November 17, 2018

Meant2Be: A match made in temple

Some people claim to hear angels sing the first time they meet their bashert. In my case, it was more like the theme to “The Twilight Zone.”

I was sitting in my usual spot at temple at the time, alone at the very back of the intimate, Midwestern sanctuary. I liked it that way during services — isolated, focused on prayer and my own thoughts.

Then she walked in. Long brown hair, a New Yorker’s confident strut and — unlike just about everyone else in the room — a birth date after the Johnson administration. As luck would have it, she also was five minutes late, so she quietly took a seat next to me.

The rest of services were a blur as my eyes kept creeping in the direction of the newcomer. Forget about introspection; I was more concerned with figuring out who this outsider was. When, at the service’s conclusion, she was identified to the congregation as our new cantor who would be starting the following week, I decided to introduce myself.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Ryan.”

“Ryan Smith?” she responded.

Cue the freaky, horror movie music. Or alarm bells. Something wasn’t right.

She grinned knowingly. All I knew was that I was in trouble.

To find out the rest of the story, I invited her out to dinner. Her words were anything but sweet nothings. Instead, the true tale of how fate — or rather, an extremely enthusiastic congregant — brought us together, was enough to keep me up at night.

It turned out that my future wife’s job interview had more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It started when the temple Brotherhood president (who happened to be my former religious school teacher) met her before her audition.

“Are you single?” he asked.

She hesitated, then answered: “Yes.”

“Have you met Ryan Smith?”

So much for idle chit chat — and it got worse.

“You two would make beautiful babies,” he said. “Hey Steve, don’t you think she and Ryan Smith would make beautiful babies?”

With an introduction like that, how could you not be interested in dating someone? And yet, with those words, a series of events were set in motion that made our pairing inevitable.

Maybe our happy union would have happened anyway, but I was never any good at dating, and my friends — not to mention my mom — all will admit that I could use some help. So it’s probably good that I had a whole community looking out for me.

This wasn’t the first time my shul had tried to come to my aid. There was the mensch of a temple president who, after Yom Kippur morning services one year, offered me two tickets to a gala for that very evening — then suggested that I take his niece. (I declined, explaining that I was busy … attending Neilah.)

Now, there were others who asked the same question as my friend, the Brotherhood president: “So, cantor, have you met the only other congregant under the age of 30 — or 65, for that matter?” (An exaggeration, perhaps, but only a slight one.)

And when my future wife was hospitalized shortly after starting the job — which she accepted despite (or was it because of?) the awkward offer of beautiful children — another temple leader called me and asked that I be the community’s emissary to visit with her. You know, in her time of need. Wink, wink.

I could thank God every day for the privilege of waking up next to a beautiful, talented, amazing woman. Or I could thank Ross and Mel and Audrey and everyone else who conspired to bring us together.

They saw beyond our differences with typical Jewish stubbornness, envisioning the miracle of a union between a Prius-driving, Broadway-loving vegetarian hippie from Manhattan who had never seen “The Godfather,” and a “Terminator”-watching, carné-craving, sports fanatic from Ohio who couldn’t hum a single chord from “A Chorus Line.”

To these haimish souls, we were perfect for each other, and not just because we were young and single and there was no one else. They got to know us as family, from the very start, and family looks after family. They invited me — a young single man living away from his parents — into their homes for Shabbat, for holiday meals, for movies. They sought out the new cantor not just for her counsel but for her companionship.

When we finally became the match they knew we could be, it made them all so happy. Truly happy — because it made them more complete, more joyous. Talk about a caring community.

And, for the record, they ultimately were right: We did make beautiful babies.

Ryan E. Smith, managing editor of the Jewish Journal, is married to Cantor Jen Roher. They are the parents of two beautiful children, Elijah and Gabriel.