Yes. It is real. It does happen. It happened to me several times. The first time was the most memorable. It was unexpected, mysterious and extremely surprising.
Zim Lines steamship SS/Theodor Herzl left from Haifa port and arrived in the Italian port of Naples three days later.
While re-loading the ship with supplies the captain announced that we would be in port for approximately 10 hours and suggested that passengers may be interested in touring the famous city…the ruins of Pompei, Mt. Vesuvius, the art museum, city center shops.
She took the tour of ancient Napoli while I toured the city’s modern center and its wide avenues of shops full of delightful things. She and I had never met.
I returned to the ship after three or four hours and shortly after I noticed her returning on board. She was smiling and I assumed she enjoyed the sights she saw. I welcomed her on board and asked her where she had been and seen.
We began a friendly conversation, both of us Israelis and speaking in Hebrew. Soon we were joined by one of my companions at the dining room table. He was a faculty member at the Weizman Institute in Rehovot and was traveling to Paris to represent the school at an international conference on atomic energy.
He suggested that the three of us should sit together at meal-time where we could talk while eating.
On that particular evening meal, the first course was an appetizer of chopped liver. I did not eat it and neither did our female companion. But woe to those who did. There were many many cases of stomach problems. Perhaps the chopped liver had not been refrigerated long enough.
Among those who became ill was our table companion from Rehovot. The two of us were alone and following the main course of the meal which we did eat, we walked on the promenade deck and, finding two comfortable deck chairs, we sat down, listening to the splash of waters at the side of the ship.
She and I talked that night for 18 hours, way into the night and almost time for the breakfast meal. She told me she was born in Ramat Gan, lived in the Montefiore section of Tel Aviv and was employed at the Haaretz daily newspaper.
She was a religious young lady from a Polish family who had emigrated to Israel in 1934. Her father died when she was only 1 year old. She never knew him. Her mother never remarried and worked in the family textile factory on rehov HaMasger in Tel-Aviv. Her grandfather, with whom the family lived, had transported all his factory machinery from Warsaw to Tel-Aviv and was one of the first textile manufacturers in Tel-Aviv. He is listed in the encyclopedia of pioneers in Palestinian manufacturing.
I asked her why she was traveling. Was it for business? No, she replied. She was simply on a vacation and would visit her uncle in the French city of Roanne.
Most of her conversation revolved around her family and I discerned her familial love and her devotion to Jewish religious observances . Very impressing.
After our 18-hour conversation I was in a trance. I was falling in love with her and experienced feelings that I had never known before. She was 24 and I was 26.
Two days later, we docked in the French port of Marseilles. It was still Shabbat and she waited on board the ship for an extra two hours before disembarking. I waited with her. We made our way to the train depot, I going to Paris and she to Lyon with a connection to Roanne.
Since she intended to come to Paris in a few more days I suggested that we meet on a given day and time in the offices of American Express in the center of Paris. I had done doctoral studies in France at the Universite de Poitiers in the Loire Valley and was familiar with Paris.
When we met at American Express I offered to take her for a brief tour of central Paris. I had rented a small Renault and we drove to Montmartre and shopped for picture cards of the city. We traveled to Malmaison, home of the royal family’s magnificent palace. We walked through the gardens of the Tuileries, visited Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides, and dined for lunch at the only kosher restaurant in central Paris, Restaurant Eden on Montparnasse.
Paris was beautiful but she was more beautiful and made my heart beat faster. I knew it was love at first sight for me and when I told her of my sudden feelings for her, she took my hand and said “gam ani.. I too have those feelings for you.”.
Two days later she had to take the boat train to London before returning to Israel. I met her at the train terminal with a large box of chocolates tied with a large blue bow. (She kept that bow for 56 years).
When her train departed, I walked to the café in the terminal and ordered a cup of espresso. As I sipped it, I felt it sticking in my throat and tears were falling from my eyes. Love had finally struck me!
I took a taxi to my hotel, threw myself on the bed and cried like a baby. How could I lose Rahel..her name..? When would I ever see her again? We had known each other for only six days, but we both agreed that we were in love.
She returned to Tel Aviv and I continued on to the United States. In the more than 100 letters we wrote to each other, I proposed marriage. Her anticipated reply arrived two weeks later. She accepted my proposal.
I flew back to Tel Aviv where we were married in January 1960. Heaven had blessed me. The love at first sight never diminished and we shared our love happily together with our three children for 56 glorious years until her death in 2016.
Several years later our son married a girl born in Casablanca to a wealthy Jewish family. When their first child, a girl, was born I fell in love with her the first time I saw her in the hospital maternity ward. Rahel and I rejoiced in the first addition to our family. We were walking on clouds !
Regretably, our Moroccan daughter-in-law did not understand our love for her daughter and for many months we were deprived of visiting. I held my first grandchild after six months when her parents joined us at the Pesach seder. Ma nishtana had added meaning. How is this night different from all other nights? On this night Rahel and I held our first grandchild for the first time since her birth six months earlier.
We were never allowed to wheel her in her carriage. Her mother set her rules for us to obey . We learned to live with a domineering woman. Happily, she had a wonderful father in Casablanca and Paris whom we loved very much. He came from Morocco to Israel in 1948 to volunteer in the IDF for the defense of Israel
Following the birth of our first granddaughter we were blessed with two others, a grandson and another granddaughter and once more it was ahava mi-mabat rishon.. love at first sight.
We were able to take our grandchildren alone for ice cream for the first time when the oldest was 8years old. I made the silent prayer of “She-hecheyanu” thanking God for a very happy day.
Denied frequent contact with them, my wife and I adjusted to the strange behavior of my son’s wife. Happily, the love both of us had for our grandchildren was returned hundreds of times over the years by their hugs and kisses and expressions of their love for us.
They are now grown adults and I will live to see my grandson standing under the chuppah at his wedding in January. I look forward to the day when I can hold my first great-grandchild in my arms with none to deprive me of that immense joy. I pray that I may live to see that day. At age 87, one never knows his future.
So I am convinced that love at first sight is a reality and not a myth. And in my old age I look frequently at the many photos of our family together which warms the heart of this old man.
Ahava mi-mabat rishon— love at first sight was God’s greatest blessing to me.