“Who is rich? One who appreciates what he has.”
(Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1)
I can remember my first date. I was 19 years old. It was July. My mother told me he would be taking me to a hotel at 9 p.m., then she handed me a new blouse and said, “It’s silk, not polyester. Wear it.” Good, I thought, at least the blouse won’t feel cheap.
A hotel at 9 p.m. might seem shady, but I was about to embark on a date with a student rabbi, so these were a different sort of rules. The hotel date would be in a lobby, a private-yet-public choice. Private because he was driving me an hour away, where the likelihood of running into anyone we knew was nil. Public because we had strict instructions to stay in the lobby. As for the late hour? This student rabbi had not gotten permission from his rosh yeshiva (head principal) and was breaking out to pick me up. A rebel rabbi — I was already intrigued.
He pulled up in a black Lincoln Town Car. His friend owned a car rental company, so he was given a free choice of luxury vehicles from which to choose. Rebellious and innovative. Check and check.
He showed up in a classic blue suit, which I would later learn was the only suit he owned, and got out of the car to open the door for me. Chivalry was not lost on him. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but the shadchen is standing behind those garbage cans making sure I pick you up in my black hat [customary Chassidic garb], which is exactly why I’m not wearing it tonight. He asked to join us. I hope it’s OK with you — I told him no.”
The overprotective rabbi peering out from behind the garbage cans had been my second-grade teacher. My mother insisted we use him as the matchmaker even though I told my father I wanted to date this boy six months prior. Mom didn’t think it was appropriate to meet the yeshiva boy with the English name without an appropriate broker. “Who names their Jewish son Robbie? What kind of name is that? Robbieeee! Is his mother Jewish? We need to hire a rabbi private eye,” she ranted.
I got in the car with my homemade cinnamon buns and told Robbie our long drive might make us hungry. I brought baked goods like I was selling my homemaker skills in the most awkward interview. He often says that sealed the deal for him, and complains I haven’t made them since.
The conversation was easy, like I had known him my whole life. We had many of the same acquaintances and experiences. He had more, of course, because he was four years older. He stared at me with great concentration while I spoke. At one point he got out to help an old woman who fell crossing the street. The drive lasted two hours because we sat through most of the red lights for multiple cycles. I thought it was charming and funny that I had captivated him enough to disrupt his driving.
At the hotel, ordering a stiff drink to calm my nerves was off limits, given that I was underage. We settled on ordering two Cokes, $10 each. It was the most expensive soda he ever purchased. I didn’t finish mine. The thought of telling him I’d have to pee completely disturbed me. He couldn’t know just how human I was.
At the end of the night he turned to me and said, “Chava, you need to know something about me.” At that point, the cynic in me was sure he was going to tell me about some family mental illness he was hiding. Instead he said, “Chava, I am not possessed by wealth or by acquiring money. I want to change the world. I promise I will always take care of you but I don’t care to be rich.”
I came home that night to my mom, who had been waiting up with bated breath and full of questions: Did you like him? Was there a connection? Do you want a second date?
Worried, I shared with her what he said. To which she took a long pause and said, “Oh, what does he know. He’s in yeshiva. Once he marries you, he will change his mind.”
After 21 dates and five weeks, I said yes. Twenty-one years and six months later, he still is rebellious and innovative and has given me a far richer life than I could have ever imagined. And he still wears blue suits in July.