Leeba Rivka Gilberstein is 27 years old, five pounds overweight, (okay, maybe ten), spiritually numb, and single. Every nosh of the home-baked challah bread that her girlfriends have recently learned to make in the challah-baking craze that’s swept the upper West Side of Manhattan has shown up on her hips. She can davin the shemoneh esreh, the silent prayers comprised of eighteen blessings, in Hebrew quicker than anyone, though rapid repetition has rendered her anesthetized to their meaning. Leeba Rivka has posted her profile (kvelling, albeit in a measured and modest manner: Modern Orthodox woman, educated, outgoing, healthy, thank G_d, loves museums, art documentaries and books on Jewish history, especially Holocaust-themed…) on sawyouatsinai.com, frumster.com and even, heaven forfend, that most secular of Jewish dating sites, jdate.com, in search of her baschert, her soul mate. Jewish legend has it that every Jew in the world actually stood at Mt. Sinai with his or her soul mate when the Ten Commandments were given. Now, the trick was to find the one she “saw at Sinai.”
Leeba Rivka hates being a part of the “Jewish singles’ crisis”, as if, within the scope of modern-day afflictions, she’s right up there with North Korea’s nuclear program. She wishes she could be more like her friend Shoshana who just left for a six month stint at a women’s seminary in Israel, with the stated purpose to come back engaged or, G_d willing, married. The rabbis there take it upon themselves to fix the young people up, no mitmazel.com necessary. Begrudgingly, Leeba Rivka admires Shosh for treating her single state like an illness that needs to be cured, or like she’s unemployed and is seeking full time employment, systematically and thoroughly and unsentimentally.
It’s the middle of a hot summer, and the fall high holidays and the frenetic synagogue-hopping and furtive eye-catching that they entail are looming menacingly. Leeba Rivka decides she needs a break from the modern Orthodox Jewish dating world in New York City, and maybe with some perspective she will eat less noodle kugel and lose five pounds (ten?), reconnect to more meaningful prayer and learn to love and kvell at everything life offers, not just her one-year-old nephew’s recent achievement, “Oy, you made in the potty, you cutie!” The ten day cruise to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt looks great but is outside her budget. She is quite tempted by the kosher Eastern European trip: the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, Birkenau. A friend of hers had gone there on her honeymoon and loved it, but it’s expensive. Finding one’s own authentic neshama, soul, requires a lot of money.
There’s notyourtypicalweekend.com, which she’d done once, and while the broad palette of diversions, including life coaches, yoga and ropes courses, as well as the ever-present presence of a rabbi who delivered Talmudic talks on the Temple and the meaning of the red heifer, had been a nice change, Leeba Rivka had had more than a few moments when she’d thought: Jews on ropes courses, clutching their yarmulkahs, holding up their skirts, who are they trying to be, goyim?
Club Getaway in the Berkshires looks far more doable, a kosher weekend under strictest rabbinical supervision (the food, not the activities), a lot of kibbetzing, music on Saturday night at the close of the Sabbath…it’s like summer camp for Jewish professionals. But the thought of being charming and entertaining for an entire weekend, of judging and being judged on her level of religious observance (Leeba Rivka wears pants, on occasion, and she eats in non-kosher restaurants, albeit only cold vegetarian items!) seems like more of a tzuris, a headache, than a simcha, a joyous occasion.
She doesn’t have enough money for a thorough, neshama-searching journey that will take her through concentration camps or across the Mediterranean, and she has a terrible aversion to an entire weekend eating over-salted beef teriyaki that bears an uncanny resemblance to brisket, and speed dating with nudnick Shloimeys who have jobs doing something in computers and pride themselves on their shuckeling (swaying) during prayer.
So, when she hears about the Tu b’Av celebration sponsored by a local Chabad group, she figures why not?
Leeba Rivka is only vaguely familiar with Tu B’Av. It’s a minor, post-Biblical holiday that takes place in the summer on the 15th of the Jewish month of Av. Back in the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Tu B’Av was the time of the wood offering, and was quite the happening festival. Coinciding with the full-moon, it connoted love and romance and fertility, and today is feted as the Jewish Valentine’s Day. But who cares about its history? Far more important, there’s a Tu B’Av singles party downtown on the roof of a club called Splashtop and it only costs $15.
Leeba Rivka shows up in a white, flowing dress (Everyone is asked to wear all white - apparently, back in the day, this was so that the rich couldn’t be distinguished from the poor, but in today’s world, white shows off Leeba Rivka’s suntan very nicely). There’s only hummus and vegetables and a few other low-caloric offerings, so she doesn’t eat too much, which is good. She sings Hebrew prayers and sways with her eyes closed atop a tall building in New York City with a view of the Hudson River, and feels as if she’s connecting to God more than she does during her daily prayers. Then, she gazes into the Reflection Pool and sees the face of a handsome, dark-haired, dark-skinned young man clad in white shirt and white jeans.
His name is Roni, he just got out of the Israeli army, and is doing a round-the-world trip in search of himself. He’d hooked up with Chabad, famous for its outreach and for accepting Jews of all stripes and types. The rabbi is on record as saying that he’ll perform the wedding for free for any couple that meets through their events. When their eyes meet in the pool, schmaltzy and sentimental as it sounds, it’s Love.
Six years younger than Leeba Rivka, and a secular, Yemenite Jew from a Kibbutz in the Galilee, Roni is not someone Leeba would have chosen or who would have chosen her on any of the dating websites. But when it turns out they’ve seen the same documentaries – “Was Picasso Jewish?” - and read many of the same books – “I Grew Up With Mice and Lice: a Memoir of a Hidden Child in Poland in World War II”, Leeba recognizes him as the one she saw at Sinai.
The sequel to Nosh, Davin, Kvelll is Shtup, Schluff, Kvetch (Sex, Sleep, Complain), a portrayal of Leeba’s subsequent marriage to Roni. The early years.
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