Second-worst set-up EVER

view of Ashdod and Mediterranean Sea
My beloved city of Ashdod

I was driving through Ashdod the other day, passing through Alef*, an area I hadn't driven through in many years. It brought back memories. Alef is where my best friend in high school used to live, and I spent a lot of time in her home... It's where my driving instructor brought me so I could practice overriding my natural instinct of speeding up at pedestrian crosswalks... It's where the mall at which I purchased some of my all-time favorite sandals (pretty, comfortable AND high!) stood, though the mall has since closed and the sandals are long gone...

But it was one memory in particular that floated back to me from my ancient past as I drove by: the memory of the second-worst set-up I've ever had to endure.

The catalyst in this story was my state of unemployment. I had finished the lab research for my Masters thesis and was in the process of pulling it all together, analyzing the data and writing it down methodically. I had given up my student apartment in Rehovot and moved back my parents' home to write my thesis. My mom was of the opinion that I needed an additional occupation, to get me out of the house. (In her mind, staying at home is one of the worst possible disasters to befall a person.) And so she set about trying to find me other activities.

One deceivingly innocuous day, I accompanied my parents to the shuk in Bet, a slummy, disreputable area of Ashdod. This was by design. (There is nothing innocent in this story, except me.) After making our purchases, my dad went off on a brief house-call to a patient who lived in the area, and my mom expressed a sudden interest in meeting a woman who worked for a non-profit organization, as her office "happened" to be right there. This organization (Joint Israel, still in existence) recruits volunteers whom they send out to teach underprivileged children.

Sensing a trap, I tried to resist. But I was promised that the purpose of the visit was solely for my mom to obtain information about volunteering for herself (lie #1) and that I wouldn't be forced to do anything I didn't want to do (lie #2).

And so I was lured in...

We entered the small Joint office, where we were received by an attractive, well-put-together, middle-aged Moroccan woman, so incongruent with her poverty-stricken surroundings. She was very energetic and very pushy as she sold us her spiel. She certainly appeared to believed in her mission; and if I'm completely objective, I will concede it was a noble cause. This woman, though, could have sold snow to Eskimos. And somehow... entirely against my will (I cannot stress this enough)... this whole thing metamorphosed from my mother obtaining information for herself to me being roped into teaching English to an underprivileged Ethiopian girl who did not have any particular desire to learn English.

* Would that this were the end of the story. *

This woman took a liking to me and flattered me shamelessly. (I was embarrassed.) She would call me up at random to see how I was doing - not to ask about my student - and would issue invitations to her house for Shabbat lunch. She mentioned her son a few times, an apparently brilliant man a few years older than I who was working on his doctorate in computer programming. I side-stepped her invitations until it became uncomfortable.

And finally, one day, having run out of excuses, I cracked.

"How bad could it be?" I thought, as I succumbed.

On the appointed day, I drove to her apartment in Alef. I parked my car, and was approaching the entrance when I noticed a tall man, in a track suit and slippers, walking a little dog. He had glasses and stringy, greasy hair and was hunched over, more from a lack of confidence than any apparent physical ailment.

I thought, "With my luck, that's her son." I immediately corrected myself: "Why are you so negative? That's not her son! He's way too old, anyhow."

Slightly comforted, I walked up to the apartment and knocked on the door. The woman opened it and welcomed me warmly. She introduced me to her husband and then added, "My son will be joining us shortly. He just went out to walk the dog."

* Would that this were the end of the story. *

I sat down and chatted with the husband. We clicked. He was engaging and entertaining and clearly a people-person. He had worked at the Ashdod port for many years and had many amusing stories to tell. Speaking with him was probably the best part of the entire ordeal.

We sat down to eat.

I've never encountered so many different foods at one family's table before. There was so much food - so much! My plate was heaped full (and not by me). And when I thought that was the end of it... she brought out more!

I don't think I said two words to the son. As engaging as the father was, and as dynamic as the mother was, the son was the complete opposite. He was quiet, severely introverted and didn't making eye contact. He mumbled some words to his parents, barely looking at them, but said not a word to me, his intended bride-to-be. (Have no doubt, that's why his mom pursued me.) Looking back now, I'd venture to say he was afflicted with Aspergers.

It was a thoroughly, thoroughly uncomfortable experience.

It's been about a decade, and driving through Alef brought it all back vividly. Reflecting on it, I wonder to myself... Is it too late to report my mom to Child Protective Services?

* Ashdod is the first planned city in Israel. As a result, the different areas have all been named in descending order of the Alef-Bet. So there's Alef, Bet, Gimmel, Daled... all the way through to Tet-Vav.


  1. Great story! I'm sure your Mother had been sold a bill of goods about the son! She wouldn't knowingly have set you up with such an inappropriate match!!

    1. My mom really wanted to get me to do something outside of the house (teach... anything, really). She wasn't fully aware of the extent of the woman's desperation to set up her son.

  2. It remains to be asked....what was the WORST set-up ever??!!!

    1. Worst set-up ever... too traumatizing to write about. Give me another couple of decades. (It falls under the "absurd" category, though!)


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