When I made Aliyah in 1986, I was assigned to shared housing for new immigrants. Although my roommate and I got along well, I wanted a place of my own. A clerk at the used bookstore in downtown Jerusalem gave me the phone number of a caterer who managed an apartment in East Talpiot.
The caterer told me that the current tenant would be moving out shortly. She was too busy to show me the apartment, but asked me to call again next week. I called, but she was still too busy. A week later—still too busy! Finally, since the renter was leaving at the end of that week, she gave me his phone number.
I called on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but no one answered and there was no answering machine (nor cell phones!) I tried again late Thursday evening—still no answer. Finally, very early on Friday morning, a sleepy voice said, “Come in an hour.”
When I knocked on the door two hours later, a handsome British guy opened it and said, “It’s so early. Can I get you something hot to drink? Tea or coffee?” His eyes widened when I answered, “I drink tea with milk, no sugar.”
“An American who drinks tea with milk? Here, you can have the cup I’ve poured for myself, I haven’t started it yet.”
Stuart told me later that he immediately knew I was the right person for him. We spent the day together, first taking the bus downtown to see a lawyer friend of his who was willing to look over the lease for free. I took him out for apple cider at a sidewalk café. We bused back to East Talpiot and just kept talking and talking. Stuart eventually had to leave for a guitar lesson, but we made a date for that Saturday night to go to a harpsichord concert. A cuppa tea with milk and delicious cake at Café Rimon followed. That night, I asked his last name and when he answered, “Cohen,” I had to tell him: I was divorced, and on my get, it clearly said, “You are forbidden to marry a Cohen.”
He responded, “I always told my mother I would marry for love, regardless of race or religion. And even though we don’t know each other well, I can already tell there is something special between us. So please give me a chance.” I did.
But before we could say, “I do” a year later, there was the matter of my get. In Israel, there were only religious weddings. We didn’t want to lie or bribe anyone. Even rabbis in Conservative shuls didn’t want to risk losing their kashrut licenses by marrying us.
Stuart called the Ratz political party, led by the politician and civil liberties activist Shulamit Aloni, and started to explain our predicament. The person on the other end said, “I don’t need to hear your story. We believe that Israeli citizens should be able to get civil marriages, so we arrange them in Cyprus. Which package do you want, by plane or ferry?” We took the ferry.
It’s been 35 years and we are convinced that our marriage was “beshert.” Best of all, we still start our days with a cuppa tea with milk!
Betsy Diamant-Cohen, Ph.D., created the award-winning early literacy program, Mother Goose on the Loose (MGOL). As CEO of MGOL, LLC; she leads workshops for childcare providers, children’s librarians, and all early childhood professionals. You can learn more at www.mgol.net and https://bit.ly/3llJU29.
Her London-born husband, Stuart, made aliyah in 1979. He was a non-commissioned IDF education officer and worked with youth in Jerusalem before the family moved to Baltimore, where he served as Mid-Atlantic executive director of the Jewish National Fund. Betsy and Stuart have three children, Alon, Yoella and Maya, one grandchild, and an apartment in Jerusalem.
Now married 35 years, Betsy and Stuart met when she went to rent the apartment he was vacating. He mentioned that the bathroom plumbing had once overflowed and he’d stepped out of bed onto a wet floor. That’s when she decided to rent a different apartment.