Can I see a picture?”
“I thought you weren’t going to do that anymore.” said Molly.
“You are right. If you don’t have one then you can skip it but if you do—”
Molly brought him to the computer. For a very long minute he sat in front of the screen staring at every pixel of Sarena’s computer generated image. He’s never going to go for this, Molly told herself . Not in a million years. The he lifted his head and smiled. “Okay. A bit too much makeup but she’s fine.”
Four days passed from the moment Emuna made the suggestion until Asher met Sarena; In their circles this was almost speed dating.
The date took place at an old hotel in Geula, Sarena arriving with her father, a small trim man with a long beard who quizzed Asher on the Talmudic tractate he was studying.
“He actually seemed very nice.” Asher told his parents when he got home.
“You’re not marrying the father. What about Sarena,” said Nahum.
“She wore a striped mini dress with a skirt tucked underneath to conceal her legs and knees. “I don’t usually like that look but she pulled it off.”
A fashion critique was a bad sign but Asher was beaming. “I’d see her again.”
Molly threw her hands around Asher and let out a shriek that filled the entire apartment. Elazar ran into the living room and began to strummed od yeshama the Jewish wedding song on Asher’s guitar and Bella and Moshe started to dance.
“Not yet,’ said Asher. He gestured for them to tone it down but he was laughing. Then he grabbed his suitcase and returned to the yeshiva. “Call me when you hear from the matchmaker. I’m available whenever she is”.
That night Molly dreamed about her new daughter in law and her grandchildren to come. Nahum dreamed about the money he’d be saving by not having to buy an apartment . Bella dreamed about her makeup and up do and satin bridesmaids gown. Moshe and Elazar dreamed of the wild dancing and shots of whiskey at the wedding and Asher well he dreamed about what all prospective bride grooms dream about.
Though shidduch protocal decreed that the boy report back to the matchmaker the morning after the date, Molly was unable to reach Emuna. “Why don’t you text her,” said Nahum. “She has a kosher phone. No texts.”
“What about email?”
“I did. She didn’t answer.”
“Well with all those kids there must be something going on in her personal life.” Molly nodded in agreement. It never passed through either of their minds that that Sarena might not want to continue to date their son.
As stars began appearing in the night sky Emunah phoned
“I’m sorry. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but she said no. She liked him a lot but she’s looking for someone more spiritual.”
“No???”.How could she say no and what a lame reason.
“Asher spends twelve to fourteen hours a day learning the Talmud. What could be more spiritual than that.”
“Shall I to point that out to her?.”
“No,” Her future daughter in law would need to recognize Asher’s sterling qualities on her own.
Nahum had just returned home from evening prayers when she broke the news. “I can’t believe it. She said no.”
“Well then she’s clearly out of her mind.”
Molly didn’t smile. “I don’t know why she couldn’t give him one more chance. One date. That just doesn’t seem like enough. And Asher seemed to really care for her. How are we going to tell him.”
“I’ll help. He’ll be okay. You’ll see.”
Asher had just returned to yeshiva for the new zman. Just as he was leaving the study hall his parents phoned both of them speaking into the receiver together, a parental chorus in two part harmony.
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” Asher’s voice was soft but flat.
“He didn’t sound so bad,” said Nahum after they hung up. ” I think he took it rather well.. “Yes Molly agreed. “Yeah but these kids play by a different set of rules. It isn’t as intense for them. I’m so happy that they don’t have to deal with the garbage we had to deal with.”
“Yes,” said Nahum. He doesn’t even sound hurt but Asher wasn’t quite as indifferent as his parents believed.
When he spoke to his parents Asher had purposely wrung his emotions from his voice just as he’d wring water from a floor mopping rag. His real feelings were like the murky puddle of water on the bottom of a bucket, complex and dark.
Standing under the shower, the hot water coursing over his body, he imagined Sarena, her thick blonde hair tied into a pony tail, her bright blue eyes, her general loveliness. She had smiled , she answered his questions, laughed at his jokes. Should he have discussed his Torah studies, told a Hassidic story, hummed a nigun.
He needed to hash this out but with whom? His parents wouldn’t get it—his mother would be too intense, and his father would brush him off and none of his friends, were available. Ezi had gotten engaged to a girl so amazing that his parents let him skip over his five single sisters. Yidy was busy with his wife and baby so,. Even Itamar Levy was dating someone.
Maybe he needed to go to an empty field to yell out to heaven like the Bratslav Hassidim but all the open fields had become construction sites.
Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.