Miriam Edelstein and John Hecht planned to get married on August 1 aboard a cruise ship to Bermuda — but covid scuttled those plans
A few months later, they decided not to put off their wedding any longer.
So the two 80-somethings from Rockland County tied the knot — or, rather, smashed the glass — at the Nanuet Hebrew Center in New City on November 16, in the socially distanced presence of a minyan of 10. Children, grandchildren, and friends watched the happy occasion on Zoom.
“We were both married twice before, so the third one is going to be the charm,” Ms. Edelstein declared. “John was very loving from the beginning, and I have never felt so loved and cared for.”
“I have known Miriam for a long time,” Mr. Hecht said. “I like everything about her: her sense of humor, her intelligence, her attractiveness. She goes to the gym five times a week — more than I do.”
Rabbi Paul Kurland, spiritual leader of the Nanuet Hebrew Center, sums up Mr. Hecht as “a mensch” and Ms. Edelstein as “a firecracker” who belly-danced in the synagogue’s Purim spiel a decade or so ago.
Rabbi Kurland came to the synagogue in 1997. Ms. Edelstein had joined in 1963 and Mr. Hecht in 1993. In fact, the couple met each other in the shul.
“I met her when my first wife passed away in 1993 and I joined the Nanuet Hebrew Center,” Mr. Hecht said. “I took a liking to her right away. I was about to ask her for a date, but she was involved with someone else.”
The way Ms. Edelstein remembers that incident, she was a volunteer “minyan captain” at the time. Her job was to call people and ask them to come to weeknight services when enough of them hadn’t shown up on their own to make up the quorum.
“John was in the group I was supposed to call when we needed another person, and he was very reliable,” she said. “One day when I called him, he said, ‘I’d like to speak to you after services.’ So I knew immediately what was cooking. I said, ‘I like you too, but I am already committed to someone else.’”
Eventually they both got remarried, and the new foursome often socialized together. Mr. Hecht and Ms. Edelstein served on the synagogue board of directors together. After Ms. Edelstein’s second husband died in 2014, however, they saw less of each other. And then in February 2018, Mr. Hecht’s second wife also died.
“Miriam came to the funeral and then came to shiva and that’s how we started talking again,” Mr. Hecht said.
“He is very quiet and not as sociable as I am,” Ms. Edelstein recalled. “I said to him, ‘Don’t just sit at home and brood. I know lots of nice ladies for you.’ He said, ‘I don’t want any other ladies. I want you!’ And that was it.”
For the past 20 months, they have spent half of each week together, alternating between Mr. Hecht’s New City house and Ms. Edelstein’s house in Nanuet. Mr. Hecht gave Ms. Edelstein an engagement ring last December as a birthday present.
Knowing that many of their peers have been suffering from loneliness during the pandemic has made this couple even more grateful to be together.
“It was good that we had each other,” Mr. Hecht said.
“It’s so nice to have somebody,” Ms. Edelstein echoed. “I don’t know if I could have gotten through this covid business by myself. I have friends who have gone batty from being home alone, and I hardly felt it was a problem because we had each other. He is so caring and just wants me to be happy, and vice versa.”
Rabbi Kurland learned that the couple was planning a simple civil ceremony and he encouraged them to reconsider.
“I said, ‘Miriam, you need a wedding,’” Rabbi Kurland said. “She said, ‘We just want to get married.’ I explained that I meant a ritual ceremony with a minyan.”
“We recently reopened our Monday evening minyan and have an average of 12 people in a room that fits 275. So we decided to do it with that minyan. We asked the regular congregants to come early.”
Rabbi Kurland is scrupulously careful about covid precautions, but that left him with a problem: “Usually, four people would hold the poles of the chuppah. We couldn’t do that with social distancing.”
Armed with a roll of yellow electrical tape, he spent that Monday afternoon taping two poles to the Plexiglas around the bimah and the other two to a pair of chairs. Then he draped a tallit over the top. The shul also provided flowers and wine.
“It was a delightful group we had here, some who knew Miriam and John and some who did not,” Rabbi Kurland said. “You could see the twinkle in everyone’s eyes, above their masks.”
He counted 38 screens open on the Zoom link, with many people watching on each screen. They included Mr. Hecht’s two sons and their families on Long Island, and Ms. Edelstein’s two daughters and their families — one in Wappinger’s Falls and the other in Tennessee — and her son in Massachusetts. About 20 members of a square-dancing club Ms. Edelstein had attended for years also watched on Zoom.
The newlyweds stayed for the brief prayer service afterward. “They weren’t running to a reception or a honeymoon,” Rabbi Kurland pointed out. “I said to them after the minyan, ‘I really liked the wedding! How’s the marriage going?’ And they said, ‘Pretty good!’”
Furthermore, he told them that they didn’t win first prize for being the oldest couple he has joined in matrimony. About 20 years ago, he performed the wedding of a 92-year-old groom and an 85-year-old bride. “John and Miriam only get the silver medal,” he joked.
Mr. Hecht is 89.
Ms. Edelstein (who prefers not to reveal her exact age) certainly feels her newly married status is a huge prize. “I didn’t think the wedding would make a difference, but it does,” she said. “It’s very permanent. It feels good.”
“We’ll have a reception for the shul and for our families when the pandemic is over and people can get together again,” Mr. Hecht added. “It’s just that nobody knows when that will be.”
“The pandemic is a cloud hanging over our heads, but the wedding was magical and filled our covid days with joy,” Rabbi Kurland said. “It is so important that we can still find joy in the madness going on around us.”