A Tu B’Av Chabad Love Story; Meet Chani and Mendel

When you think of Kansas, you may think of cornfields, cows, rainbows and a young girl with a blue checkered dress trying to get back home. For Chani and Mendel Kleyman though, it was the backdrop for their love story.

Mendel Kleyman was 23 when he decided he was ready to start dating. He was working at the University of Kansas doing outreach there as well as teaching kids in a small Jewish school. Naturally though, Kansas didn’t have many observant Jewish bachelorettes for him to go out with, so when he was set up with someone, he traveled back to New York to date her.

This happened twice with no real success in the fall of 2021, so Mendel decided to take a break. He wanted to stay where he was, focus on work and then when he was back on the east coast for Passover, he would pick things back up again.

It seemed like a logical, thought-out plan, but God’s ended up being better. Enter Chani Paul. She was 20 years old at the time, living and working in the New York area after her year in seminary. When she got back that summer, she and her mother spent time fixing up a dating resume — or a paper that states information about oneself, what they’re looking for in a partner and information about his or her family — so she could start the process.

She went on a few dates over the course of the fall, but also didn’t have much luck. Then, her mother mentioned they had received an idea for her in late February, before Purim. Because Mendel was taking a break from east-coast trips, her mother decided that Chani would fly to him.

To backtrack, in the Orthodox Jewish world, specifically in this case, in the Chabad community, the parents take great care when looking into a potential shidduch, or match. When Chani’s mother received Mendel’s information, she spent days calling and investigating. You speak to references, parents, community members, learning as much as you can about a person before the couple actually meets. The same is done on the man’s side.

In this world, dating is with a purpose — to get married — so those involved want to make sure things look good and check out on paper before the couple becomes emotionally invested. 

Chani trusted her parents and went along with the process. After hearing about Mendel herself, she was excited but also didn’t want to get too attached to an idea before even meeting the person. So much so, that she didn’t even look at his photo before getting on the plane. Sometimes, a photo has you insinuating characteristics about a person or making a quick judgment. Chani wanted her first impression to be real and in-person. While some people may get nervous about a blind date that’s around the corner, Chani went on a blind date across the country.

Surprisingly, she was very at ease. “I had gone out with two other guys and was super nervous the whole time,” she explains. “This time, I had a calmness that I had never felt in my life that everything was going to be fine. This was the first time I was the one going to meet the guy in the middle of nowhere, yet I was chill.”


The Week Everything Changed

Chani arrived on a Sunday and stayed at the Chabad house in Kansas while she went on dates. Dating there was actually quite refreshing, both Mendel and Chani explain.

When you date in New York, it’s common to bump into people anywhere you go, as couples often go to the same spots. Here in Kansas, it was just about them. 

The dates involved lots and lots of talking. With the end goal being marriage, getting to know each other is the number one priority. It’s not about the food, the event, or seeing a movie. It’s about sitting down or going for a walk and learning as much about each other as you possibly can.

For their first date, Mendel took Chani to a hotel lobby lounge. They sat and talked from 7:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. when the bar staff had already left. Then, they took a stroll until around 11 or 11:30 and Mendel dropped Chani back off at the Chabad house where she was staying.

“My mother was anxiously waiting by the phone after our date,” Mendel shares. “I told her it was really good…that I could see myself marrying her. My mother was blown away that it was only the first date but I had a good feeling.”

In the secular world, it may be strange to hear about a guy calling his mother right after a date, but in the religious world, it’s quite common. Often, the parents are in touch with the shadchan, or matchmaker, who set up the couple, and she serves as a go-between which can be helpful when needing to discuss anything big that arises or sharing information with the other side that’s easier to do through a third party.

The shadchan in this case, was a woman who was in charge of the chesed program at Chani’s high school. When Mendel’s mother reached out to her to see if she knew anyone, her brain instantly went to Chani. “She couldn’t think of a second option,” Chani says. “My name was in her head the whole time.”

After the first date, Mendel and Chani went out five more times over the course of the week before Chani went back to the east coast. They continued to talk a ton to make sure they were on the same page about their values and what they wanted when building a life and also made sure to have some fun.

One date they went bowling, to see each other in a different setting and make sure that light-hearted energy was there. “When you [get married], it doesn’t mean you stop dating each other,” Chani explains. “You need to have fun and go on dates and make sure you enjoy each other’s company.”

After the week was over, both understood that this was it. They had been speaking to the shadchan about it and then on their last date in Kansas, they talked about it more openly together. 

Said date took place at IKEA, an unexpected location yet maybe a foreshadowing of the life they were about to build together. “It’s a place with plenty of seats and walking space, plus cool and interesting things to see,” Mendel explains. “I remember vividly being in a living room display when we sat down and looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, are we doing this?’ We established that yes, we were.”

Chani says the week started speaking about each other as “you and I,” then it was an “if we,” i.e. if we get married this is what our life would look like and by the end of the week, they were starting to speak about things as a “we.” 

When Chani went back to New York, Mendel followed. They got engaged the following Sunday at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s ohel, or resting place (a big custom among the Chabad community) and had a party that night with family and friends to celebrate.


An Arranged Marriage?

Clearly, from the story above, Mendel and Chani made the choice to marry each other. While there is a ton of leg work done from their parents and the shadchan beforehand, it’s not a situation where the parents pick out the person and say “that’s it, you’re getting married.”

A suggestion is proposed, and then the couple meets and decides if it’s the right fit. The best part is that because so much work is done beforehand, the meetings and dates are there to determine the chemistry. You don’t have to worry about any skeletons in the closet or date forever to see what else comes up. All the information is there, and then it’s about if there’s attraction, if things click.

It may seem far out to go from strangers to future life partners in a span of two weeks, but when you’re serious about getting married and focused on it while you date versus just having fun, you can know everything you need to know about the person in order to say “yes.”

It’s also important to note that some couples date for way longer in order to get to that place where they feel comfortable moving forward, and that’s also okay. “Every couple has their own journey,” Chani explains. “There’s no standard.”

“We were given the tools and put in the right place to have a successful marriage,” Mendel continues. “While there were a lot of people that helped us get here, ultimately, the only people that got us to where we are today are Chani and I. We were the ones who dated each other, who wanted to continue and who were willing to put in the work and commit to each other.”

“I knew this decision had to come from me,” Chani shares. “At the end of the day, no matter how many people are on your team, you are the one who will be married to this person for the rest of your life. Your mother can’t make that decision for you, it has to be from you and because of what you want, not what other people want for you.”

How to Get That Clarity

Mendel and Chani used two important tools to figure out if this was their person. Yes, they dated and talked a lot, but in order to see through the fairy dust of those early moments that happen in any new relationship, they took notes, and they consulted a trusted mentor outside of their families.

After each date, both Mendel and Chani would go home, sit down and spill their thoughts on paper about the person. They would write about what they liked, any memorable events that occurred, things they weren’t sure about and wanted to learn more of, things they didn’t necessarily love but felt like they could work through and more.

“Even now, I have these notes in my iPhone that I like to look back on,” she says. It’s helpful when dating people you also don’t end up getting together with. You see things that you struggled with or didn’t find in that person that you definitely want in another, for example.

They also each had a personal mentor that guided them throughout the process. Chani’s mentor actually was the one who suggested she write the notes.

Often, the mentor, or mashpia, as they’re called, is there to complement you and help you see things you may not. “I cease to plan and do things on the fly,” Mendel says. “He helped me be a little more methodical which was very helpful.”


What Happens After the Chuppah

After the wedding buzz wears off, there’s the marriage. Chani and Mendel were engaged for three months before the big day. Now, they’ve been married more than a year and recently had a baby girl.

Once the wedding happens, in both secular and religious life, the real work begins. Chani and Mendel did experience a glimpse into what their work would be during the engagement period — there is a lot of stress often with dealing with family dynamics and wedding planning especially in a short amount of time.

After the wedding, there is getting used to living with another person and planning your life around another person’s schedule, instead of just your own. 

The biggest blessing for Chani and Mendel when dealing with all of the challenges that arise as you blend a life with your new partner is that commitment that they made to each other. 

“If someone lives together before they get married, there’s always an out. You could just leave,” Chani says. “When you’re married, even when it’s hard, you’re staying. You have that investment. You are both in it for the long haul.”

They look at the growing pains of marriage as a tool to get closer. “You need to descend in order to get higher,” Chani shares, quoting a popular Jewish passage. “When you have a bump in the road, you come out as a much stronger, firmer couple.”

In their early 20s, Mendel and Chani have figured out things it takes other couples years to do. Sometimes, it’s not about the time dating, it’s about the perspective. 

Mendel stresses the importance of finding time to remember the energy of the dating period, and bringing that into the marriage. “You need to keep the fun in function. It doesn’t have to be this crazy elaborate date, it could be something as simple as a walk or trip to the grocery store,” he shares. “Finding time to enjoy the other person’s company helps the cohesiveness grow.

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  • Avatar photo Noelle Randall says on August 10, 2023

    Wonderful story. I wish them much happiness..

  • Avatar photo Laavanya says on August 12, 2023

    I think it would be nice if more Orthodox Jews were aware that arranged marriages are still very much embraced and practiced in many cultures all over the world in 2023. It is a foreign concept in secular American society, but in places like India and the Arab world, arranged marriages are the social norm. I think it is beautiful.


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