In our world, getting married is one of the most important events in life. Parents dream about marrying off their children and reaping nachas from the next generation. Singles invest a great deal of time, energy and tefillah in finding their bashert. Our system relies on having friends, family members and professionals make appropriate suggestions.
Because building a bayis ne’eman is so central to our lives, the process involved in making it to the chuppah is fraught with emotion. For some, the word “shidduchim” is exciting; for others, just hearing the word is enough to send their hearts racing in fear and anxiety. Throw a coronavirus pandemic into the mix, and you’ve added fuel to an already highly stressful situation.
But as with any crisis, our community rises to the occasion, finding ways to solve seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We are a creative people, and we are fortunate to have rabbanim to consult during difficult times.
Chani Lehmann of Monsey, New York, is one such creative individual. A shadchan and dating mentor, she has been involved in shidduchim on and off for 14 years. Recently, however, Chani has invested even more time in this holy endeavor, and with Hashem’s help, she has made numerous shidduchim. But the challenge of COVID was considerable.
When the world was suddenly hit by this unexpected blow, young people, parents and shadchanim alike were unsure how to proceed. Should parents encourage their children to date? Should shadchanim continue to redt shidduchim or wait? And if a couple had already started seeing each other, where could they meet? Hotel lobbies were now off limits.
Chani consulted with her rav, Rabbi Chaim Schabes of Congregation Knesses Yisroel, who told her, “Just continue to redt shidduchim, and we’ll figure out the rest.” Of course, there were naysayers who felt that it wasn’t the right thing to do. But Chani did what her rav advised.
Finding a venue for dating was the first challenge. At the height of the pandemic, many rabbanim didn’t approve of indoor dating because of the health risk, and parks were closed. (As of this writing, parks are reopening but require face coverings. A private backyard continues to be more desirable and conducive to the dating experience.) Chani sent out texts to all of her WhatsApp shadchan groups, and also reached out to friends and neighbors to find backyards that would be available for dating. She couldn’t believe the overwhelming response. There were so many families eager to help that she and her daughter Avigayil created a spreadsheet, entering the addresses of those who had volunteered to host dates as a chesed. The list included all the amenities available at each location so that daters would know what they would find when they arrived.
As the word spread, more and more people reached out. Not only backyards but rooftops, basements and empty furniture stores were added to “The List,” as it has become known. The List was an immediate sensation. It went viral and was uploaded to shidduch chats all over the world. The first spreadsheet in March started with ten “Lehmann Locations.” The most recent, Version 13, has 92 locations not only in Monsey but in Israel, Baltimore, the Five Towns and Teaneck, among other places.
Allow me to share just one of the many text messages Chani recently received: “Hi! I just wanted to inform you that my nephew got engaged. I set him up in many of your dating places, and they were all wonderful. My nephew found it a lot more comfortable dating during corona than going to Manhattan! Thank you for compiling this comprehensive list. Tizki l’mitzvos!”