STORIES BY: Rob Dobrusin, Barbara Draimin, Nadine Epstein, Rachel Feldman, Julie Gray, Brandi Larsen, Eileen Lavine, Beth Levine, Sophie Mindes, Faye Moskowitz, Janet Nussbaum, Marion Silver
EDITED BY: Pam Janis
There are many terms for encounters that were meant to be, but none quite as evocative as the Yiddish word beshert. Traditionally, one’s beshert is one’s soulmate, the person an individual is destined to end up with, but the term has come to encompass all sorts of fated relationships. In 2019, Moment created a weekly feature titled “Beshert” to capture some of these cosmic meetings. Here are a few of our favorites—short tales of meaningful connection, understanding, healing, love and sometimes romance. “Beshert” is an ongoing column; to learn how to share your story, visit momentmag.com/beshert.
My Bourgeois Friend Jack
By Faye Moskowitz
I was at a labor zionist meeting the night my mother died. We danced an ecstatic hora, whirling and stomping until the walls shook in empathy. Teenagers, we were starving from stomping, so we stopped at a deli and made a great show of tossing coins into the table’s center, the kupah (communal pot) that guaranteed no one would go hungry for lack of money.
As I walked home, the February snow in Michigan crunched under my boots; tiny cloud breaths like cigarette puffs preceded me. Every window in my house blazed as if for a party.
Everything for which I had escaped to my meeting vanished: the camaraderie and the warm hands around my shoulders.
I knew my mother was very sick, but death was a stranger to me. Slowly I made my way up the carpeted stairs to her room. She lay on her bed, hair bound in a white cloth, a faint smile on her lips and a bubble of saliva overlooked when the women washed her. Winter billowed the curtains at her open window, and a brother would sit at her side through the night.
The triple mirror of my mother’s vanity was shrouded; some say so the spirit of the dead would not encounter itself as it leaves the body.
The next day we began the formal shiva, seven days of mourning. I readied myself, donning a plaid school dress, and I waited for my Zionist friends to arrive with awkward condolences. But not a single one of them came.
Several weeks earlier, I had been introduced to a young man outside “the movement.” He came to call in a belted storm coat, a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology under his arm. His name was Jack. My Zionist friends laughed when I called him “so bourgeois,” our favorite epithet for anyone not committed to life on a kibbutz.
So guess who came to sit with me every day of the mourning? My bourgeois friend Jack came, and each day he brought me a little present to amuse and distract me from the seven days of confinement. I remember only one of those gifts, a cunning cigarette rolling machine with tissue-thin wrappers, loose tobacco and a final product: a fat cigarette.
Jack chatted up my mother’s grieving sisters and brothers, even my bewildered father and my two brothers, aged six and twelve, now half-orphans. My mother had been 40 when she died.
I never went to live on a kibbutz. Instead, I married my Jack six months later when the official mourning period ended. That was in 1948. When Jack died on June 3, 2020 at the age of 93, we had been married for 72 years.
Faye Moskowitz is a writer and professor emerita at George Washington University.
Strangers on a Train
By Brandi Larsen
My father was an appliance repairman. If something could be fixed, he’d do it, often for free. Marisa and I had met in the bereavement group where I mourned Dad. We became instant friends, her kindness more powerful than the cancer threatening her life. Headed to her funeral three years later, I drowned in waves of loneliness and grief as I sat in the café car of the train.
I wasn’t thrilled when an older woman asked to sit across from me as she slid into the booth seat, already unwrapping her bagel and plunking down her bulging purse. She looked as not-put-together as I felt. I plugged in my headphones and slunk behind my screen. Hours passed. The bagel was eaten, replaced with tea, then sandwiches. I don’t remember who spoke first, but we eventually moved from silent strangers to women sharing a meal and, as we discovered, both grieving.
“I’m sorry about your losses,” she said. “I was my father’s caregiver, too.”
I asked the question grievers long to hear: “Tell me about him.”
She smiled, looked out the window through the countryside and back in time. She shared how her dad had saved for decades to afford a retirement condo in a town in South Florida.
“That’s where I’m from!” I replied. “Where?”
She named a building I recognized. “Dad did a lot of appliance repair there,” I said. She paused. Looked at me for a long moment, squinted. “Was he a big guy? Handsome, with a Jewfro?” Shocked, I pulled up Dad’s picture on my phone. “I remember him!” She described the work shirt he wore with his name embroidered in red script over his heart. How he told her dad he didn’t need a new dishwasher and fixed the old one for free.
“Why do you remember a repairman from 20 years ago?” She clutched her tissue and explained how caring for her father was the hardest time in her life. My dad had recognized that she needed to escape and asked for a soda from the fridge. He told her to finish her errands, that he’d be there when she got back, and he sat down at the kitchen table, kibbitzing with her father. That one break kept her from breaking.
This stranger on a train held onto my father’s kindness for decades and, at the moment when I needed it most, she gave it back to me.
Brandi Larsen is a writer, speaker and publishing coach and the board president of Literary Cleveland.
37 Days of FaceTime
By Barbara Draimin
For years before we met, ellen and i had both assumed that a miracle relationship was out of our grasp. At 76, I had given up because I thought that my age would deter potential partners. At 65, Ellen was still persisting through the trials of computer dating.
On April 10 of last year, Ellen asked our mutual friend Robin for my number. They’d been discussing Ellen’s lack of luck online. Robin offered to put Ellen in touch with me since in the past, I’d met some interesting women online. Ellen told her, “I don’t want to talk to her about dating, I want to ask her out.”
We FaceTimed that night. It was a totally sweet virtual encounter—lots of laughing and a comfort level I have rarely experienced. Then we FaceTimed for 37 days, 260 miles apart—me in Warwick, New York, and Ellen in Silver Spring, Maryland—long enough for me to get my second COVID-19 shot, plus two weeks for it to take full effect.
Who knew chemistry could happen on FaceTime? We met each other’s families on Zoom. We had virtual cocktail hours to meet each other’s friends. My dear friend Joanne opened her introductory Zoom with Ellen by asking, “What exactly are your intentions?”
Ellen wrote to Joanne the next day, assuring her that she intended to love me with “fierceness and bold abandon” and to meet any challenges with courage and compassion.
Joanne wrote back saying how intense this relationship was for me and that I don’t usually “bet the store.” True. It was intense because I had been much more guarded in previous relationships. I went slower, revealed less and waited for the other person to declare their feelings first. In this case, I jumped out front and went for it. I did bet the store. Part of it is age and the other part is four separate cancers that have taught me how to dance in the rain.
Two weeks after we met on FaceTime, we reserved an Airbnb in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, our halfway point. We finally met in person there on May 18.
We spent a loving week at the Airbnb getting to know one another. Many past lessons and lots of personal work lined up as we grew together in tenderness and harmony. We had much in common. My grandparents emigrated from Latvia and Germany; hers were from Poland and Germany. We’d both had 30-year partnerships that ended a decade ago. We both love children. Ellen has two adult children; I could not have children but started an agency for children whose parents are critically ill. I will spend the winter in Puerto Vallarta, and Ellen will visit for a month. This summer, we’ll spend some weeks at each other’s homes.
We happened fast. I think the pandemic has helped many of us realign our priorities and distinguish the special from the ordinary. It has also given many of us new quantities of gratitude.
Our love is deep and powerful. Our combined 14 decades of experiences inform our belief that we are beshert.
Barbara Draimin is a retired social worker.
He Had Me at Lunch
By Rachel Feldman
It was just a typical day in a local Vermont tv newsroom: People were crashing their cars because every year they forget how to drive in the snow, and some wayward cows in the road had created more traffic delays.
Enter: Handsome Stranger.
His name was Andrick. With blue eyes, a massive smile and a hockey player’s build, he caught my eye on his first day at the station.
Toiling in TV news, I thought all traces of romance had disappeared, thanks to the Grim Reaper-self that emerges when you work in an “if it bleeds, it leads” field. But I thought to myself: “I’m going to marry that guy…maybe he’s Jewish?”
He wasn’t. Cue heart quandary.
A week later, he brought his dog to work. Cue heartbeat skip; I’m a devoted dog person.
“We got him three years ago,” he said.
Cue heart crashing to the floor.
“We.” There was someone else.
As I was already pretty miserable reporting on other people’s tsuris, I did what any sensible person would do: sold all my stuff, quit my career of six years and moved to Israel to teach English.
Two months later, after a day spent wrangling fourth graders the way one wrangles wayward cows, I got a Facebook message from Unavailable Handsome Andrick.
“Feel free to write me off as a creep,” it began, “but I broke up with [the other girl], and always thought you and I had a connection. Would you want to talk on Skype?”
The next day I was Skyping with this gorgeous, definitely not Jewish guy.
“What did you have for lunch today?” I asked. Smooth question, moron, I thought. But living in a land without cheeseburgers had made me miss American food in ways that bordered on inappropriate.
“There’s a great deli nearby,” he said. I knew the place. Every Jew in Vermont knew the place. It was the only spot to get a decent knish north of Massachusetts. “I got a pastrami on rye and a cream soda. It’s the best cream soda ever. Do you know about Dr. Brown’s?”
The man had just eaten the lunch of Jewish champions. There went my heart quandary; he embodied the simplest and best parts of being Jewish. With that one lunch, I realized he was the perfect Jew for me.
We talked on Skype for seven more months. When I came home, he met me at the airport with pastrami on rye. It was the most “Jewish” love I’d ever felt. It was beshert.
Six years later, after our at-home wedding, where I told this story in my vows, we went to a campsite, grilled cheeseburgers and drank Dr. Brown’s.
Rachel Feldman is a communications and public relations specialist.
The Number in His Wallet
By Eileen Lavine
It was early september 1956. I was living in a Greenwich Village basement apartment when I got a phone call from one Dick Lavine from Webster, Massachusetts. I knew Webster as an ugly mill town where an aunt had moved and her daughter Rita had found a husband, ending up in an apartment next door to Jennie and Phil Lavine. Rita told Jennie one day that she had a cousin in New York whom their son Dick should call if he were ever in the city.
Dick put the paper with my phone number in his wallet and forgot about it until he moved to New York that summer. He had just graduated from Georgetown Law School and started his first job with the Federal Trade Commission in their New York office. He had gone to law school in the evenings, working as a typist at the Labor Department days and playing clarinet and sax in local bands at night after class. One weekend, a Webster friend who was visiting Dick in New York said, “Why don’t you call Rita Franklin’s cousin?” That’s when Dick pulled out the tattered piece of paper and called me.
I was a little disenchanted with the idea of someone from Webster but felt a bit more positive when he said he was a lawyer. I was going to an Adlai Stevenson election event with the Village Independent Democrats, who were fighting Tammany Hall, so I turned him down that night but we made a date for the following Saturday.
We went to an Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street that first evening, then the dates multiplied all throughout September and October. It soon became obvious we were falling in love. I was enchanted by Dick’s warm sense of humor, his curiosity about everything—especially Italian food!—and his instant connection with my mother, who was delighted when in late November Dick proposed (my two sisters were long married with children). In December, Dick and I took the train to Webster, where Rita had planned a luncheon for family and friends. We had a short engagement and on Sunday, January 13, 1957—a little over four months from when we first met—we were married in my sister’s New Rochelle home.
Yes, it was a whirlwind courtship. But I was 32 and had sown my wild oats—after working on a newspaper in New Bedford, Massachusetts and living in Paris for a year, I was editing a welfare and health weekly newspaper and living in my own apartment, 85 blocks south of my mother’s. I was ready!
We were beshert from the start and throughout our nearly 58 wonderful years together.
Eileen Lavine has been a senior editor at Moment since 2008.
By Rob Dobrusin
It happened shortly after 8 a.m. on a sunday summer morning. I was driving on a rural section of Interstate 75 in northern Michigan on my way to Mackinac Island to officiate at a wedding. I had left home at 5 a.m. for the four-and-a-half-hour trip, allowing extra time so I wouldn’t feel rushed to make the 12:30 p.m. ferry. The extra time was especially important as this was my first long drive since recovering from a rather significant surgery six weeks before.
The drive started out perfectly. I was singing along with the radio, thinking about the d’var Torah (the sermon) I had written for the wedding, when I suddenly heard a noise. It concerned me but I put it out of my mind. However, a few minutes later, the car started bumping fiercely, so I pulled over to take a look. It wasn’t a flat tire. It was a blowout.
So there I was. Under the best of circumstances, I’m not a good tire changer. But with strict orders from my surgeon not to lift anything heavy, there was no way in the world I could do it.
I reached for my cell phone. No service.
Worst-case scenarios came to mind: missing the ferry, leaving the couple standing alone at the chuppah with no way to let people know why the rabbi didn’t show.
I have never felt so helpless as I did then, standing on the side of the desolate road almost in tears.
A moment later, I looked up and saw that out of the morning fog, a car had pulled over. It seemed odd that I hadn’t heard it coming.
The driver, a man who appeared to be in his 60s, got out and asked if he could help. I explained my situation and he said, “Okay.” He took out my spare and silently changed the tire in five minutes.
I offered to pay him. He refused. I asked him for his name and address so I could thank him properly. He would not tell me his name, simply saying, “I’m glad I could help.”
He drove off into the fog as quickly as he had arrived.
I made it to the wedding with time to spare.
I have thought about him often.
Coincidence? Beshert? Or perhaps an intercession from those who look down on us. Quite frankly, that is the explanation I prefer.
Rob Dobrusin is Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he served as rabbi for 30 years.
Friends First. Fast Forward, 2020
By Sophie Mindes
He is kind, thoughtful and laughs easily. My parents love him—he asks for the recipe after eating my dad’s chicken and is there for IT support if my mom accidentally deletes a voicemail. He leaves messages for me on Post-its on my fridge after each visit.
I am anxious, short-tempered and moody. I show him I’ll miss him by asking him several times if he’s remembered to pack his allergy meds.
He is Indian, and I am Chinese with a Jewish father. We argue over whose home has the best cuisine and have agreed that it’s a tie: his mom’s goat curry, my mom’s mapo tofu, my dad’s sweet potato latkes.
We had been close friends for nine years, since high school, and the pandemic brought us closer. In August 2020, we were both in a bad place emotionally after months of quarantine. He was in Maryland, taking care of his grandpa and mom, who were immunocompromised, and I was in New York, recently laid off. We texted and talked so often that it felt like he was there next to me, sitting in my hot Brooklyn apartment with three fans blowing. I should have realized much sooner that I loved him.
Still, it took me three hours to say yes after he asked me out last September. We sat drinking coffee on the balcony of my brother’s apartment and he waited patiently, easing each of my concerns as I listed every possible thing that could go wrong. He likes to show me his scars from the dozens of mosquitos that bit his ankles while I argued with myself.
After that, things moved fast. I went back to New York and he came to visit a week later. It was there, in the apartment not-so-affectionately dubbed the Roach Motel, that we said “I love you” and in our heads quietly planned a future together. We sat on the fire escape and ate cheesesteaks in silence while looking at a view of mismatched brownstones and patches of grass. We slow danced to a song that doesn’t really have the type of rhythm you can slow dance to. We cooked cilantro rice and sausages and watched a reality TV show about a barbecue competition and thought to ourselves, I have never been this happy.
Sophie Mindes is a nonprofit grant writer living in Brooklyn.
Reunited 60 Years Later
By Janet Nussbaum
Growing up in the Bronx, New York in the early 1940s, my best friend—from the time I was five until moves and marriages separated us—was Bernice Goldfeder. Fast forward to the 2000s. I had left New York and relocated to Washington, DC in 2002. I made a happy life for myself there with a few wonderful new friends and the blessing of my daughter and two delicious granddaughters close by in Northern Virginia. I tutored reading at a local school and enjoyed the wonders of retirement, going to theaters, concerts, ballets, museums and more.
But something was missing. I had occasional intangible feelings of loneliness and displacement. My parents were gone. My only sister had recently died, and there was no way to stay in touch with old friends lost decades before.
I truly didn’t realize the impact of all this until I experienced beshert.
One Monday in the summer of 2019, I took my to-do list and stopped at a local shop to pick up two gifts. After selecting them, I was handed over to another salesperson to check out. We chatted a bit, which is my habit, and she asked me where I’d gone to school. When I told her, “the Bronx,” she asked, “Was it Taft High School?” That was where her mother had gone. At that point, I closed my eyes and asked her mother’s maiden name. The rest is now history.
Something was missing. I had occasional intangible feelings of loneliness and displacement. I truly didn’t realize the impact of all this until I experienced beshert.
Her mother is my dear friend Bernice’s older sister. The salesperson called her mother and I was on the phone with her a moment later. She lives in Northern Virginia, about 30 minutes from my home! Later that day, Bernice called from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, also just 30 minutes from me. We were amazed to discover that the day I moved to DC, they were both already living here, but it took almost 20 years to find that out. The three of us had not seen or spoken to each other in 62 years.
That wasn’t the only beshert. It turned out that the daughter usually never worked on Mondays. She was there that day subbing for a colleague.
Soon after our joyous reunion, our families met at Bernice’s house for Rosh Hashanah. She and I have been catching up ever since.
Janet Nussbaum worked in the insurance industry in both Manhattan and Long Island, eventually becoming an agency partner before she retired at 65 and moved to Washington, DC.
My Mother’s Love Song
By Marion Silver
My mother, Paula, or Perel in Yiddish, was born in Cologne, Germany in 1923. Her childhood ended at age nine when her father died. My grandmother couldn’t take care of her and her older sister, Margot, and placed them in a kinderheim, a Jewish orphanage. There, the sisters were placed in a program that prepared youth for kibbutz life in Palestine.
Kristallnacht accelerated this training. My mom left Germany for Palestine in March 1939 at age 16 and ended up at Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, near the Sea of Galilee. My Aunt Margot and her fiancé were on a boat headed to Palestine when the war broke out. Their boat was turned back. We believe she either was killed in a concentration camp or died of typhus. My grandmother, meanwhile, had procured a “domestic passport” (meaning she had to work as a maid) to England. She arrived there two days before the war started.
At the kibbutz, my mom was given the name Penina because it sounded more Hebrew than Perel. A few days later, another boatload of teenagers arrived. Among them was a handsome 17-year-old from Berlin, Peter Neuman. He was renamed Shimshon.
He and my mother fell in love and enjoyed a wonderful romance. He dubbed her Penny, her name ever since. He wanted to marry her, but she wasn’t ready to get married. After two years, they went their separate ways. She lived in Tel Aviv for seven years before joining my grandmother in England. He joined the British Army and later the Israeli Army, where he fought in the War of Independence.
What my mother didn’t know was that in the 1950s, Peter Neuman became the famous and beloved Israeli singer known as Shimshon Bar-Noy. Some called him “the Israeli Frank Sinatra.”
My mother didn’t know this because she stayed in England. She’d meant to return to Israel but then met and married my father, Harry Silver. They immigrated to Canada, where I and my sister Helen were born. My dad died suddenly in 1969, leaving my mother a widow at age 46.
She was lonely for six years. Then, her best friend, Thea, contacted an Israeli friend in New York, thinking maybe he’d know a single man for Mom.
He did know someone: a divorced man from Israel living in New York whose name was Peter. Thea dialed Peter’s phone number even as my mother protested. She told me later that she had “a sixth sense” while Thea was on the phone. After she hung up, my mother told her to call him back and ask if he was ever on Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov.
When he replied yes, Thea told him, “Well, my friend here is your first great love!” He replied, “You don’t mean…Penina?”
Mom and Peter (Shimshon) Neuman (Bar-Noy) married a few months later.
He had moved to the United States with his then-wife and two daughters to try to establish his singing career there. Mom and Peter lived 12 gloriously happy years in New York, always amazed that fate had brought them together once again.
Peter Neuman, the love of her youth—Shimshon Bar-Noy, the love of her life—was her beshert.
Marion Silver earned her BA and teacher’s certificate from Montreal’s McGill University, then taught French as a second language to grade schoolers in Ottawa. She also coproduced and cohosted a Jewish cable TV program, Shalom Ottawa, for ten years.
Wait, No Drama?
By Beth Levine
I had decided i needed to be married by age 30. but if that was the plan, I wasn’t terribly good on the follow-through. I ran from anyone remotely appropriate and agonized about anyone who wasn’t. It amounted to a lot of exhausting drama, which I can sum up thusly: I wanna, you don’t wanna, oh, so now you wanna, because now I don’t wanna. Lather, rinse, repeat. I had no learning curve whatsoever. So, gee, what a surprise, I hit 30 with no chuppah in sight, and I said the hell with it.
What a relief that was! I stopped looking for my life to begin and started to actually live it. I quit my job in order to write and spent the summer on Fire Island. But then mutual friends introduced me to Bill, of the big chocolate eyes. He was a writer too. He was funny, kind, smart and…recently separated from his wife.
AHA! I said. I can learn from the past! I will not get involved with this guy—it’s got disaster written all over it. Sure, he wannas now, but it won’t last. I’ll be Rebound Girl and when he gets his sea legs back, he won’t wanna. I’ll be back in drama soup all over again. No! I won’t do it!
So I didn’t encourage him…much. But…not only was he funny, he got my humor. I was used to guys staring at me uncomfortably while my jokes lay dying on the floor.
They didn’t get it, they didn’t get me, and I was usually left with egg on my face. But Bill laughed. No, he wasn’t Jewish, but he seemed Jewish. He was so haimish, like home, comfy. As my father later rationalized, “He has a Jewish soul.” Or something. He just got it. Whatever it was, he got it. And I got him.
We flirted at a party. It’s just flirting, I thought. Flirting can’t hurt anyone. Then he asked me to lunch. It’s just lunch, I said. Lunch is such a nothing. Then he asked me to dinner and kissed me in the cab on the way home, and I said, who am I kidding?
We skidded sideways into a relationship but I was so unused to the calm, I thought it signaled something was wrong. A lack of passion? Until the day I realized this is what real love looks like. This is what it feels like when one of you doesn’t have one foot out the door. In fact, there are four feet in the house because you are both home.
He once asked me, “Does it bother you that I spend so much time inside my head?” And hand to G-d, my answer was, “I’m sorry, what did you say? I wasn’t listening.” Now if that isn’t beshert…
He wanna-ed, and I wanna-ed, and we’ve been wanna-ing together now for more than 30 years. Sometimes we listen to each other; sometimes we’re lost in our heads.
Does it matter? I don’t know. What was the question?
Beth Levine is an award-winning health and humor writer.
Open Book Finds Editor
By Julie Gray
The truth is, we are an odd couple, gidon and i. he is from the Czech Republic, I am from California; I like cats, he not so much; I like Asian-fusion food, he loves potatoes and gravy; he likes romantic books, I mostly read nonfiction; he’s into football, I never got sports; I am 55 and he is 84. But we have a lot in common, too, like our mutual love of camping, bingeing on Netflix, making soups in the winter, swimming together in the summer and reading books quietly in the evening. We also like to sing duets together, and our repertoire includes everything from “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” to a rousing rendition of “Shalom Aleichem.”
We met in a café in Israel in 2017, to discuss a book Gidon was writing about his life. I am an editor by trade and he had been referred to me. I simply could not resist his sparkling blue eyes, playful manner and mischievous smile. We started hanging out, doing errands and seeing movies, and a few months later, decided to just be sensible and move in together. I think we surprised a lot of people, who wondered what on earth we had in common, what with our differences about cats and potatoes.
The book is progressing and has become more than either of us ever imagined, as we add more experiences and reflections to the pages. Gidon spent four years in the Terezin concentration camp but he refuses, in word and in deed, to be defined by that terrible time. His life has been a series of adventures—some of them a bit crazy and misguided, others very rewarding—that included two marriages and six children. For a man who does not consider himself to be educated, Gidon knows more than a little bit about the art of living and aging well. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not all sunshine and roses (and neither am I). But we are both old enough to appreciate each other, for the brief time that we have together, and to let life’s cranky moments roll on by.
I have no doubt in my mind that at this specific moment in my life and in Gidon’s, we are meant to be together. Can I get a shehecheyanu?
Julie Gray is an editor and writer living in Tel Aviv. She is the director of the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon and is working on a book, together with her beshert, called The True Adventures of Gidon Lev.
The Dime of His Life
By Nadine Epstein
He was incredibly picky. a photo album from the 1940s shows him dashingly handsome, in and out of New York City, in and out of baggy suits, Navy uniforms and bathing shorts, with girlfriends, pre-kiss, post-kiss. One annotation reads something like: “She had thoughts otherwise but he was in no mood for marriage.” In his 30s, with two degrees and military service behind him, he was still in search of the perfect Jewish wife. This physicist, with a remarkably unique mind, drove his Kaiser to Manhattan from New Jersey on weekends to find her.
And so one night, he stood outside a dance at Temple Rodef Shalom. A child of the Depression, he waited for a woman worth the dime entrance fee.
Enter my mother. Movie-star beautiful, radiant, inexplicably intuitive, a natural leader and elegantly dressed. This former elocution teacher with her own two degrees had been president of every organization she ever joined. She had picked herself up from rural Pennsylvania to Manhattan to find the world and could have married anyone.
He proffered his dime, followed her in and asked her to dance. He was a great dancer and so was she. In his pocket was a crystal he had grown in his lab and she bumped against it as they twirled. She was intrigued. Throughout their courtship, he serenaded her with his inexhaustible repertoire of romantic songs in his lovely tenor voice. A fan of musical theater, she fell for the singing, choosing to ignore his stubbornness and the difficulties this brilliant man had in getting along with people. Perhaps she thought she could change him. Certainly, she was afraid of becoming an old maid (she was 29) like her aunt.
The modest wedding took place at the House of Living Judaism of Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue. A stunning bride, a rare look of joy on my father’s face.
A move to suburbia, and a year later, I was born. He finished his PhD, worked as a research scientist and built a house. She juggled pregnancies with presidencies, raised four children and became executive director of the JCC. These two balls of energy weren’t soulmates but achieved a state of coexistence that was all they could ask of marriage. She tried to help him get along with people as best she could. He thought she wasn’t intellectual enough. But there was a spark when they danced, and just enough respect and shared values for a long, fulfilling life together of travel, adventure, milestones and grandchildren. They didn’t necessarily want to be in the same room at the same time but liked shouting to each other across the house. “Seymour!” “Ruth!”
That’s what he missed when she died in 2012. Life went on but at nearly 100 he still wished she was in the other room. He was sure she was worth the dime—and his time.
Nadine Epstein is a writer based in Washington, DC, where she is the editor-in-chief of Moment Magazine. Her father, Seymour Epstein, died in 2021, a few weeks short of 100.
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