Women seeking bashert Prayer, mitzvot might help

About once a month, in private homes in San Francisco and on the Peninsula, a group of about a dozen Jewish women gets together to pray for husbands.

They've tried dances and mixers. They've placed personals ads and tried dating services. And when those avenues failed, they've turned to Torah.

Ranging in age from the 20s to the 50s, from Orthodox to nonobservant, the women have one goal in common: finding a bashert, the partner of their destiny. The group is called Kallah, Hebrew for "bride." In addition to attending monthly meetings, the women serve as an informal support network for one another.

They are also asked to recite five psalms daily for 40 days — numbers 31, 32, 70, 72 and 124.

Many come to the meetings saying they forgot to recite the psalms every day and haven't yet met their bashert, but nonetheless their health and other aspects of their lives have improved, said Karen Weisstein of Palo Alto, a longtime member who was married in 1991 and now has an 18-month-old daughter, Chaya. She met her husband Larry before joining the group, which she said propelled the relationship forward.

The group, she said, "seems to uplift people's spirits and move their lives in a positive direction."

The Kallah group is one of several throughout the country. Locally, it began about six years ago as "kitchen therapy" when two divorced women in Palo Alto began examining spiritual paths toward seeking a mate, said Hinda Langer, spiritual adviser to the group and wife of Chabad of San Francisco Rabbi Yosef Langer. Believing that by helping others, they would help themselves, the women started a fund for needy brides.

While the group is not affiliated with Chabad or a particular movement, the organizers sought rabbinical help, including a blessing from the late Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. A mystic rabbi in Israel suggested the five psalms, which are preceded by the words, "I'm reciting these psalms in the merit of King David and I wish blessings to come to these women." Then they say the group members' Hebrew names and the members' mothers' Hebrew names. The goal is to pray for others.

What makes the group different from other singles activities is that "it's Torah-based," said San Francisco participant D'vora Stern. "That is the strength and the difference all wrapped into one.

"It's OK for any level of observance," said Stern, a ceramic artist, social worker and divorced mother of two who identifies most closely with the Jewish Renewal movement. While she hasn't yet met her bashert, she said the group has "given me a sense of community. It's spiritually uplifting and it's kept me in touch with the more traditional forms of Judaism."

Does the spiritual approach work? Langer believes the meetings have a positive effect. "It's more uplifting than getting together to kvetch.

"I believe that this particular system works and I've seen it help people, many who are not statistically likely to marry because of their age and because they live in the Bay Area. In this area, it's hard."

Despite those odds, Langer recites story after story of women who have met their matches after joining the group. One went through several 40-day psalm cycles and then prayed at the Western Wall for her bashert, whom she encountered several months later at an Israeli folk-dance event in the Bay Area.

Then there was the Peninsula woman who married the man she had hired to give her son guitar lessons — a man who had sat next to her father in their San Jose synagogue for years.

Another woman met her bashert on a trip abroad.

Coincidence? Langer wouldn't use that term.

At a recent meeting in Weisstein's home, participants sat in a circle and shared their stories. Serving as facilitator, Weisstein "drew from various rabbinic and liturgic forces on the value of prayer in helping us achieve our goals."

One such strategy is to pray for other people. Another is to "develop our Jewish selves," said Weisstein, a member of the Palo Alto Orthodox Minyan who also attends Chabad of the South Bay. With those goals in mind, Weisstein asked participants to fill out index cards offering general prayers for one another.

One of the joys of the group, said Weisstein, is that members support one another — often making dates to attend singles events together. And while Kallah is not a matchmaking service, participants have been introduced to prospective partners through fellow members.

Rhonda Bender, who was married in August and now lives in Oakland, found out about the group through Langer. She met her husband, Bruce, through Chabad.

"I'd been dating and dating and dating and nothing was clicking. My mother said, `Go to Chabad,' so I went. Bruce was there."

Bender, who is in her late 30s and works as a controller for a Larkspur software firm, said she'd lived for many years as an assimilated Jew before deciding that she wanted to date only Jewish men. Raised modern Orthodox, she describes herself as "not a very observant person [who] met someone who is more so."

The group, she said, provides relief from singles angst. "You can ruminate in your head all you want, but you really don't move forward. But if you go to a group like this and share your feelings, it gives you the strength to go to Jewish dances. It gives you the power to step outside yourself."

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].