At this holy time of year, being single can be unbearable

The anxiety dreams came earlier than I expected.

I knew they were coming, and I tried to brace myself to be ready to fight off creeping depression — triggered, ironically, by a time of year that should be a period of joy, of growth, of connection to the sweetest of the sweet: the High Holy Day season.

The holidays are supposed to be about renewal of one’s relationship with the ineffable and, less sublimely, about being with your family and the people you love. But after 11 years of the holidays as a single adult, I dread Tishrei’s approach with increasing intensity each year.

Try as I might to focus on recognizing God’s dominion, on being grateful for all He’s given me, and to devoting myself to working on the myriad ways I need to improve myself, sadness creeps in. And, to be honest, embarrassment.

That’s where the anxiety dream comes in. The details are fuzzy, but it began with me standing in the back of my parents’ shul with my best friend from childhood, excited to see people I’d not seen in a long time, and ended with me leaving the sanctuary, shame-faced, humiliated and feeling I did not belong. I had the dream during a Shabbat-afternoon nap, so I couldn’t write down the particulars, but when I awoke, my heart pounding, dread hung in the air like perfume, sullying an otherwise beautiful summer afternoon in Jerusalem.

Another year has passed and I am still alone. Again, I will walk into shul and take inventory of how other people’s lives have moved forward, which couples have outgrown their snug Jerusalem apartments, which girls nearly a decade younger are now on their second or third kid. And I will feel conspicuous. Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I will feel embarrassed when I see something looking like compassion in people’s eyes when they speak to me. I’ll hear their thoughts: “Still not married.” And I’ll try to smile graciously when one or two well-meaning semi-strangers intone meaningfully that they hope that “this year will be the one.”

It’s not easy being single when you don’t want to be, wherever you are. But it’s even harder in an incredibly family-oriented society like Israel or like the Jewish world — especially the observant parts. I live in Jerusalem, the most flourishing Jewish “community” in the world. But I’m a single, religious woman — I don’t belong to a synagogue, I don’t appear on some neighborhood’s “nishei” (women’s auxiliary) list, I’m not needed in a minyan. I fly under the communal radar; there isn’t a berth for me, socially. Without descending into melodrama, I’m a part of a demographic that’s not supposed to exist, and the Jewish community hasn’t yet figured out how to accommodate the fact that unfortunately we do.

It’s no wonder that so many of us drop out and create alternative sub-cultures of singles who all hang out together and somehow stay stuck in the same phase of life. If a society repeatedly bemoans the existence of people like me without taking action to help change my objectionable status, is it any surprise that people want to create substitute communities where they feel less like freaks and nebs? Or, God forbid, is it so surprising that some people simply leave the community altogether?

The last two years, the High Holy Days were strange. Each year, I was coming out of a relationship that seemed so close to The One. Even though they hadn’t worked out, they had filled me with hope: I’d been so close, the real thing must be just around the corner. But then I spent most of this year trying to piece myself back together after the relationship that had seemed perfect, that seemed real, that seemed everything I had waited for, that seemed to hold the reason for why I’d had to wait so long exploded in my face.

I was shattered, utterly, and a year on, am still limping, still trying to understand why it happened, why I had done the things I did, why, in His wisdom, God decided that I had to go through what I had gone through … I’ve tried so hard to learn from it, as I’ve learned from my other relationships, to grow from it, to let it teach me things I obviously needed to learn. But, mostly, 16 months later, I just feel aching and hurt and dismay.

Now comes Rosh Hashanah again. And here I am, still alone. Hineni.

Time to crown the king, to account for my deeds, to make a reckoning of my last year, of the gift of another 365 days…

Earlier this year, I went to see a shadchan (matchmaker), a lovely, intelligent woman whom I’d been warned was sometimes a touch socially awkward. After we spoke for a while, she said, “Ach, you are so smart, and funny, and interesting, and pretty … “

I waited for the “but … “

” — I’ll never be able to find a husband for you!”

It was one of those moments where I knew I could choose either to be devastated or find it funny. After all, what she was really saying is that it’s not surprising that’s it’s taken me longer to get married — I’m a special girl, I need a special guy.

I smiled and said that she didn’t need to worry.

“You’re not the one who’s responsible for finding my husband,” I assured her. “That’s God’s job. The only question is whether you’ll have the privilege of being the way He chooses to make it happen. And I trust Him completely.”

Let this be the Rosh Hashanah that I remain ever mindful of that.

Frieidl Liba bas Chava writes for, where this article previously appeared.