When Finding A Willing Rabbi Took Young Love To a Pool Hall
It was almost 50 years ago on a February day, frantic with frost. The wind was a shrill shriek in the clear cold. The ground was pitted with pebbles of spit glass. Faces and thighs numb with cold, we walked the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, looking for someone who would marry us.
A frightened rabbi had already turned us down. We were too young, too young to be in love. He gestured nervously with his hands, "You got no witnesses. I can't take the chance. You'll get a licking when you get home."
His wife, with shrewd black eyes, examined me carefully. My stomach was flat enough to hit my spine. I hadn't even had breakfast. "How old are you?"
"Twenty and 21," we lied. I was 17, and he was 18.
Mama and Papa wanted us home. But we knew differently. We knew we were in love. I was close to tears. The snapping cold numbed my tongue.
We stopped at the Fulton Fish Market to use the yellow pages and followed through on the homes of rabbis. All day it was the same. Nobody wanted us to marry. We were determined. We continued our pilgrimage. It was so cold, the few people out there were stamping their feet and shrinking inside their wools.
My good friend stopped a tall young priest. "Please, sir, will you marry us?"
The priest threw his head back and laughed. Chuckling vapors spiraled up into the air.
How strange we must have seemed to him, the golden-haired boy with his Polish heritage, and the Russian gypsy-like girl. Overhead the great ticker tape on 42nd Street rolled around. A passerby smiled at what he heard, and a photographer drew the black curtain over his head and snapped us.
The priest said, "You're Jewish, aren't you?" We nodded. "There's a rabbi in Manhattan living on the third level of an old house. You can't miss it." He gave us the address. "It's four blocks in this direction. There's a poolroom on the ground floor, and good luck."
It was getting dark. The wind pulled us in the opposite direction, and we had to walk backward to catch our breaths. We prayed that the rabbi would be there.
The poolroom was lit up and looked like a fairyland to us. We could see two men inside. One carefully took aim on the green cloth.
We walked up the stairs of the connecting hallway, past a synagogue on the second level, up to the third level. Blessings: The rabbi was home.
He called a "minion" of 10 men on the phone (a ritual), then went down to the poolroom and brought up the two men we had seen.
They would be our witnesses. We walked down a flight into the synagogue where he performed the ceremony with solemn advice - advice to my husband to be good, kind, and gentle, and advice to me to smile when he came home each day. The men Xed their signatures. All through the ceremony we cried and forgot to kiss. It didn't matter, we were married.
Once outside the air was fresh and a smell like silver hung in the night. A little old lady stood in a doorway and smiled at us. Her hair was gray with frail ringlets, and in a sweet voice she offered us some gardenias.
My new husband bought them all from her, and she blessed us profusely. In less than 15 minutes we'd been twice blessed. Then we decided to see "Cabaret." We held hands and sang. They were perfect moments. There would be others.
After the show we had blackberry pie and a hot drink. Nothing would ever taste better. We didn't need the dinner that we could no longer afford.
We'd met the year before, and I fell in love with the incredible smile, the soft voice, so like the beloved grandfather I remembered.
Our courtship was typical for young people with only nickels to spend. We ferried for hours and hours on the New Jersey ferry; went to Harry Davenport's Theater, where we saw Shakespearean plays and threw nickels in Harry's hat; sat on the stone steps to hear "Prince Igor" in Lewisohn Stadium; and watched the skaters in winter at Rockefeller Center.
In summer we heckled and horned the umpire at Ebbets Field from the bleachers and skinned elbows in Steeplechase.
He bought a record each week at the cost of $3 and played the "Bolero" over and over again until the neighbors complained about the "funeral march."
So that is how we married "until death us do part," and I love my good friend very much.