He was Haredi. I think. It’s hard for me to classify Israelis. I’m never quite sure where they fit in comparison to my American Modern Orthodox Judaism. But he wore a velvet Yarmulke, he worked in a Judaica store in Jerusalem, and he barely spoke English. He wasn’t the typical guy I would date. But he was cute, and confident, and it was a weird time in my life.
Just two weeks before I had been dating someone. A week before that we were sitting in my room, and he said, “I think I’m going to miss you when you’re away.”
“I don’t think I’ll miss you,” I answered back sarcastically, although the joke fell flat.
“That’s ok, we don’t have to feel exactly the same things at the same time.” And I remember thinking it was such an emotionally intelligent thing to say, and also that it was cute that he was going to miss me. Except he wasn’t. “Think” was a key word I had ignored.
It wasn’t for a very long time, and it wasn’t very serious, but he had been the first person who I really connected with, the first person who made me feel comfortable enough to share my feelings with so early on, and so despite the length of the relationship, for me it had been somewhat intense. And the breakup came as a surprise, a day after my best friend’s wedding. So it stung.
And then, two weeks later, I was on a plane to Israel visiting my family.
I was sad, but I was trying to enjoy my time away. I played with my Israeli nephews. I sat on the porch on my favorite hammock, rocking back and forth counting time in swings. I finished a book. I listened to Bon Iver on repeat. I sat by the pool and swam laps with the force only sadness can propel. It was soothing, good to be away.
And yet I was still in New York. I was reading old texts. Is he thinking about me? one part of my brain wondered. No the other screamed back. He is most definitely not. My body was in Israel, but I was living in my iPhone and head.
“He wasn’t right for you,” my best friend had said when I told her about the breakup. I nodded my head but thought, you say that now.
It started with a Rabbi in the Jerusalem neighborhood, Geula. Someone told my parents about some girl we knew who went for a bracha (blessing) a little while back, and now she was engaged.
“It can’t hurt?” my mom asked.
“It can’t hurt” I agreed. I was skeptical, but I was so worn out from the 30-something guys I had dated in the past few years that I just wanted to be all in.
I knew I wasn’t old, although in my circles people start getting married in their early 20’s, and I had turned 25 that year. But I was tired. Because that’s the thing about dating that people don’t tell you; it’s exhausting. It’s tiring to wait for the dates to roll in, to scroll through the apps. But it’s even more tiring when they do. It’s tiring to get your hopes up, only to have them get dragged back down when it doesn’t work out. And sure there are highs. It’s exciting, and fun, and the firsts can get your heart racing in a way you didn’t know it could beat without it exploding out of your chest. But at the end of the day, it’s the wave that hits you like a sudden heart attack when you need to start at square one that makes you want to close your eyes and fall into a deep, deep slumber. You wish you could just be done with the process already, not just because you’re lonely, or sad, or ready for the one, but because you’re just so tired of starting over, heading back to point A, going on another first date.
I wasn’t looking for the Rabbi to change my life, I knew he was no god. I just wanted someone to energize me.
He asked me my name, and he opened a book, and he gave me a bracha. And I won’t go into detail about what he said, except that before I left he looked at me and said with such clarity and intensity; “the past is in the past”. And I burst into tears because it felt so relevant. And maybe it was generic, and maybe he said it to everyone, but I needed to hear it, because I knew he was right.
And I left somewhat invigorated.
And then a day or two later I walked back to Geula, back to the neighborhood of my bracha in search of something else. My coworker had asked me to buy him yarmulkes.
I came to a store with a large selection, and I stood there for so long touching every yarmulke a hundred times.
One of the men working in the store caught my eye a few times. He was tall, fit, carried himself with a confidence that makes people in sales successful. He asked if I needed help in a way that felt slightly flirtatious, but I brushed it off, thinking I was reading into it. Perhaps he worked off commission.
I finally picked out the yarmulkes and made my way over to the counter to pay, and then I left the store half expecting him to say something to me. He didn’t.
I hadn’t made it half a block before he caught up with me. And in his very broken English, and my ok Hebrew, he introduced himself. Shilo. And then he proceeded to ask me for my number.
I was flattered. There are times when guys try to pick you up when you wish you could retreat into a shell and disappear. Free drinks or dinner that you would return a hundred times over if it meant you didn’t have to exchange words. But then there are times, and the reasons vary- sometimes it’s genuine attraction or excitement, sometimes they catch you at the right time; you’re bored, or rebounding, or feeling friendly, but whatever it is, you’re into it. Even when you know it won’t work. Even when you know he’s not for you. Even when you speak different languages. Even when it’s Thursday and you’re flying back to New York on Sunday, and he lives in Israel and you live in America, and he works in a Judaica store in Geula and you work in real estate in New York, and you’re not even sure if he went to college, and you know you’re not over the last guy you dated, but you want to be so badly. So you give him your number. Because you don’t have to answer when he calls, and you don’t have to go on the date. Because you’re standing on the corner across the street from the Rabbi’s house who gave you a bracha a night or two before, and it feels oddly like a sign, and you’re telling Shilo this is ridiculous, it makes no sense, and he’s telling you to get out of your head, it’s just a drink.
So you give in. You’ve been living in your head all week.
And then, at around 10:30 that night he texted me. I was already in bed. I’m done with work, he said in Hebrew. Let’s grab a drink.
I texted my friend to ask her advice. Go! You’ve got nothing to lose.
My life? I responded.
Go somewhere public. If nothing else it’s a good story.
So I got out of bed, put my makeup back on, and met him at a hotel bar.
Expressing my feelings on a date is hard. Expressing my feelings in a different language, a language that I’m only somewhat proficient in was infinitely more difficult. And yet, there was something nice about it. Something funny about getting lost in translation. Sarcasm got lost which was challenging, because my life, especially my dating life, is built on humor. But without the crutch of jokes, we actually had to say something real. And so we spoke. About what we wanted in life. About his work in the store and the other business he was working on. About whether or not I wanted to stay at my job or pursue something more creative. About religion and the Rabbi who he respected so deeply, it almost made me jealous that he could respect anyone so much. About spirituality and the place of God in my life as I got older. About his mother’s emotional strength. About my brothers and the endearing ways they asked and didn’t ask questions about my dating life.
And every so often he would pause and ask, “Whyyyy? Why must all the great girls be living in America?” And I smiled because it was sweet and forward, but it was also just a thing to say, because as much as he knew, he didn’t really know me at all. It was a first date.
He left me a voice note that night after I told him there was no way it would work out. I was leaving on Sunday, and we didn’t even speak the same native language. It was fun, but it wasn’t a life altering night.
“First of all Michal, I had so, so much fun,” he said in Hebrew. “You are such a special and stunning woman. There are no words. Even if I won’t be with you, I want you to know how special you are. Really. Thank you for everything. I had so much fun.”
And I cried again. Because the way he said it was so genuine and so meaningful. And there was something about hearing it in Hebrew, the language of my religion, that almost made it feel like another blessing. And it didn’t matter that he didn’t know me well. And maybe it was generic, and maybe he said it to everyone, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.
In a strange way, I went to Geula in search of one blessing, and oddly enough, I left with two.