Yehoiada, according to his Bumble profile, was 37, very tall, and had attended a college of engineering for graphic design. His profile had several photos of a man with thick black hair, big, dark eyes, and a cleft chin – and not much else in the way of information. He was quite handsome, and looked substantially younger than his age. We messaged a few times, and he gave me a couple of recommendations to great vegetarian restaurants around town, but we couldn’t get together before I left for Greece.
I took off for five days and drove around the Greek countryside by myself in a tiny little four-banger stick shift rental that sounded surprisingly like my Grandfather’s ancient Volkswagen bus. The day after I had arrived in Jerusalem, I came down with a terrible head cold, the first time I had been that sick in a couple of years. It got so bad over my first day in Greece that I didn’t feel comfortable driving, so I canceled the northern part of my trip and spent two nights in Delphi, reveling in the beautiful hillside town and scenery, basking in the aura of ancient wisdom, contemplating what had happened at the Western Wall, and feeling like complete and total shit. I had gotten some medication in Israel, but even alternating between Israeli-style Sudafed and Dayquil and an endless supply of cough drops, I was happy to leave my bed only as many times as it took to go out and find food. I wasn’t doing nothing, however: I powered through several good books (The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion; The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton; Snap, by Belinda Bauer; and Carrie, by Stephen King. These were supplemented by some shitty speculative crime novels that I enjoyed nonetheless).
I was sick, but happy as the proverbial clam. A few days earlier, I had somewhat affronted a member of the extended nanny family when they asked if I ever used AirBNB events to meet people in new places, and I straightforwardly said No, that I didn’t care to meet new people when I traveled and much preferred to keep to myself. Harsh or not, that is the truth. Driving around the Greek countryside alone scared me not at all. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, did not get bored or lonely in the slightest, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen in my life. Supplemented with many nights spent staying up late reading, I was about as content as a person could be.
I came back to Israel feeling mentally recharged and mostly physically better, although I still had a raspy voice and a cough that lingered for weeks. When Udi realized I was back and would be visiting Tel Aviv over the weekend, he made plans to see me. Halfway through the plan making, he interrupted the texts and asked if he could call me. I was pleased with this, as it seemed both mature and polite, and I answered the call with a cheerful, “Shabbat shalom!”
Udi remembers this as the first thing I ever said to him, and he says enjoyed it immensely. Despite misgivings, he had swiped right on me because he found my profile to be clever and funny, which I have to admit, it kind of was. I outright stated my status as a goy who was, as the mother of the children I nannied told me frequently, “More Jewish than 90% of most American Jews.” I said that I could count to seven in Hebrew and I could sing along with many Hebrew children’s songs, but that I couldn’t understand them. Not bad for a shiksa.
We made plans to meet up at a bar in Tel Aviv on Friday night. Udi arrived a few minutes after I did, and I felt immediately and foolishly overdressed. Tel Aviv fashion is about as casual as you can get, and I was wearing heels, a skirt, and some Kate Spade-y jewelry. Udi was in a t-shirt and jeans (still, he was three inches taller than me in my three-inch heels – insert googley eyes here).
We ordered drinks and started talking. I generated most of the conversation, in the form of questions, which Udi would answer – and then say no more. If I smiled, he would hesitate for a moment, and then a very sweet and shy smile would also appear. He was clearly very, very shy, and after about half an hour, I realized that if I would just sit and not say anything for a few seconds, he would finally speak.
As the bar gradually grew darker and darker, and the music louder and louder, Udi and I leaned in over the table and talked about his family and his experiences in the IDF. He showed me a short animated film he had made in college that won a major graphics award. He had gone to present in Seoul, in front of a large crowd, and was, by his admission, terrified. He hates public speaking, he said. Not me! I said. I love it.
We stayed for a couple of hours, and then the bar just got too dark and too loud for my liking. I said goodnight, honestly said I’d like to see him again if possible, and jumped in a cab before he could try to give me a hug or a kiss. This was partially due to a little coolness on my part in terms of physical contact, but also due a hefty dose of my own awkwardness.
The truth was that although Udi was very handsome, he was so shy and resultantly awkward that I found it slightly off-putting. As I lay in bed that night, I pushed myself a little. Why did I find it off-putting? What was wrong with the awkwardness? Was I not also painfully awkward at times? Udi was clearly earnest, and sweet, and wasn’t that a good thing? He was interesting, and talented, no question. And he did have such a lovely smile.
The next day, I took myself to brunch and ended up sitting for several hours with a bottle of champagne, several juices with which to make mimosas, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Udi texted me about meeting at the beach, which we had talked about the night before, but I didn’t respond right away. I hadn’t decided if I would. He now recalls the wait time, which was really only about two hours, as being tortuously long and had convinced himself that I wouldn’t go. But in the end, I got a little tipsy, thought about what cute and pleasant company he had been, and decided to take a short nap at the AirBNB and then meet him at Gordon Beach.
We sat on the sand in reclining chairs and shared water and a beer that Udi had brought – the same kind as I’d had the night before. This would be the first of never-ending little gestures of thoughtfulness, but I didn’t make the connection then. He was just a guy who brought a beer to the beach.
As we drank, I started asking him more probing questions, some of which I already knew the answer to. (As long as I’ve been dating, I have been doing this obnoxious thing where I “test” my dates – this isn’t always intentional, although at least now I recognize it for what it is.) I wanted to know what Udi thought about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Netanyahu, and American Judaism. I asked him questions about Israeli politics that I mostly already knew the answers to. I wanted to see whether he knew things – the Israeli and international political situations, an interest in politics in general, a well-informed and intelligent analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Udi had great answers with much more information than I did. He proved himself to be informed, opinionated, educated, and compassionate in his analysis. He was eager to discuss these topics and, at least initially, we seemed to share a similar viewpoint of politics. After about an hour of talking and sweating profusely, we decided to get in the water.
Floating around in the Israeli Mediterranean is a wonderful experience. The water is very warm, and the large waves are mitigated by rocky C-shaped banks that line the coast. Udi and I were bobbing up and down and talking when we made direct eye contact and held it. Udi grabbed my hand and kissed me.
They say women, especially, gauge much about the plausibility of a relationship from the first kiss, and maybe that’s true. I don’t enjoy kissing very many people and often avoid it, but our first kiss was deeply pleasant – Udi was, by now, very attractive to me – and it was sweet, but unquestioning in its intent and desire. We spent the rest of the afternoon holding hands and touching each other’s hair and faces, leaning over our reclining chairs for tender smooches, and getting more familiar. Udi frequently did this thing that was both confusing and, once I realized what it was, terrifically endearing. He would raise his hand in response to me touching his shoulder or hair, and then move it vaguely towards me – and then put it back down quickly. He wanted to touch me, but didn’t want to be presumptuous. I was melted a little by this, watching it happen, and liked him even more.
We walked back to my AirBNB and spent the rest of the afternoon, the evening, and then the night together. At some point, we left and walked around Dizingoff Square looking for dinner. We had some tasty Asian food, and then we came back, watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and talked more. Udi analyzes films and plots much the same way that I do, and we spent a lot of time discussing our favorite movies and found we liked and disliked similar films for similar reasons. I increasingly tried to make him laugh, partly because of that great smile, and partly because he has such a soft and gentle laugh that even when he finds something particularly funny, he just goes, “Hah – hah.” It’s more of an emphatic exhalation, especially compared to my own loud laughter.
The next morning, Udi got up to go to work and gave me a kiss before he left. He told me to have a great day, and that he hoped he’d see me again. I went back to Jerusalem later that afternoon, my thoughts full of him on the bus ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and then as I seriously contemplated my own mortality on the crazy rollercoaster of a bus from the Central Jerusalem station back to the German Colony, I realized I was starting to catch major feels for this guy.
Just a few days later, Udi decided to come to Jerusalem and go see a light show in the Old City with me. Neither of us thought the lights were impressive and we both felt uncomfortable in the oppressively huge crowd, so we left the Old City and walked around Mamilla and Nachalat Shiv’a instead. It was a relief to realize I could tell him about my anxious dislike of large crowds and loud noises without judgment and with his complete understanding.
I think there was scarcely a moment that night where we weren’t touching each other. We wandered aimlessly, holding hands, and somehow began discussing parenting philosophies, which we found we held in common. We both longed for children, well-disciplined, well-behaved, and fiercely loved. Udi spoke fondly of his nieces and nephews, and of his three younger sisters and parents.
Udi says that night is when he fell in love with me. For me, it wasn’t until I came back to Tel Aviv that weekend to visit him in his apartment. We spent the long weekend talking, eating, visiting museums, talking, checking out Old Jaffa, talking, watching quirky animated Netflix shorts, and making love. I held his face in my hands and looked at him, and felt the thrilling, joyful bounds of recklessly falling in love. In previous relationships, including my failed marriage, I had loved, powerfully but dysfunctionally, and still not felt in love. In order to move forward, I had had to justify the relationship with various mental gymnastics. Now, for only the second time in my life, my mind and body coursed with powerful, ecstatic emotions. I hardly knew how to handle it.
We were doing something – I can’t remember what – and I was suddenly overcome by a powerful impression: I’m going to marry this man. I can’t explain it any more than that. It was just a feeling, and I took it as such, but I had never in my life felt that so clearly and powerfully.
Udi and I had a wonderful weekend together, and then I went back to Jerusalem for my last two days before going back to the States. Udi came up on my last night, and we went to dinner and walked around the neighborhood. Finally we found ourselves standing in front of the apartment I was staying in. We were there for two hours, holding each other, me crying, him telling me not to cry but then crying himself. I implored him to come to me in the States, and he promised he would. I made him promise again, and again. “I will,” he said. “I will.” He looked down at the ground and breathed sharply and then said: “I – I just love you so much.” I told him I loved him too.
Two weeks after our first date. I know; go ahead and tell me that we’re crazy. I’m fully aware, and I don’t give a shit. It works for us.
A week and a half later, Udi arrived in Chicago. We drove from Chicago to Utah, stopping in Davenport, Iowa, to visit my best friend. We went through Denver and over I-70. I showed Udi Golden, Colorado, and we stopped at a pulloff to visit a bridge over a stream and take pictures of us smiling and kissing. Over the course of the following three weeks, we visited Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Island Park, Jackson Hole. We spent several days’ worth of time in the car together and talked the entire time. We never stopped talking. He met my family and many of my closest friends.
By the time he had to return to Israel, we had discussed the future at length. We had the same values and similar visions for the future. I had seriously considered converting to Judaism before, when I’d been a nanny for the Jewish family, and I told him I would do it gladly and expect him to be more observant with me. Living abroad has been a long-standing goal of mine; I had never envisioned it being so permanent, but Israel was a place I could see myself living in, both due to its highly Westernized culture and the fact that it’s so close to the rest of Europe and Africa. But I told him I wouldn’t make any substantial plans moving forward without an engagement; he agreed.
On one of our last nights in Chicago, we were sleeping in our AirBNB and I caught a tickle in my throat. I wasn’t sick anymore, but for whatever reason, I started coughing and I couldn’t stop. Udi woke up, went into the kitchen, and made me a cup of tea. Then we sat in bed and talked until seven in the morning.
I thanked Udi for this, and he brushed it off as nothing, but I insisted: It was something. Nobody I had ever dated would have done such a thing. My parents had not done such things for me. In this moment, and in many other ways before and since, Udi has proven himself to be so considerate and accommodating that I almost feel guilty. What am I doing to make his life so good? He insists that my merely being in it is enough – but I am motivated nevertheless to show him the kind of sweetness and thoughtfulness that he invariably shows me, and everyone else around him.
And this is maybe what I love the most about Udi, of all the many things there are to love. He makes me want to be better. He makes me want to be kinder, more considerate, more patient, more gentle. He makes me want to be smarter and funnier. He makes me want to take better care of my health, and to prepare myself more wisely for parenthood, and to make smarter financial decisions. He does this because he is all of these things; good, kind, wise, prepared, intelligent, patient, funny. I respect Udi deeply; I respect the things he is doing and is trying to do, and has done. I love the way he loves his family, and the way he loves me.
Udi is available when I call him, and if he isn’t, he tell me when he will be. He is consistent. He is selfless. If I want something, I ask him for it, and if he can, he will let me have it. If something is wrong, we talk about it, come to an understanding, and seek resolution. He is sweet to my dog and my family. He is sensitive and funny. He is open and expressive of his feelings for me, and I never, ever, ever wonder if he will do what he says he’s going to do. He is where he says he will be. He goes where he says he will go. He listens to me – really listens – and remembers what I say. He offers gentle advice. He is interested in my life and encouraging of my ambitions.
He is, at the same time, uncompromising in his values. He knows what he wants. He carefully watches over what he loves. He is fiercely pro-Israel, and loves his country deeply. He is peaceful but knows that fighting is sometimes required to protect what is valued most. He is proud to be Jewish. He sees the world through clear eyes and doesn’t turn away from things that are difficult or challenging. He is smart and disciplined. And through all that, he is unceasingly kind and warm.
As we’ve become more familiar with each other, the shyness has been replaced by an clever and often dark sense of humor. We scheme and daydream endlessly about the future and when we’ll be able to be together all the time. We talk about our future children and names we might pick, the way we’ll raise them, the values we’ll try to teach.
I’ve begun converting to Judaism, which I’ll cover more extensively in another post. That, too, feels genuine and timely. I don’t at all feel as though I’m compromising any essential parts of myself, whether that be my intellect or my instinct. Rather, I have the firm sense that in exchange for committing myself to Judaism I will get the things I have longed for since I left Mormonism: A community, tradition, ritual, songs, a value system rooted in history, as well as the things I have longed for personally: A good and devoted husband, children, that value system and the history behind it. I’ll be a part of something bigger than myself – something which is, when interpreted wisely and in the way the Jewish people I know and love interpret it, uplifting and permanent.
I’ve met someone who loves me and forthrightly wants the same things I want. Udi isn’t afraid of commitment and of doing what he needs to do to get the things he wants. One of those things is me. In five days, I’m going to visit Udi in Israel, and if all goes according to plan, I’ll come back with a certain kind of commitment wrapped around my finger. Even if not this time, then certainly when we meet in Boston for Thanksgiving (and if not this time, it will be because we’re waiting on the ring, which has yet to be delivered… Ha!).
When I tucked the prayer on that receipt in the Western Wall, I had no idea that things would come together as quickly or as providently as they have. I feel tremendously lucky and commensurately grateful. I still feel as atheist as ever, in the sense that I don’t think any human conception of God is out there in the universe making sure I get my way. But I believe that my intention, my focus, and my willingness to give a great guy a chance that I might otherwise have overlooked has turned into exactly what I wanted. In that way, a prayer has very much been answered.