I had never made an"official" aliyah though I traveled to Israel literally as a commuter for many years. None of my contemporaries from New York were Zionists, nor did they have any interest in living in Israel. Somehow the commitment to remain in Israel was frightening, so I pretended that it was all temporary while settling into a rented apartment in Tel Aviv and going through all the tedious bureaucratic hullabaloo of becoming a "new immigrant" as though it were just an incidental thing as if anything in Israel of a bureaucratic nature could ever be "incidental."
The first year of my "not-really" aliyah, I worked in a group home with children, most of them orphans waiting for adoption or still another foster home. I made friends at an ulpan, studying five hours every morning, and dated scores of Israeli "macho" men, all of them desperate for a visa to the United States. I was wise to the situation, but enjoyed the attention just the same. It was right after the Yom Kippur War, and ever so many young men wanted to leave. Yet, despite all the men, the dating, and the work, it wasn’t enough. In Israel, strangers will ask you straight out why you are not married with children, repeatedly and often, until you change direction on the street when you see them coming. This becomes second nature to a single woman and I doubt if anything has changed to this day.
Winter in Tel Aviv is strangely cold. It begins to rain in November and is damp and chilly, many days from morning through night. As it is generally such an outdoor life, being indoors so much is tedious and feels unnatural. Clothes are eternally layered and go on and come off. The days went quickly with the group home children and in the ulpan I attended, but truthfully, I was more than ready to find the "right" man. Winter is a lonely time in Israel without a family to come home to. Any time is, for that matter, but more so in a land where one has no family at all and everything revolves around family.
At night, I sat in front of a TV watching the one or so channels of that time, in two layers of clothing and wool hiking socks with the gas heater burning in front of me, missing my parents and friends. But one adjusts, albeit invisibly. It happened that I became friendly with a lovely Yemenite girl who introduced me to her friends. She was "worldly," in that she had traveled outside of Israel and had somewhat of a cosmopolitan edge. Her boyfriend was a non-Jewish Englishman and to her this fit in with her own well-traveled self-image. Came the end of my first December in Tel Aviv, I was more than ready to get out of my frigid apartment. She invited me to go to a party on what was Christmas eve. This celebration was the last thing that would have crossed my mind until I found that Christmas, too, was celebrated in Israel. I joined her, and we went to a pub on Diezengoff Street in Tel Aviv, full of British engineers celebrating the way they would at home, with far, far too much liquor. I never expected to be there on this occasion or in this environment. Wasn’t this what I tried to leave behind in New York City?
OK, Christmas eve. So be it. He was "our guy," anyway, the hero of this night.
The owner of the establishment came to greet us. He was a South African who had come to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, a Jew with a strong Zionist background and a fine, warm manner of speaking and listening. He was a kind and generous man, and soon we became friends. Soul friends I would say, for we understood each other ever so well from the start. He too wanted a family, but had a divorce to resolve first. Embarrassingly, I knew nothing about South Africa and learned much from him, as well as that the South Africans are very conservative people and find Americans to be slightly crazy. We then adapted to each other as he loosened up and I withheld a little of my American meshugas.
So there I was in a bar every night in my first and second year in Israel; spending my days with the children, learning Hebrew, and then helping Alan at his work. We were very close, but never discussed a future. We both took on our Israeli citizenship with great pride and he helped me raise my first Israeli foster child. She was a handicapped little girl from a most unusual parentage. He and I both loved Hannah. This love of a child was truly the bond that soldered our relationship. Soon thereafter, his own son from a broken marriage in South Africa came to live with us as well. Michael was all of 7 years old. We now had a family so to speak, though without a marriage. It made some sense but not totally: a foster child and a child who was not yet permanently with us.
Eventually, I adopted Michael and sadly, Hannah went to live with distant family.
There was no "proposal" really. We decided to marry, and had a simple wedding at the Tel Aviv rabbinical court on King George Street two months later. It was an unglamorous wedding to say the least, freezing cold, raining, a venue with no heating, but most traditional and sweet. I wore socks and high boots under a lovely ivory dress that my mother found in my closet, one from years before.
There were more rabbis in attendance than we could use in a year of chagim. My immediate family arrived from New York, and several friends attended, but that was all. I took my own photos and handed around my camera for the others to use. I had no head covering, so my mother found a lace handkerchief in her handbag to put on my hair. It remained askew throughout the ceremony. I had not yet recovered from my time at the mikvah, which bore no resemblance to anything here, then or now. We had dinner in a restaurant and there was no wedding cake, which for years I blamed my mother, yet she insisted that I had wanted no cake at all. A strange enough wedding, but enough to authenticate our marriage.
In a way, we had already been "married" since the first night that we met at a bar on Diezengoff Street, the Christmas eve when we found each other. Our lives continued together, and our family grew, which was all we truly wanted. None of it was easy, but we had each other. It was not a romantic fantasy but something authentic and true. I have yet to figure out how it came to be that there were so many rabbis at our wedding, or how I ever adjusted to the Israel of those days, but for sure, I will remember at least one Christmas eve as a very important time in my heart.