Dating in Jerusalem
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First Person

Dating in Jerusalem

What it’s like to work with a matchmaker in Israel

Rachel Oliker
Rachel Oliker

FIRST PERSON

Simply anticipating a visit to Israel generates waves of happiness throughout my whole being. Savoring the chance to inhale the Jerusalem air, always cool in the evening, and to walk along the white stone paths of this city, where every prayer is elevated.

In the early 1970s, when I was a child, my family emigrated from Russia to Israel, and we lived in Jerusalem. At that time, neighborhoods were being constructed, and our home was in a new building, one of only two, on Stern Street in Kiryat Yovel. Later, a zoo was built in the mountains, behind our apartment building.

As I would recall being awakened by the rooster’s crow, joined by the lions’ somnolent yawn under a pale pink sunrise, my anticipation would grow. A harmony resounded with the early morning prayers of new immigrants from India, Morocco, and Yemen. These tones were joined by the morning calls of an Arabic woman, exclaiming, “Anavim, Anavim,” selling grapes from a large wicker basket that was balanced on her head. As buses noisily groaned their early morning routes in pairs along the street, men wearing kippot rushed to synagogues for morning prayers.

While I was preparing for a trip to Israel, I decided to add diversity to my visit by arranging a date with the assistance of a matchmaker.

When we visit Israel, my family lives with relatives who live in Kiryat Yovel. Once we arrive, we need a few days to overcome the jet lag. On the third day after we got there, the matchmaker contacted me, proposing a meeting with Stanley, an immigrant from London. Stanley and I agreed to meet in the evening, at an address suggested by my Israeli relatives. Because the place we were to meet is hard to find, a procession consisting of Aunt Miriam, Uncle Shmulik, my parents, and I set out to meet Stanley.

Stanley, we learned, was a 54-year-old, who made aliyah from his native London. He was a runner, and he lived in Ramat Eshkol, a quiet suburban neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, near Mount Scopus and French Hill that is popular among Orthodox Jews. When we met him, Stanley appeared to be exhausted. He had a backpack slung over his left shoulder and his hair was in disarray. He had walked from Ramat Eshkol to Kiryat Yovel — it took him an hour and a half.

We decided to visit a miniscule mall adjacent to a Super Sol grocery store, where we drank neither coffee nor tea. Instead, we ate ice cream, my suggestion, as dairy products in Israel are exceptionally delicious, and I treasure every opportunity to enjoy this delight.

After locating a round outdoor table surrounded by a few plastic chairs near the ice cream shop, we sat and spoke. Stanley is a taxi driver in London, where he returns once a month to earn money, because he still does not have an Israeli license to work. He didn’t attend college, but worked in his father’s shop; he can work with a hammer and nails. He also uses his skills to provide services at a local synagogue, and he earns a small salary from that work.

Stanley is a person of short stature, with brown hair and kind, understanding hazel eyes. His parents are deceased, and his brother lives in Scotland. When he returns to London to work, he usually is greeted at the airport by friends; he stays at Bowling Green.

While exchanging personal details about our lives, I decided to disclose my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. Revealing the truth is best performed as soon as possible, I’ve learned from my previous dating experiences. While enjoying the vanilla and chocolate ice cream, I recounted that when I was in medical school, during the pediatrics rotation, I was infected with a virus. That later led to a neurological complication. When my condition improved, I happily continued with medical school. A few years later, I was diagnosed with MS. This diagnosis led to discontinuing my work as a resident in the third year. I don’t work as a doctor now.

Stanley’s eyes widened and his eyebrows raised. He said that he’d heard of MS; in fact, he knew someone who had MS and uses a wheelchair. Because of that, he confessed, he always thought that if you have MS, you must always need a wheelchair.

“Oh, so you don’t work as a doctor?” he inquired, his tone an octave lower than it had been.

“No, I don’t,” I answered. “I’m on disability, and in order to stay on my feet and maintain my present condition, exercise is an essential part of every day for me.” Stanley slowly nodded, looking reflective.

“Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, and each person can vary in the manner in which this disease presents,” I continued. “People may have various diagnoses, but they usually don’t speak about them. I decided to be honest, because the truth is the best way to approach any relationship.”

After discarding the ice cream wrappers that remained from our feast, we decided to return to my relatives’ house. While we were walking, Stanley noticed my slightly awkward gait, and asked if I needed any assistance walking. Courteously and happily, I declined any help.

When we got close to my family’s home, we saw them out on the wooden verandah, drinking tea and eating cake. Joyfully waving their arms, they invited us to join the group. Stanley reacted reluctantly at first, then agreed to stay. My father introduced each member at the table to him.

After learning that Stanley is a handyman specializing in repairs, my father showed him his injured forefinger, black after being struck by a hammer as he performed various repairs around the house. Stanley and I smiled at each other, recalling our recent conversation on this topic. Stanley refused to eat cake because he had eaten ice cream, filling his daily sugar allowance. I ate cake, experiencing slight pangs of guilt, fondly recalling my dietary low-sugar regime, gladly left behind as a relic on this vacation.

Our jovial group escorted Stanley to the bus, which would take him back to Ramat Eshkol. My father offered Stanley money for the fare, but Stanley declined. After he found some change in his wallet before he boarded the bus, I wondered if he could truly afford to take it. We waited with him until the bus arrived, then walked home.

The following day, Stanley called to thank me for meeting with him and I likewise expressed gratitude for our encounter. He enjoyed meeting my family, commenting on their friendly, warm nature. Miriam observed that at first glance, he was compatible with me by height. Everyone understood that he is a “floater” through life.

Stanley and I exchanged email addresses. After I returned to the United States, Stanley and I contacted each other a few times by email, exchanging holiday greetings.

Not too much time passed before another invitation arrived for a bar mitzvah of a family friend in Israel. Once again, I returned to Jerusalem, and in the midst of the visit I decided to call Stanley, although we had not communicated over the past year.

After dialing his number, I was surprised when a woman answered the phone. Identifying myself as Stanley’s friend, I asked to speak with him. When he took the phone, his voice revealed his surprise at hearing from me.

When I asked about the woman who answered the phone, he proudly told me, “Finally, I found my beshert. My wife’s name is Malka.”

“Mazal tov! Congratulations!” I happily replied.

Rachel Oliker of Montvale was born in the USSR, made aliyah in 1972, and moved to Skokie, a Chicago suburb, in 1977. She graduated from Stanford University, went to medical school at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, was diagnosed with MS during her residency there, and writes about her experiences to help others with disabilities.

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