My recent Jewish Star article, "Nachamu - The Mourning After", has drawn several critical responses from readers. That is fine; I didn't expect everyone to agree with my assessment of the typical singles weekend, particularly those involved with running these weekends, nor did I expect the average reader to appreciate my dour portrayal of the options available to observant singles in our community.
However, I find it disturbing that those who took the time to write in to register their disapproval seem to have completely missed the point of the article. Regardless of whether the fault is with me as the writer for not expressing the point more directly or with the reader for not being receptive to the message, I feel it behooves me to clarify my remarks. The message is too important to be missed.
Two readers took umbrage at my apparent criticism of those who organize singles weekends, and waxed emotional about how these people should be appreciated for selflessly devoting themselves to helping singles. I don't disagree. Nevertheless, I fear that the efforts of the vast majority of those who have taken upon themselves to be involved in shidduchim in one capacity or another are far lacking, often to the extent that these efforts can cause more harm than good. The best of intentions do not make up for causing harm through misguided efforts. It is little different than offering a korban outside the Bais Hamikdash with the best of intentions, only in this case the korban is the heart and soul of a suffering single.
Furthermore, those who are truly involved with the best interests of the singles in mind should be most willing to listen to all feedback, ESPECIALLY feedback that is critical in nature. As an organizer of events myself I am always gratified by the positive feedback, but I am more interested in hearing how I can fine-tune my own efforts. It's nothing personal, and in fact the greatest favor one can do for an organizer and, ultimately, those the organizer wishes to help. Those who recoil at constructive criticism, even if they don't like the manner in which it may be delivered, have some serious soul-searching to do. Perhaps their efforts are not really as well-intentioned as they would like to believe.
I purposely wrote the article in a manner that would strike a negative chord with many readers. The truth accurately portrayed is not pretty, and sugar-coating it or qualifying the portrayal by magnifying the tiny percentage of successes would be a disservice. Indeed, the organizers of the event devoted much of their letters to trumpeting the fact that some people found dates and made friends at these singles weekends. Terrific. And utterly besides the point. The cost to everyone else who attended, both in terms of dollars and emotional energy, is far too great to leave us with a happy feeling. Again, it is not for us to sacrifice the money and emotional energy of the many to aid the few.
The concept of hishtadlus was mentioned. God willing I will clarify this concept in greater detail at a later time, but for now let the following suffice: just because one makes a certain effort does not necessarily mean that this effort qualifies as proper hishtadlus. If one knows in advance that a singles event (or a shidduch date, etc.) is poorly planned and works for a minuscule percentage of people, he cannot rightly claim that attending this event in the hopes of being the lucky jackpot winner is what God wants or expects him to do.
Hishtadlus must be rational and the likelihood of success without a miracle of great proportions must be clearly plausible. Large singles weekends have a long history of success for the few and disillusionment for the many, and thus it does not behoove anyone to attend these events with the mistaken notion that this is hishtadlus. If that were the case, why wouldn't Hashem shine His grace and mercy on a higher percentage of people who mean well in attending? Shouldn't we at least consider the possibility that Hashem is sending a message to us all that we need to rethink what we believe to be effective venues for singles to meet an appropriate shidduch? If one keeps drawing an empty bucket from a well, shouldn't he look elsewhere for water or find out what's wrong with the well?
The community needs a serious wake-up call, a dash of cold water across its collective sleepy face. The current way of doing things is simply not working, and the state of affairs is getting progressively worse. I am tired of hearing people complain about the shidduch "crisis", then turn around and fight tooth and nail to defend every aspect of the way things are currently done. If there is a crisis then, by definition, it is critical for us to honestly examine every aspect of the way things are currently being done. Leave aside your ego, put it all on the table, and prepare to make some changes. Otherwise, you have forfeited your right to complain.
My fellow volunteers and I have been very actively involved in the shidduch world for 5 years now, and we have a better way. It has been repeatedly tested and proven to help people meet without sacrificing the money and emotional energy of those who don't find someone to date. But, more importantly, we urge the community to rethink its values, philosophies, and practices, for these comprise the root of the problem. Simply trying to get more singles to go out on more dates without addressing the corruption of values that has overtaken much of the Jewish people is doomed to fail.
If my bedside manner is off-putting to some who require medicine, so be it. Medicine does not often taste good. Surgery and rehabilitation can be especially painful. However, that is what we as a community desperately need. Those who wrote in letters all complained about this and that trivial point in the article, while ignoring the main point: that the community needs to recognize the deep pain of singles and the desperate situation that faces them.