My father is an honorable man, a brilliant Torah scholar and a respected member of the community. Growing up, our happy and content home made up for the luxuries my siblings and I didn’t have. In fact, even though my father was learning when I was growing up, I never felt deprived. I didn’t want things that were beyond our budget, and we only purchased basic necessities.
I credit my modest needs and general attitude to my mother’s genuine happiness with her few possessions. I was always aware that my father’s way of providing for us was through community members who generously supported his learning. I wasn’t embarrassed about it; on the contrary, I framed it in my mind as a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership.
I became engaged a month after I turned 21 to a wonderful boy from out of town. I was ecstatic. My father-in-law was a well-to-do businessman, and we heard wonderful things about the family and the chasan.
Each Sunday throughout the engagement period was reserved for shopping. We looked for an entire wardrobe, sheitels, dining-room and bedroom furniture, home essentials, bedding, towels and kitchenware. It was an exhilarating time filled with excitement about the wedding and the future. The fact that I had close friends who were also engaged added to the thrill. We discussed our mixed feelings of happiness and nervousness, and spoke openly about our dreams and fears. But mostly we shared practical tips about where to shop, what was on sale and which professionals to choose. Every evening we chatted on the phone and filled each other in on our accomplishments and which items had been crossed off our to-do lists.
I’m not sure why I never wondered how my parents were paying for my purchases or how they were able to put deposits down right and left, but I must admit that I was oblivious. Despite the fact that my future father-in-law was wealthy, the wedding expenses were being split 50/50. And even though I was working at the time, my father refused to use my money to marry me off. He felt that I should use it for expenses after the wedding, knowing he didn’t have the means to support us.
I shopped mostly like a “regular” kallah, although I steered away from expensive brand-name items. But when it came to paying, my mother did try to suggest to the salespeople that perhaps they could give us a discount since her husband was so-and-so. I was a little embarrassed and a little proud, and I tried not to think about it too much.
As I later learned, during my engagement my father’s main supporters, two close friends, were going around to shuls collecting money. Every so often they would bring an envelope to the house with a significant sum of money so that my father could cover the wedding expenses. I don’t know if my father was aware that they were actually going around collecting, and I definitely didn’t know about it then.
Three weeks before the wedding, my chasan came to our town to go shopping and set himself up. We were planning on living in my hometown, and he wanted to get a feel for the place. One morning in shul after he finished davening, two baalei batim approached him and asked him to contribute to an important tzedakah cause. They told him that a prominent talmid chacham was marrying off his second child and then mentioned my father’s name.
My chasan felt his limbs go numb and his head started spinning. He was utterly embarrassed and horrified. But then he thought about me, his pitiful kallah, and he knew that he had to stop these two people from continuing to collect money in such a degrading fashion. Trying to compose himself, he had a brainstorm.