Photo Illustration: Jonathan Barkat
When a friend called and asked if I wanted to meet a recently divorced man she knew, I asked, "Who is he?" and listened attentively. I had been separated from my husband for a few years and missed the company of men.
She listed this one's impressive accomplishments: a psychiatrist with a degree in comparative literature, and a good man, she said. She added somewhat tentatively, "And I think he's Jewish."
I said, "Oh, that's absolutely fine with me."
I am an Anglican, born in South Africa, where I attended a church school as a child. In America I found great comfort in the Episcopal Church, singing the hymns and saying the prayers from my childhood. I consider myself a Christian and try to live as one. I grew up under apartheid and had suffered with prejudice of every kind around me for long enough. Had my mother not told me she would rather I married a Jew than a Catholic? Was not Jesus a Jew? Besides, if anything, surely it was the Jews who were the superior people. Were they not the great thinkers, the artists, the scientists? What about Freud, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, and Einstein?
Of course I wanted to meet her accomplished friend. I was extremely eager to meet him and fall in love with—ah, yes! A Jew.
And we did meet, in a Japanese restaurant, and over the course of the meal and, later, coffee at his house, I did fall in love with the man who sat opposite me. I fell for the shock of white hair, the large, melancholy eyes, the aquiline nose, the smooth skin, and the boyish, slim hips. Above all, I fell for his mind, all the poetry he knew by heart: Wordsworth, which I had read as a child; Blake; and, of course, Heine, which he could quote in German. I discovered he had read the books I'd read, loved, and tried to emulate. He knew Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Flaubert.
How could I resist? Moreover, how could I resist the way he let his hand hover so lovingly on his son's head, the way he carried my suitcase to the station, brought me breakfast in bed when I had a cold, or rose in the night with my daughter's first baby to walk the child in the steamy bathroom to help with her cold, the way he held me in the night when I couldn't sleep. I fell in love with the way he walked me across the park to the church I attended and stood on the steps, waving me goodbye with a gentle, approving smile.
This time, we both said, we had found the right mate, not the boy or girl next door but someone strange and different, someone other, someone to love and cherish until death would us part.
We found a jovial gay Lutheran minister to marry us in our apartment in Greenwich Village. We took him out to dinner, and after a few glasses of wine and a heaping plate of stew, when I gently suggested it might not be necessary to mention Jesus too often during the ceremony, he nodded understandingly. We had all our five children read poetry and my new husband's father, a tall and elegant man, recite a prayer in Hebrew. At the end of the ceremony, I insisted that my husband break a glass in what I considered customary Jewish fashion. All went off splendidly, surrounded by our friends and family and some excellent French caterers, although, afterward, my husband's father gently took me aside and whispered in my ear that the breaking of the glass in his Reformed tradition was considered going a bit too far with tradition.