During a recent flight from New York to Florida, something truly shocking happened to me. As I settled into my seat, a frum woman sat beside me and immediately asked if I lived in Florida. I politely responded that I did, and instead of engaging in small talk or asking my name, she proceeded to ask if I was married. I began putting my AirPods in, signaling that I wasn’t interested in talking. Before I could insert the second one, she grabbed my arm and exclaimed loudly for everyone on the plane to hear that her friend in seat 3C was a shadchan and I must meet her! I was taken aback by her assertiveness and felt uncomfortable with the attention she was drawing. She went on to ask if I had frozen my eggs, and I was dumbfounded by the audacity of the question. She then proceeded to lecture me about the importance of egg freezing if I were over the age of 35.
Feeling overwhelmed and wanting to jump out of the plane, I knew I had to come up with a response to shut her up. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I’m in a serious relationship.” I turned on my movie and avoided eye contact for the rest of the flight. This incident has been a recurring theme in my life as a single Orthodox Jewish woman.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Nummy Kimmel or “Morah Nummy” if I had the privilege of teaching your child or entertaining them at a birthday party. Over my meaningful 25-year career as a Judaic studies teacher, I’ve educated thousands of children, instilling within them a deep appreciation for Judaism. I now hold the position of early childhood music director in multiple schools in Florida. Beyond that, I am a certified Zumba instructor, lead mommy and me music classes, provide tutoring services, and even dabble in stand-up comedy. I have also graced the stages of numerous open mic nights. I have a rapidly growing platform on Instagram, where I am a digital content creator, a photographer, a food blogger and a brand ambassador. I am living an incredibly vibrant and fulfilling life! I am happy, healthy and fortunate to be surrounded by remarkable friends and family. While I take immense pride in my accomplishments and the life I lead, none of that seems to matter when I return home for the holidays. In that setting, I am simply seen as “single.”
During my formative years, the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah were always filled with excitement! Shopping for new clothes, cooking delicious meals and polishing our exquisite silver honey dish all contributed to the joyous anticipation of the holiday. Harmonizing with my mother to the chazan’s beautiful tunes became the ultimate conduit through which I could connect with God and experience the true essence of this holy day. I also have fond memories of the moments I shared with my friends from shul. Despite the age differences and various schools we attended, we effortlessly connected and nurtured a special bond throughout the years.
After college, many of my friends would come back home for Rosh Hashanah with their husbands and growing bellies. Given that I wasn’t married yet, I quickly found myself on the outside. The holiday that once filled me with joy and excitement now filled me with dread and anxiety. Each year, it became harder to show up to shul with a smile on my face. Maybe I shouldn’t go to shul at all. Will people judge me if I don’t show up? How do I even approach the the davening and ask God to grant me the one thing I’ve been asking for year after year? Despite all of this, I choose to return home, donning a metaphorical suit of armor to face the challenges. I convince myself that this time will be different, and I won’t let comments and pity affect me. I aim to be present and enjoy the holiday, but the struggle remains.
Yom Tov has arrived. I take a deep breath and enter my childhood home.
7:00 p.m. The men are at shul, and it’s time to light candles. “Ladies, it’s time to light,” my mother announces. My three sisters-in-law stand beside my mother as I watch from the sidelines. Silence fills the room for just two minutes, but to me, it feels like an eternity. I fight back the tears as I don’t want to draw attention to myself. In this moment, I feel alone and left out. What if I never get to stand near my mother and light candles? It’s one minute into Yom Tov, and I’m already crying.
8:30 p.m. As we sit down to dinner, my nieces and nephews proudly display their DIY honey dishes on the table. Of course, I adore these kids with all my heart, but I can’t help but be tinged with a touch of sadness, a longing for the presence of a beloved partner and the joys of having children of my own.
My 5-year-old niece hops onto my lap, looks up at me, and innocently asks, “Aunt Nummy, why aren’t you married? When are you going to be a mommy?” I’d like to tell her that I’ll get married when JSwipe sends me normal guys instead of sketchy men who live in their mother’s basement and have probably spent some time in prison, but instead, I excuse myself to the bathroom, and once again, tears fill my eyes. I reach for the eye drops and emerge, claiming I just had some sort of allergic reaction.
10:00 p.m. I make it through dinner and then sit on the couch as my nephews, who are mostly grown now, talk about college and dating. I absentmindedly flip through a Jewish magazine and stumble upon a page that catches my attention, mainly because my mother has folded down the corner, which strongly “suggests” that she wanted me to read it. It turns out to be another article about the “shidduch crisis.” What I’d like to scream out is, “Where’s the article about the unhappily married crisis?” Instead, I let out a sigh and zone out. I sit with the kids for a while longer until one of them jokes that they have a 65-year-old college professor who may be a good match for me. I laugh along with them but quickly feel a familiar lump in my throat.
I retreat to my bedroom, my only escape from reality. As I lie in bed, I think about me and my siblings growing up and how these holidays used to be filled with singing, laughter, late-night chats and board games. But now, there’s only one game, and I’m the only player. It’s called “how to get through the next two days without having a mental breakdown.” I recently spoke to Target, and they sounded interested in marketing it. I’m super excited!
9:00 a.m. I walk into shul, and the looks and comments begin, often with the head tilt and pitying face. “Nuuuuu, what’s going on in your dating life?” “Nummy, this should be your year.” “I want you to know that every time I light candles, I daven for you and my grandmother who suffers from dementia.” “My 63-year-old aunt got married for the first time this year. Don’t lose hope Nummy. I’m sure it will happen when you least expect it.” “Don’t get bitter.”
Some say, “You just need to put yourself out there more” or ask if I’ve tried online dating. Others think they’re making me feel better when they say, “You’re such a great catch, I can’t believe you’re still single.” Some offer reassurance. “Don’t worry, it will happen in the right time. Clearly, it’s not the right time.” Wow, thank you, Mrs. Katz. Do you know something I don’t know?
Some comments even imply that I am to blame. “Maybe you should lower your standards, Nummy. You’re not getting any younger.” And my favorite line, “I hope you freeze your eggs before it’s too late.” I didn’t realize you were a fertility specialist, Mrs. Goldberg! When did you go back to school??
Am I wearing a sign that says “Please ask me about my dating life and my ovaries??” I would never ask a married person how their marriage was holding up, and then proceed to lecture them on how they’re not trying hard enough to make it work, offer names of therapists, ask for their Hebrew names so I can add them to Tehillim lists, put their names on WhatsApp groups with total strangers and tell them that all of klal Yisroel is davening for them. When did it become acceptable to harass single men and women in shuls, supermarkets and Walmart? Why do people believe they are entitled to intrude into the most intimate and private aspects of others’ lives? These people don’t know me. Why would they presume that I would feel comfortable confiding in them? They can check Only Simchas to see if I’m engaged. And until then, they can follow my dating journey on Only Breakups.
Unsolicited comments and advice can make unmarried people feel inferior, which I believe is the key issue in our dating world. Although people may have good intentions, I can confidently speak from years of experience and tell you that these comments are not truly helpful. In reality, they often have a detrimental effect, leaving us feeling worse about ourselves. We are well aware of our single status and feel it every day, so there is no need to point it out or give us advice on finding a partner. We have already tried everything that has been suggested, and more. What we truly desire is acceptance and respect, rather than being judged or treated as second-class citizens. I shouldn’t have to dread and avoid shul, a place I always loved, because of thoughtless comments.
Of course, when someone takes the time to get to know me beyond my “single status” and presents an idea for a match, thoughtfully and respectfully, I am beyond grateful. Tactful and well-thought-out suggestions are always appreciated, and I’m much more open to listening when it’s done in that manner. Time, place and the way it’s presented is crucial. Shul is not the time or place for such discussions. Before offering advice or suggesting ideas, please be mindful and sensitive to that fact.
I appreciate the OU’s articles on single life in the Orthodox community and the open discussion it has sparked. I recently did an incredible interview with Tzipora Grodko on Instagram live, which can now be viewed on YouTube. I think it’s essential for everyone to watch and gain insight into the lives of “older singles” in the Orthodox community and the unspoken obstacles we face on a daily basis, but certainly around the holidays. My message is simple: Treat people with kindness and respect, as everyone is facing challenges. I am committed to changing the narrative surrounding the perception that being single is a crisis or diminishes one’s worth. Change is necessary and long overdue.
So if you happen to see me during any of the upcoming holidays, please simply smile and wish me a Shana Tova, and I will be more than happy to return the greeting.
Nummy Kimmel lives in Hollywood, Florida, and is a digital content creator on social media. Follow her at @nummyandme on IG and on YouTube. Nummy is a singles advocate and is available for enlightening and comedic speaking engagements at shuls, events and conferences. Contact her at [email protected].