It was a fine, June, Friday afternoon in 1996. I was living with my sister and her family in Elmhurst after having returned from living in Israel for a full year. I had been doing a lot of shul hopping and found myself in Berwyn that day, visiting a friend. I decided to call a synagogue I did not know a whole lot about: Oak Park Temple. The person who answered told me they were having a family service. I said that would be fine.
I arrived and sat by myself in a middle row near the back. In the row in front of me and off to the left was a woman with two small girls. She seemed kind and I liked how she interacted with her children. I also noticed that she did not have a partner with her. At one point, the younger child, who looked about 2 years old, walked over and stood on the seat right in front of me. She had curly hair and dimples, and resembled Shirley Temple. She looked at me and smiled. That little girl turned out to be Abby.
Family services can be long when you are a single parent with energetic 2 and 4-year old girls. This one wasn’t. Behind me was a man with a beautiful voice who sang with a gentle spirit. He knew the prayers and chanted them with a quiet ease. That meant a lot to me, a fairly recent convert to Judaism who had been learning and practicing the same prayers with more determination than ease.
I wondered who the man was, but promised myself not to look around. After all, there were no single men in this congregation. And who met eligible, handsome men in shul anyway? But going into the Oneg, Rabbi Gerson had a mischievous smile on his face. Very mischievous. He noticed when this man approached me after the service...
...and asked me for my phone number.
It's a good thing that I am a runner. Because if a man finds a woman he likes and knows he needs to make the first move, he better be ready for a good chase! I finally managed to get together with this lady, and I began to get to know her and her children. If chasing her was hard work, it was another thing to keep up with two very energetic little girls. Was I prepared for this?One day I was visiting Liz and, as I stood in the living room, Margo (the older of the two) began dancing around the living room saying: "You know you love her. Why don't you just marry her!"
We were married on August 3rdTemple. We celebrated afterward in the community hall. The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band provided the music. At one point, it seemed as if every soul was up and dancing in a long line all around the room. It was a truly joyous simcha!
I still do a lot of running. Keeping up with this family has always had its challenges. With the passage of time and many life transitions, Margo is now 24, a college grad, and is looking into graduate school in the physical sciences. Abby is 22 and working in a college-readiness program mentoring first-generation, college-bound high school students. And there is yet a third girl: Rebecca! As a baby, temple members got to know her quickly from her red hair, and also because she was frequently passed around the congregation during services. She is now 16 and a sophomore at OPRF. All our girls are very smart. As I am used to telling others, they are all much smarter than me; they just have no common sense!
OPT remains our community. We enjoy and honor the continuity around us. It does not seem so long ago that we were new members; now we are elders. The OPT community has been integral to our lives: Welcoming young couples with young children, celebrating Shabbat and b'nai-mitzvot, attending Torah Study, meditation, or Aaron's niggun class, having bagels on Sunday mornings, helping out where we can on committees or with Project Sandwich. Our three girls have also been active participants--as TAs on Sundays, working at Camp Shalom over the summer, engaged in the Youth Group, etc. Now that it is Rebecca's turn, I always smile when I hear her remark, as a kid runs past her after religious school: "He used to be in my gan class!"
Suffice it to say that I truly feel blessed. My family has been my greatest teachers and I cherish each one. I am eternally grateful to Liz—she is such a special lady and to the gift each girl has been to my life.