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February 14, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

An enduring love

By Rabbi Leah M. Herz Director of Spiritual Care, Menorah Manor

For much of America, February is the season of love.

Unfortunately, (and at the risk of sounding like a killjoy), our own Torah does not provide us with many uplifting examples of positive, loving relationships. Reading through the Book of Genesis, one might feel as if they have just been watching a Days of our Lives marathon. From Adam and Eve through Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar, one would be hard-pressed to find at least a few models of love that are not rife with seduction, villainy, deceit, hidden agendas or marital infidelity.

Although Jews do not consider St. Valentine’s Day to be anything other than a Hallmark Holiday, it never hurts to have a day that is specifically focused on loving relationships.

One such couple, who I believe share true love, is Bill and Rose who have been married for 65 years. Needless to say, that is no small feat. When they wed in 1949, gas was 17 cents a gallon, a new home averaged $7,450 and $1,420 could get you a new car. RCA had just perfected a system for broadcasting color television, Polaroid had sold its first camera and the NBA came into being.

Bill grew up in Chicago, and following his years of Army Air Corps Service in Guam during World War II, he returned to his hometown to begin his college studies. After arduous testing, he was accepted into the University of Chicago. Bear in mind, the U of C, along with hundreds of other institutions of higher learning, maintained quotas that kept Jews, blacks and other minorities from becoming more than a small percentage of the student body. While waiting in line to register for classes, Bill peered over the shoulder of the man in front of him who was reading the Chicago Sun Times. He saw an ad for a new university that was opening in the heart of the city in an empty munitions warehouse. This school was being founded on the principle that anyone who wanted an education and could pass the entrance exams, was welcome to attend, regardless of race, religion, gender or national origin. Quotas were nonexistent. This appealed to Bill, so he gave up his place in line, took the Illinois Central into the city and registered for classes at Roosevelt University.

Bill was studying under the GI Bill as were many of his classmates. Bill studied political science and was required to take a number of general education courses, one of which was music appreciation. As Bill told it, “I already HAD an appreciation of music, but I had to take the class anyway.” Bill’s parents, both Russian immigrants, had raised him listening to only classical music and he also had a knack for electronics. The family had a phonograph whose quality left much to be desired, so Bill constructed his own phonograph, which by the third generation was much better than the one used in his music appreciation class. So, he shlepped it to campus where it was stored in the building’s basement and hauled out for each class.

Next to Bill during this course sat a young math major named Rose, the 10th in a line of 12 children who was working to put herself through school. They struck up friendly conversations and Rose became the “door opener” when Bill dragged the heavy phonograph into the class- room. He eventually asked her out. Bill said that he admired and respected Rose for her intellect and her hard work. Bill had to take three streetcars to get from his home to Rose’s. They met in June 1948 and were married on Jan. 30, 1949. Perhaps Bill didn’t want to have to endure the streetcars during the frigid and snowy Chicago winters! Or perhaps things just moved more quickly in those days!

Bill spent his last year of college working as an “intern” for one of his professors, a position much like a teaching assistant today. But Bill soon learned that the meager salary was not enough to provide for a wife and soon-to-be baby. He returned to his love of electronics and eventually became highly successful as one of the inventors of hi-fidelity record players. And through it all, Rose remained by his side. Today, six and a half decades later, that smart and dedicated young lady who sat next to him in music appreciation class, still sits by his side. Their eyes twinkle as if they are kids on a first date. They hold hands and smile when reminiscing. Their love is palpable.

I asked Bill to what he attributes his long and successful marriage. Without a moment’s pause he said, “I made the right choice.” “And how do you know it was right?” I asked. “Because I fell in love with her for her intelligence and for her values and interests, many of which were just like mine. I admired her qualities. I wasn’t always easy to live with, but we were committed to making our marriage work, and it has.” Throughout much of this conversation, Rose feigned “annoyance” with eye-rolling and smirks!

For many rabbis, officiation at a marriage is a wonderful thing. Despite the meshugas that are present in many families as they plan and prepare for this (God-willing) once-in-a-lifetime event, most weddings come off beautifully and are occasions of intense joy. But as I always tell the couples with whom I work, it isn’t about the wedding; it’s about the marriage. The wedding is just one small piece of one day. The marriage is for a life. Many of them would gain a wealth of insight and wisdom from couples like Rose and Bill who seem to have figured out how to make it last a lifetime.

During our meeting, this lovely couple showed me their Ketubah. It is a beautiful, hand-written and illuminated document with all the mandated words and signatures. I looked at the bottom of the contract to see if I could make out the name of the rabbi who had officiated. As a fellow Chicagoan, I thought that perhaps I might be familiar with his name. My eyes then caught the name of one of the witnesses, a sister of Rose. I laughed when I saw it and asked the couple if they knew that according to Jewish law, only a non-blood relative was permitted to sign as a witness? I finished by saying, “It looks like you’re not legally married. That means you may have been living in sin for 65 years.” Rose and Bill gazed into each other’s eyes and giggled. They weren’t in the least bit fazed!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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