I Asked a Friend’s Mom to Set Me Up in Israel. Only Problem? I Don’t Speak Hebrew.

Apparently my dating life is lost in translation.

I never answer the phone for unknown callers. I don’t have the patience to talk to telemarketers or customer service representatives or anyone trying to sell me anything.

But when I got a call at 1:55 p.m. and another from the same number at 5:50 p.m. on an average Tuesday, I wondered if I was missing out on something. There weren’t any medical test results I was waiting on. Was a delivery guy trying to drop off a package while I was sitting on the beach? In Tel Aviv, it’s weird to get an unexpected call and the person not check in via WhatsApp if you don’t respond after a few hours.

At 6:12 p.m. a text message came through in Hebrew. Despite living in Tel Aviv for over a year and spending a significant amount of time here prior, my Hebrew is notably worse than my Israeli friend’s 2-year-old. When I asked Google to translate the text, it said, “Hi. Several attempts have been made to reach you without success. Thanks, Max.”

Max? Who’s Max? Max… Max… do I know someone named Max?

There was my best friend’s nephew, the strange kid in high school, the younger French kid who lived down the hall from me when I was growing up in New York City. The only Max I had a real connection to was my aunt’s dog, Maxie, but none of those seemed like a possible Max to be calling me.

“Hi, who is this?” I responded.

“Not delivered,” my phone shot back.

The text wouldn’t go through. Why did whoever this “Max” was text me if I couldn’t respond?

And then it hit me.

A week earlier, I met my friend, her daughter and her mom for mediocre Indian food. I sat on a wobbly stool at a high top metal table outside. The sun was beaming directly onto my face as the two of them sat in the shade across from me. In the middle of our lunch, I remembered I had a question for my friend’s mom that I’d been sitting on. She was rocking the stroller her semi-sleeping granddaughter was in, as I dreamt of my mom doing that with my future child.

“So, I have a mission for you,” I said, fidgeting with my hands under the table, moving my silver rings on my right pointer finger.

“Yes?” she asked as she tossed her gorgeous gray curls out of her face.

She looked at me expectantly and I calmed my nerves enough to blurt it out. “Find me a man.” There, I’d said it. Her eyes widened. Mine widened in response. “You are one of the most social people I know,” I continued. “You must know some single guys for me to meet.”

For so many years, I was so ashamed of the reaction I’d get when I asked to be set up. I avoided it completely, convincing myself that was the easier route. But here I was, still single, living in a place where being over 35, unmarried and childless feels like an anomaly. Most of my friends were married and had kids in their 20s. Tel Aviv is the most accommodating city for parents and children, and yet it’s irrelevant to my life right now. I was trying to make an effort and explore different routes for dating, so how could I possibly resist asking someone who I know loves me and would only do the best at representing me to help me meet someone?

“Of course!” my friend’s mom excitedly said. “This is my new job.”

My shoulders sank down, a sense of relief. I stopped picking at my Fire Engine Red gel manicure that was starting to chip. “This is not such a good idea,” my friend warned. “She’s going to set you up with any guy with a pulse.”

We chuckled.

She didn’t ask questions about age or location or body type or hair or career type or if he wants kids or has pets. She didn’t ask what kind of personality traits I was looking for. I trusted she would do her thing, whether it was finding my future partner or a lot of guys with pulses.

Apparently, she had found me a Max. I texted her on WhatsApp, “Should I be expecting a call from a guy you wanted to introduce me to?”

“Yes, he got your number,” she responded.

“Thanks <3,” I wrote back.

But then the hamster wheel in my mind started churning. Did she tell him I don’t speak Hebrew? Did she dig up photos on my Facebook and show them to him? Did she mention anything about my health challenges? Did she tell him that she met my parents years ago and how much she hit it off with them?

I hoped he didn’t have a dog. It’s not a deal breaker but I’d prefer he didn’t. I was crossing my fingers he had a scruffy face and a few extra pounds like I prefer. Salt and pepper hair would be a plus. Emotionally available — a slam dunk.

I built him up in my mind, hoping he’d be worth meeting. Once my imagination came to a halt, I  checked the time and realized it was too late to call him. It was 11 p.m., five hours since his last call.

The next day, I paced around my apartment debating when to call him. What if he didn’t speak English well? What if he wants to FaceTime and I look like shit after a bad night’s sleep? What if he’s religious like the last guy someone thought I’d be a good match for?

At 1:04 p.m. I called the number back and it was a recording in Hebrew. I had no idea what it said.

I sat at my desk and messaged my virtual translator (yes, there’s a real live person I hired by the hour to translate text for me). “Can you tell me what the recording says from this number?”

A few minutes later she texted back. “Max. It’s Max, the credit card company,” she wrote, having no understanding of the man, my future husband who I’d spent the last 16 hours dreaming up.


I sent her the palm-to-face emoji.

I was certain there was a guy in this city named Max who tried to call me twice, text me once and I didn’t respond for almost 24 hours. But no, it was the damn credit card company.

I checked my credit card statement on my computer to confirm there was no outstanding payment.

Zero balance. It’s a card that I don’t use often.

“They’re likely looking to find out why it’s been inactive,” my translator said.

I thought about my dating life and wondered the same thing.

So, if you know a man named Max in Tel Aviv who speaks English, tell him to call me. I promise I’ll answer the call this time.

Harper Spero

Harper Spero (she/her) is a storyteller, community builder, podcast host and business coach. She founded Made Visible to help people living with invisible illnesses feel more seen, heard and supported through her podcast, writing classes and corporate workshops.

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