22 Sivan 5779 / Tuesday, June 25, 2019 | Torah Reading: Korach
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A Man of Light and Air    

A Man of Light and Air

So, you want to find a man; not just any man—someone to marry and have kids with. In case you can’t find him, just look for a neighborhood where the men are looking for Hashem…


So, you want to find a man; not just any man—someone to marry and have kids with. In case you can’t find him, just look for a neighborhood where the men are looking for G-d. Come on; that’s not so hard! In my day, I had to find the place all by myself. I used to gather clues on the subway: One Sunday, I spotted a Puerto Rican family, parents and children all dressed up for church. Next week, I saw a shy Jewish couple on a date. How sweet! You have no idea how much I wanted to be that girl. The young man wore a suit and a hat; the girl wore a hat with a feather.


I decided to move to Brooklyn; that’s where the couple came from. It wasn’t Manhattan, it was a place where people married and had kids.


Back then, at least in my mind, any place in Brooklyn was fine, so I scanned the classifieds. I found an apartment in Park Slope, which I thought was Boro Park—you know, where the men are looking for G-d--but it’s not.


I needed rent money, so on Sundays I walked to the Park Slope flea market with my easel and drew portraits for people but didn’t make nearly enough. A scruffy guy came along and advised me to invest in Donald Duck dolls instead; they sold better. I retreated to my apartment and found my new neighbor waiting for me with a pile of proofs that church was the answer.


I thanked her and shut the door in her face.


She in turn smashed my mailbox.


To this day I can’t remember how I found Crown Heights. I think Crown Heights dressed up as a rabbi in a moving man’s getup and showed me where to go. It was a basement apartment with a few other girls. We threw out our jeans and our novels and bought skirts and prayer books, to prove we were ready for marriage.


A rabbi’s wife who already had a husband and babies met us in the grocery store and invited us for a Sabbath meal. On Friday evening we read stories to her children and helped her mash avocados. The wife wore jewelry and beautiful clothes. How we longed to be whatever she was!


My hostess introduced me to a guy named Cohen who spoke in a gentle voice and was made of nothing but light and air. His name was Cohen because he was a Cohen.  I felt drenched in his light. Then the rabbi's wife, the one with the jewelry, pulled me aside for questioning.


“What’s the matter?” I said.


“I just realized. He’s a Cohen!” 




“You can’t marry a Cohen,” she said.


There it was! Our bad deeds caught up no matter where we went. Even at the top of the world, in Crown Heights! Our bad deeds messed up our lives. We couldn’t marry this wonderful guy named Cohen.


That, dear sisters, was the black force pulling our dreams down to death. We needed something extreme to pull them back up. Okay. We’ll tell you what it was, but first you must promise not to try it since it’s not allowed, and it’s dangerous.


We vowed to marry the first Jewish man who would ask us.


Yes, I know that was stupid. But a month later somebody, some man who was not made of nothing but light and air, asked to marry me, and I couldn’t find a reason to say no. After all, he was looking for G-d.


So, I rushed home to the basement and ordered my roommates out of there. They said, what about your degree in art? You’re falling asleep in class and flunking all the tests.


No problem!  I’ll quit art school.  We’ll move to Johannesburg.


Yeah, sure.


But let’s put that story on hold.


After the wedding, our timing was off, and we had to hang out at the rabbi’s house. When that ordeal was over, the rabbi’s wife walked me to the mikveh and then walked me home. At one in the morning I arrived in my own basement kitchen, my damp hair covered with a scarf, facing the guy I thought was my husband, and the telephone rang.  It was the rabbi’s wife, and she sounded upset.  “Your ketubah is all wrong,” she said. “The rabbi said you’re not really married.  You don’t even need a divorce. You can fix it, or just get him out.”  Click.


I thought she made it all up, but no, it was real, a bad sign. Those black deeds were pulling me down again, and now it was worse because of my stupid vow. The rabbi confirmed it. I had to decide.


But I didn’t have the nerve. I remembered all the people who flew in from this young man’s home town in South Africa, and the money my parents spent on the hall, the food and the band. Should I face them all and take the blame? The guy stood innocently in the kitchen, smiling, and what would I say?  Get out of my basement, Mister.


“You know,” I said reasonably, “I don’t love you.  I don’t even like you. I made a mistake.”


He hardly blinked. “That’s because you are looking at my bad points, but not my good points.”


I hadn’t expected an answer like that. Rabbi Shalom Arush also says it: “Every person has his drawbacks; she’s not perfect, so she shouldn’t expect her mate to be.” (Women’s Wisdom, p. 28)


I sighed; that settled the question. The guy gave me some money to meanwhile substitute for the faulty ketubah. Even a ketubah can have faults, but you don’t have to make a big deal of it.


Next morning, we were glad to be home in our own place, and after breakfast he put on his suit and I put on my hat with the feather, and we strolled around the neighborhood. 


I looked at our reflection in the grocery store window. I squinted until I couldn’t see the faults. Then I noticed we had sort of become that shy Jewish couple on a date.



* * *

Alizah Teitelbaum was an actress, an editor’s assistant at Random House, and a columnist at the Jewish Times of Johannesburg. Her stories appeared in Hamodia, Ami, Mishpacha, The Voice of Lakewood, The Jewish Press, and other places. She edits fiction and poetry  for https://sassonmag.com/ and blogs at http://alizahteitelbaum.weebly.com/blog . Alizah lives in the Negev Desert. Write to her at eliseteitelbaum@gmail.com

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