I proposed to my wife a few days after Rosh Hashanah, 2009. It was the antithesis of romance. We had held lengthy, matter of fact discussions leading up the proposal and we had already shopped for modest rings so there were really no surprises. Since we are both virulently misanthropic, we planned an intimate affair at the Weiss House on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv. It was the first house built in Tel Aviv in 1912 and had since been a residence for the wealthy Weiss family, a museum that honored their pioneering ways, a nightclub that celebrated Tel Aviv’s gayness, a wine bar, a tapas restaurant and now a venue for special events. We compiled an uber minimal guest list and set the date. Having done all of this, I distinctly remember thinking to myself: Well, the hard part is over.
You are instructed to bring two friends with you to the rabbinical authority, a cold, square building on King David Blvd. These friends are supposed to attest to your strong Jewish background and heritage in front of the Rabbi. This Rabbi, in his infinite and divinely inspired wisdom determines whether or not you are eligible to be married in the State of Israel. I didn’t have two friends so I brought a video editor that I had worked with (and whom I had set up on a few dates turned one-night-stands with my fiancé’s friends from the gym so the fucker owed me) and a quirky inventor who worked at the café down the street whom I had helped with some translation work (the left handed cucumber peeler that would surely revolutionize the world as we know it).
The rabbi arrived an hour late and was so furiously texting on his old Nokia phone that I thought for sure the buttons would pop off. He invited each of my friends separately in to his office and each one exited with a contrite look on their face that I understood could only be the result of their interrogation induced confession as to my obvious Non-Jewishness, which they had no choice but to admit after being water boarded by the Lord’s chosen messenger.
I sat opposite the man and studied his gray beard and his stained white shirt. The office was sparse. A desk. No computer. Nothing on the walls. An old Bezeq style phone from the 90’s. He continued to punch away at the buttons on his Nokia, completely oblivious to my presence. Finally, he began the interview.
“Is your mother Jewish?” He asked. I said I thought so. He asked to see her Ktuba. I showed it to him. He ran his neatly trimmed and immaculately manicured hands through his mangy beard and continued.
“The ceremony wasn’t conservative. It was a reform synagogue.” And then a long, pregnant pause. For the first time he looks up at me. Right at me. Perhaps through me even as if to imply that a few hundred shekels could make all of these obstacles disappear. I play dumb to his insinuations. He scratches his head and continues as tiny flakes of snow white dandruff plummet on the desk: “How about her mother?” He says. “She passed about twenty years ago.” I say, not sure how the wonderfully cynical Trudy, whose claim to fame was her close relationship with disgraced baseball star Pete Rose, could have possibly come up in this conversation.
“I need her Ktuba.” He snorts. Almost imperceptibly. “Otherwise, I can’t marry you.” He says and doodles on his legal pad. Spirals. Why spirals, I keep thinking. “She was married in Los Angeles in the 40’s. It was in City Hall.” I remember that because there’s a great picture of her and my grandfather, freshly back from the war and still in uniform, kissing outside the building.
“Well, I’ll need a photograph of her tombstone. If it has a Hebrew inscription on it I’ll allow you to marry.” He says and stops scribbling spirals abruptly. God has spoken.
We flew to Larnaca, Cyprus a few weeks later and got married alone at City Hall. It was a lonely affair, yet somehow extremely liberating. We took pictures of ourselves on the beach but couldn’t find anyone to take a picture of the two of us. There were a few Arab teenagers there, but they gave us a nasty look when they heard us speaking Hebrew. The Rabbi didn’t see me as a Jew but everyone else did.