By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon, Cincinnati, Ohio
Yud-Daled Kislev, the anniversary of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzen, is approaching and it is a very appropriate time to talk about (an often unspoken) part of the shidduch process: The reference phone calls. It is an integral part of the process, as many shidduchim are made or dropped based on these phone calls, and I see that much guidance is needed in this area.
My children are still too young to be in the shidduch “parsha”, but by the nature of my shlichus – nearly 20 years of educating Mesivta-age bochurim and Talmidei Hashluchim – I am constantly being called as a reference for a Shidduch. Over the many years, with countless hours answering shidduch calls per year, I have come to formulate many thoughts and theories of how these calls should really be made. I always joke to my colleagues that I should write a “How to make shidduch calls” book which would definitely be a bestseller.
I will spare you all my thoughts and theories, but would like to share three pointers to the following three groups: 1) The parent that is putting down names and numbers of references that will be called. 2) The parent that is making the phone-call. 3) The person that is the reference answering the phone call.
The parent that is putting down names and numbers of references that will be called:
Please ask the person that you are putting as a reference if they are fine being a reference. Acknowledge that you are asking a person to share their time on your behalf, and show that respect for their time. Find out what hours, and on what phone number, the person would prefer being called. This is also a sign of respect. If/When the Shidduch happens, thank the reference for their time and effort.
Take a few minutes to explain to the reference what your son/daughter is looking for in a shidduch. While many times they may just be character or family references, it is always best if they are aware of the priorities that you are looking for.
Very important: Call your own references yourself! Have a friend call these references to truly see how they portray your child. Many promising shidduchim were ruined by things that were said by your own references. While you can’t control what people will say about your child, you could control who you will direct others to call about your child.
The parent that is making the phone-call:
It is always best to text the person you are trying to reach and ask them as to when is a good time to call as a shidduch reference of so-and-so. This is a sign of respect for the person’s time and it will ensure that the person you are calling is in the right frame of mind, and has the proper amount of time to thoroughly answer your questions . It also gives the person the opportunity to formulate their thoughts about that particular person.
I was once called as a reference, and as I was busy with something else, I told the person that I don’t have time and they should call back later. I then heard that the person calling put the shidduch on hold, because she felt that the reference was hiding something and was scared to speak.
[ In addition: Identify yourself when you call the (married) reference. You are asking people to share personal thoughts and information, it is only right that they know who they are talking to. You will get much more honest information this way.]
The conversation should not just be: “what can you tell me about this person?” It is very vague and open-ended. Many people are not able to “just speak”. While there is a certain benefit in hearing the first things that come to mind about the person from the reference, It is always best to prepare additional specific questions that you would like answered by the reference.
[ In addition: Try to research the relationship of the reference to the person. I get countless phone calls asking me about a bochur when he was 15 years old and asking about his relationships with his friends. I need to remind the parents that I was the teacher of the boy, not his roommate. In addition: I hope that the boy at 24 is more mature than at 14. ]
Very important: Make sure that you and the person that you are calling are talking “the same language”. A typical example : Many people ask: ”Is the bochur Chassidishe”? Each person has their own definition of what Chassidish means. To one person, if the bochur has a full beard – but watches movies and follows sports – he is fitting to be called Chassidish. To another, if he has a smartphone, he is not Chassidish. For Shidduchim purposes, there is no wrong answer or definition. Keep in mind that many times, people use the same words and mean totally different things. It is always best to spell out clearly how you define Chassidish (give details), so that the answer will be a proper response to your question.
The reference that is answering the phone call:
I would like to preface by sharing a personal story: I was once put as a reference for a friend that was looking to be a chaplain for the FBI. I got the call and they thoroughly “interrogated” me. After an hour of questioning me, I asked permission to ask them a question. I asked: “As I am a friend of the person, did you really expect me to say negative things about the person?”
His answer was very thought-provoking and insightful: Eighty percent of communication is non-verbal. Thus, we are not just looking to hear what you say, rather how you say it. By which answers did you hesitate, and which answers did you speak with conviction. What you answered in full detail and which things were glossed over etc.
Realize the Mitzvah and Zechus that you are involved with: Building the future of Klal Yisroel! Take time to answer the phone-call politely and thoughtfully. Realize that what you say, and how you say it, can really affect the outcome of this potential shidduch.
B) There is a rule: “Everything that you say must be true, but not everything that is true must be said.” Don’t feel the need to overshare personal and sensitive information. There are some things that you need to check with a Rav first.
C) Very important: Never answer the following question: “Do you think it is a good shidduch?”. That question can only be answered by Hashem. The Meraglim did not get punished for the negative report they said about Eretz Yisroel, rather for the conclusion that “we can’t go up and conquer it”. Your role is to share information, not to play the role of Hashem.
Looking forward to sharing in the Simchas of Klal Yisroel and to merit the Geula – the Chasuna of Bnei Yisroel and Hakadosh Boruch Hu!
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, or by sending me a personal email at: Rabbiavtzon@gmail.com