A week before Rosh Hashanah my friend Yossi and I met for a light lunch at my favorite Tel-Aviv kosher café, Rochale’s on 120 Ben-Yehuda Street. The food, vegetarian selection, is great with a menu offering large choices. And the desserts are to die for. Better than mama used to bake.
We were sharing stories about how and where we had met our wives. Outside tables were crowded in spite of the intense heat so Yossi and I sat inside. Only two other customers sat at nearby tables. As we were talking, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting alone at an opposite table. He smiled at me, rose from his table and approached us.
“I was very interested to hear the two of you sharing tales of romance and marriage. I have an interesting story that I would like to share with you, if I may. May I join you at your table?”
Yossi and I had no objections. We introduced ourselves to the man who told us his name was Zev.
This is Zev’s tale as he related it to us.
“Many years ago I was in Paris at a railroad station waiting for an international train to Warsaw. I wanted to visit the streets where my parents had once lived, the school which they both attended, and to visit the graves of my grandparents buried in the large Jewish cemetery close to where the ghetto once was. The train ride was long. I really don’t recall how many hours. I brought kosher sandwiches with me to eat as there was no possibility of finding something permissable in the buffet car.
My compartment in 2nd class had seating capacity for six passengers but there were only three of us, two sitting on one bench and a young lady seated on the bench facing us. I noticed that she was reading the Haaretz Hebrew newspaper so I asked her if she was from Israel. She replied that she was and was taking the train to a conference in Krakow.
We began a conversation. I told her where and why I was traveling and she told me something about her conference. From those brief introductory remarks, we began talking about ourselves, our families, our interests, hobbies, education, politics, religious beliefs and all sorts of personal facts about our lives. To my deep pleasure, I discovered that both of us had similar interests, similar family backgrounds and identical religious beliefs and observances.
I took out a sandwich from my bag, broke it in half and offered it to her. Ruth, that was her name, asked to see the wrapping paper to ascertain the kashrut of it and where I had bought it. Satisfied, she took it from my hands, recited a silent bracha, and ate it, thanking me profusely for my kindness.
I could see at once that Ruth was polite, good manners, and a gentle and sweet disposition. Riding on the train for so many hours, stopping for border control in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany before we reached the Polish border gave us non-stop hours of conversation. In that short period, Ruth and I had become intimate friends.
Prior to arriving at the Central Station in Warsaw, we exchanged names and addresses and promised to keep in touch. When we left the train, Ruth mentioned that she had a two hour wait for her connecting train to Krakow. I insisted on waiting with her inside Krakow’s large terminal. We talked and talked and finally she agreed to let me buy her a soft drink from the terminal café, served in a paper cup.
When her train arrived, we shook hands and wished each other a safe and comfortable journey. Ruth was on her way to Krakow and I was en route to the Hotel Europejski in central Warsaw. After checking into my spacious room, I felt a tightening in my throat, a feeling of choking. Tears fell uncontrollably from my eyes. And at once I knew that I had fallen in love with Ruth and wanted to marry her.
But what could I do? I was in Warsaw, she was in Krakow. What could I possibly do? How could I find her? In the desk drawer in my room I found letter paper and envelopes and so I began writing to Ruth at her address in Tel-Aviv. Each morning I would write another letter. I think I had written 12 letters in all.
Many weeks later, I had returned to my home in Israel. I picked up the telephone and called the number which she had given me. There was no reply. I tried calling a few hours later and a woman answered the call.
“Ruth is not here. She is still at the office and should be home by 6 o’clock. May I tell her who is calling?” “Just tell her it is Zev from Warsaw and I’ll call again later”.
That evening, it was Ruth who picked up the phone. She was delighted to hear from me and I could hear the happiness in her voice. I invited her to a café on Bograshov the next day and I arrived promptly at the agreed upon time. Ruth arrived half-hour later with many apologies. She had to take two buses to reach the café, traffic was heavy and there were delays. “Never mind”, I told her. “You are here at last and that’s all that matters to me”.
We ate a salad and fried fish. I had apple strudel for dessert. Ruth chose to skip dessert. I paid the bill and we went outside, walking, holding hands, talking, my hand moved to her shoulders in an embrace, and when we reached Dizengoff Street, I suddenly turned to Ruth and said, “Ruth, I’m in love with you. I have been since we first met aboard the Paris-Warsaw Express. Ruth, dear… will you marry me”
She kissed me on my cheek and made a confession, “Zev, I love you too. I would be very happy to be your wife”.
Our parents at first were concerned. How can two people marry after knowing one another for such a short time? But they saw our love for one another and they gave their consent and blessings.
The marriage took place in a wedding hall on Gordon Street. We were surrounded by loving family and dear friends. A newspaper reporter was there and he wrote the story of our love on the rails.
Ruth and I have been happily married for more than 50 years. We have four children and seven grandchildren, And so you see, my dear friends, the rest is history”.
Yossi and I thanked Zev for sharing his love story. We paid his café bill to his objections. And the three of us left the Rochale café with very happy hearts.