When Orthodox Judaism sends its people to oversee conversion programs, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
If you are a decent looking woman hoping to convert to Orthodox Judaism in California, the odds are about 50% you won’t fall into the hands of a sexual predator who will oversee your conversion in a very hands on fashion. So think positive and trust HaShem. Sometimes, the rabbi’s furtive touch will be more more appreciative than exploratory. Sometimes, you won’t need to sleep with the rabbi to graduate. Sometimes, the rabbi won’t even try to separate you from everybody decent in your life. Sometimes, the rabbi won’t even insist that you pee on him.
Still, it’s best to keep your expectations modest, and if the worst comes to the worst, close your eyes and think of Jerusalem.
Rabbis are very busy looking after Jews. So if your sponsoring rabbi has to pause from his labors to give you the the high hard one, please consider it an honor. He’ll emerge refreshed, replenished and re-energized to do G-d’s work, and you get some of the merit for that, if not in this life, than in the world to come.
I don’t know any attractive convert or would-be convert to Orthodox Judaism who’s not had the hard word placed on her by married Orthodox guys (frequently rabbis). There’s a widespread attitude in Orthodox Judaism that if you’re dumb enough to convert, you deserve what’s coming to you. You’ll often see the glint in the Orthodox eye and the smirk across the lips when they spot fresh meat. After all, shiksas are just for practice.
Jews tend to be direct about what they want. One beautiful convert to Conservative Judaism told me, “Jewish guys don’t know their level.” She was amazed by the shleppers who thought they were in her league. A part of her admired their confidence.
On the bright side, very few Orthodox Jews are murderers.
When religious Jews have the opportunity to prowl and perv, they tend to be as honorable as Harvey Weinstein on a good day.
If you get raped by someone you meet in shul, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes your rapist won’t be a big donor protected by rabbis. There’s even a chance the rabbi will encourage you to file a police report. Not all synagogues honor donors over decency. Sometimes you’ll walk into a shul and there won’t be a plaque honoring your rapist.
Baruch HaShem, Rabbi Avrohom Union (administrator of the Rabbinical Council of California, the most powerful rabbinic court on the West Coast) is not out there raping. He just protects those who do (along with Rabbi Gershon Bess).
Orthodox rabbis in Los Angeles have formed a cozy little circle. Should divorces not go through their approved rabbinic courts, they’ll organize pickets outside people’s homes, but if conversions are a predator’s paradise, you’ll only hear crickets. Why? Because rabbis have compromising information on each other. Because many rabbis in California have mistresses on the side. Because many rabbis in the conversion business tend to diddle would-be converts.
So why hasn’t the #MeToo movement come for rabbis? Because Jews by and large love their rabbis. Loved rabbis are usually powerful rabbis, and when rabbis prowl, like hyenas, they don’t hunt the best and the brightest. Instead, they focus on the sick and the damaged and who really wants to side with the weak vs the powerful?
Also, Jews tend to be influential storytellers and they don’t like telling stories that made themselves look bad. So while there have been dozens of rabbis abusing kids, this doesn’t get the media attention of predator priests. By and large, Roman Catholics don’t run the TV networks and the important newspapers and periodicals.
Hush, child, what will the goyim think if we talk out of shul? You don’t want to be responsible for another Holocaust do you?
A movie called called Untogether came out in 2018. It gives a self-serving presentation of rabbinic predation and Lola Kirke plays a version of author Diana Hochman. Part of the movie was shot at Sinai Temple. One doesn’t have to be a scholar of Talmud to see what might be going on here under the sheets of rabbinic presentation.
According to IMDB.com: “Tara, a massage therapist dating an aging rock star, finds herself inexorably drawn to a newfound religious zeal and, particularly, to a politically-engaged rabbi.”
Here are deductions and excerpts from this novel Dispelling the Myth by Diana Hochman:
* “[The protagonist leaves a party life behind in Los Angeles in her mid-20s and moves to Sacramento to convert to Judaism.] I moved near a Conservative synagogue [Mosaic Law Congregation called in the novel Beit Torah Moshe] that was about five minutes from me. I went to my very first Shabbat morning service on that first Saturday in August in the summer of 2002. I had looked up Conservative synagogues before I left LA. This is why I rented an apartment in that area. I was literally just down the street from Sac State, the local Cal State University. I was very certain about my path. Maybe this is why I felt no apprehension or fear entering the synagogue or the unknown on that Saturday. I didn’t have all the doubts about fitting in or the inevitable awkwardness that normally grips us in new and unfamiliar circumstances like these. I had been learning about Judaism my whole life.”
* The Rabbi Moshe Bennett character seems to be creatively inspired by Rabbi Emeritus Reuven Taff:
Born and raised in Albany, New York, Rabbi Reuven Taff is the Rabbi Emeritus of Mosaic Law Congregation. Before his retirement, Rabbi Taff was the Rabbi of Mosaic Law Congregation from 1995 to 2020. Prior to his arrival , the rabbi served for seven years as Headmaster of Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia, the only Jewish Day School serving that suburb of Washington, D.C. From 1974-1985 he served Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, Arizona as Cantor and Director of Education. He also founded and directed Camp Shemesh, a Hebrew-speaking Jewish summer day camp. During the early seventies and eighties, the rabbi served as Rosh Musica (Music Director) at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California.
A trained educator and cantor, Rabbi Taff studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. He received his B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and holds a Masters of Arts Degree in Teaching (M.A.T.) and another Masters of Arts Degree in Judaica, (M.A.) both from the American Jewish University, formerly the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He pursued his rabbinic studies at Ohr Torah Rabbinical Seminary in Israel, where he was ordained in 1988. In March of 2017, Rabbi Taff was awarded a Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) by the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Rabbi Taff’s passion is teaching children and adults of all ages. Outside of his rabbinic and pastoral duties, he is a devoted sports fan and is particularly fond of the Sacramento Kings (especially when they are winning!). In his “spare time”, the rabbi enjoys reading, music, writing and spending time with his wife.
Rabbi Taff oversees her Conservative conversion and even lends her a car when hers is stolen by an angry locksmith the protagonist stopped dating.
* The Saul Sonnenberg character seems to be creatively inspired by this mentch:
After leaving his childhood home in Montreal, Hy Kashenberg traveled and worked in many foreign and American locales before settling in Reno, Nevada more than 30 years ago. A self-taught ‘Renaissance’ man, Hy has been a key leader and benefactor in the business, civic and Jewish communities in his adopted home. Lucky for us, Hy remains a traveling man, and has a home away from home with the Mosaic Law Congregational family. His passion for learning, his business acumen, and his friendship with the Ostrows and Haywards led to his vital role in founding the library and cultural center that bears his name. He considers the KOH LCC at the top of his long list of outstanding accomplishments.
On this Saturday, a man who I had noticed previously at Rabbi Bennett’s table or in shul, sat next to me. He seemed to be in his mid-sixties. Maybe much older. Saul Sonnenberg was his name. He made a lot of small talk with me. He had a certain gruffness about him. A certain impetuosity, as though he was very sure of himself. Yet, he seemed equally riddled with deep insecurities. He dressed like he was stuck in the ’70s. He wore suits the way traveling salesmen wore suits then. Funky colored humongous ties and plaid pants. Since he was introduced to me by the others at the table and was clearly their friend, I simply trusted that he was a welcome part of that community. Why would I think otherwise?
As the kiddush was nearing its end, Saul leaned over to me and asked. “Would you like to join me for a glass of wine nearby?”
I thought about it for a moment, and decided it would be lovely to have a glass of wine and smoke a cigarette. “Where at?” “At the Hilton. They have a wonderful patio outside, and inside seating, too. We could order lunch.”
“Well, sure, that sounds great. I’ll meet you there.”
I stopped at home to get my coat just in case I were to get cold outside. Also, I forgot my cigarettes so I wanted to get them. When I walked into the lobby, I noticed Saul sitting in the lounge area. We decided to have a drink there before going outside and ordering a meal. Saul seemed preoccupied. I never thought twice about having a drink with him. I met him at synagogue. What was the big deal? But now I was getting the sense that it was a much bigger deal for Saul than me. I had half a glass of wine, Merlot, when I got up to excuse myself.
“Excuse me, Saul, I have to make a call.” I figured I would have a few more sips while explaining I had to leave because of the call I had just received. I freshened up. I texted Candace, and told her I would meet her in about thirty minutes. She was going to be leaving at the end of February and I wanted to spend time with her before she left.
As I sat down again, I took a sip of my wine.
Actually, I took several sips as we made small talk. Saul was really rude to the server and that was very embarrassing. He was very condescending. The wine was so delicious, but I couldn’t wait to leave. He was such a crude man and very unpleasant company. I didn’t go there because I was interested in him in some romantic way. My first impression of him is that he was old and rather unattractive. And his personal style left much to be desired. I was just interested in smoking a cigarette and having a glass of wine. I have always been open to talking to all kinds of people. I had made acquaintances with many of the other people in the shul, both men and women of all ages, and I found them endearing. I figured this was just more of the same. None of the other people took my friendship or conversation as a hint of romantic interest. I had no reason to believe Saul did either. “Saul, I’m going to have to get going from here shortly. I have to meet up with my friend. She’s moving and some things came up. I need to be there to help:’ As I was looking at him, I realized I was feeling a little woozy. One glass of wine has never made me feel woozy before. He looked kind of blurry. I wondered if I was seeing things or what was going on. But suddenly the world around me started spinning. Everything started to blur. I must have blacked out. Because all I remember next is walking into some restaurant. It felt like it was somewhere faraway. Maybe a cabin-like restaurant with log beams. I remember sitting down, but feeling like I was floating when I walked to the table. There were lots of people all around. But the whole scene was blurry, like there was film over it, like I was dreaming. Then I must have blacked out again.
The next time I woke up, Saul was on top of me. It took me a moment to wake up, to realize what was happening to me. To wonder where I was. He was thrusting back and forth inside me relentlessly. I could not move. I was somewhere so past fear, I could not move. When he was done, he got up and walked away. He didn’t wear a condom, and he came inside of me. It was already morning when I woke up. How long had he been doing this to me? I had no idea where I was. Where was my car and my purse? My gun. Wait! I had left it in my trunk for some odd reason before I walked into the lounge. That’s the last thing I really remember. The lounge. And that restaurant somewhere. After what felt like an eternity, I grabbed the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around me. Where were my clothes? What just happened? Oh, my God. How is this happening to me? Don’t show your fear, I kept telling myself. Just get situationally aware. And proceed with caution.
The bathroom was empty so I used the toilet. I had to pee. I was quite sore. I went out to the dining room. Saul was wearing a bathrobe. He offered to make me tea and some toast with honey. I thought it would be wisest to accept. But worried he would put something in my tea so I didn’t drink it. I didn’t dare confront him, or ask him what happened. I pretended everything was as normal as could be. Because that is what he was doing and it terrified me.
“Listen, why don’t you take a shower after this. Put on some makeup. We’ll go and get you a new outfit. Your dress is ripped.”
“And quit acting like you’re scared of me or something. We had sex all night and you didn’t say a word.”
All I could think was, please, God, don’t let me die this way. All I did was agree to meet someone I met at shut for an afternoon drink. How could I possibly have predicted this? Why did I leave my drink unattended? I trusted this man and let my guard down just because I met him at a synagogue? I think when you are victimized as a child, you grow up and tend to perpetuate the circumstances for revictimization to occur. It’s either that, or all males are just plain awful, or I have very bad judgment.
…I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, alive. “Saul, where is my dress? So I can change into it.”
“I laid out some slacks and a shirt. They’ll fit you. We’ll go and buy you an outfit. I have a meeting to go to. You can go with me. It’s an Arts Council thing. I give a lot of money to them. I think you will look good by my side. Just take a shower and put on some makeup. There is some in the drawer if you need it. I laid out everything in the bathroom:
“Okay, thanks, Saul.” I was just trying to be as calm as possible until I had my exit. I was numb. I had dissociated completely. A man who I barely knew from shul was raping me all night. And I had no idea where I was. By the time I came out of the bathroom he was visibly annoyed. He had a stem, harsh face. Very rugged and rough. Somewhat bushy eye-brows.
“We gotta go now.”
This was a command.
“Okay,” I responded.
I noticed his license plates said Reno, Nevada. He lives in Reno? He brought me to Reno to do this to me? Rabbi Bennett couldn’t possibly have known this about him. Wouldn’t a known predator be banned from the community? Sure enough he took me to the mall nearby. And had me buy a handful of outfits at Nordstrom. I worried he was planning to keep me there since he bought me a week’s worth of clothing. Saul preferred I change into one of the brand new outfits he just bought me. He was there to get an award? Should I make a scene? And tell them this man had raped me. Then I took the opportunity. He was talking to some woman there, she was blonde-haired. Maybe about his age.
“Pardon me, Saul. I need to charge my phone, may I borrow your keys?” He looked bothered, worried, but also as though he didn’t want to make a big deal. So he handed them to me as nonchalantly as he could possibly muster.
The woman seemed intuitive, however. I gave her a look dead-on before I walked away. She sort of squinted her eyes, as though she was wondering what was going on. I was glad to start charging my phone actually. I would text Candace. No, I didn’t want to bother her. Connie. No, I didn’t want them to know what was happening. Then he opened the car door. “Give me the charger.”
“Give me the charger now,” then he grabbed it. I started screaming and yelling and making a huge scene. I threatened to yell out that he had raped me if he did not let me charge my phone and text my friend. So we went inside and I charged my phone completely. Then I texted Candace: “If I am not home in three hours, call the police. I am in Reno, NV. But don’t do that before three hours. I should call you from home by then. Please promise me you will not do anything before three hours. I have to get back to my car and then home. Love, Rena.”
I felt so horrible that I had to bother a friend during a time when she was focusing on relocating and her upcoming wedding. Now that I had told Candace about what was happening, and knew that whoever it was that he was talking to the whole time was aware something was up, I knew if he did not return me alive that everyone would come looking for him.
On the whole ride back he did not utter a word. I was actually quite glad about that. As he pulled into the parking lot of the Hilton where my car was, he leaned over and with exacting coldness said the most evil thing. “It’s best if you just keep this between us. No one will believe you anyway. I give a lot of money to this temple. You’re just some shiksa. A goy. That’s what we call non-Jewish women. You’re an outsider. Who will they believe? So I’m just telling you for your own sake. Anyway, Rabbi Bennett will overlook any transgression, as long as you write big checks.”
He did have a point. I remember years ago, when I was in high school. A girl in my class, we weren’t exactly friends. But we used to talk from time-to-time. I was mortified by the advice her mother gave her when she was gang-raped at a high school dance. “May as well forget about it and pretend it never happened. It doesn’t pay to report this, dear. All they will do is paint you as a whore. Demean you the whole time. And then you also risk these guys retaliating, and bringing you further harm. Nope, good thing I put you on the pill. And we will get you tested for pregnancy and take care of it if there is a problem. And if you need some penicillin, we’ll get you that, too. Just chalk it up to a bad experience and put it out of your mind.”
How many women have been told this at least one time? That advice made perfect sense to me now. I did not respond as I was getting out of his car. I got into my car and just sat there and cried. I didn’t know for how long. But it was a very long time. I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I was having a panic attack. I didn’t want to go home. I felt like I wanted to die. Out of nowhere I called my cousin Krissy back in LA. To my surprise she answered. “Oh, my gosh, Rena, what is wrong?”
“I just want to die. I don’t want to live anymore. People are evil. This world is a horrible place.”
“Rena, what is going on? You’re not making sense. I thought things were going well there. What is wrong?”
I couldn’t tell her what happened. I don’t know why I couldn’t tell her. I just kept telling her I wanted to die. “I don’t want to live anymore.”
She begged me to go to a psych ward. “Rena, just go to the emergency room right now. Tell them you feel like hurting yourself. Please don’t hurt yourself. Promise me you will go to the emergency room.”
“Okay, Krissy, I will.”
With that I went to the emergency room. They called it a voluntary check-in because I was feeling suicidal. They would assess me in three days and recommend if I should stay or leave, but I was free to leave when I wanted. The next morning I called Rabbi Bennett to let him know I was in a psych ward. And to ask him if I could have an appointment with him. We scheduled a meeting for Wednesday. By the following morning, on Tuesday, I signed myself out. Being in a psych ward really creeped me out. Everyone there seemed to be walking around like Zombies. I didn’t know how I would handle work. I had already called in twice as sick. I felt I needed an extended time out from the office. I let them know I had some family situation to resolve for about a month, and that I understood completely if they could not hold the position for me. Since I had some money in savings, I figured I could just take some time off, and then get something part-time when I was ready to work again in a month. When I got home, I took an hour-long shower. I think I was just trying to wash him off of me. I scrubbed myself over and over again. I was so sore. I seemed to have bite marks on my body. Whatever rage and anger and fear I had boiling underneath the surface. I was in shock. Completely dissociated from the experience.
I had an appointment scheduled for 10 o’clock in the morning with Rabbi Bennett. He seemed a bit anxious when he saw me. I wondered why. Maybe he sensed I was not the bearer of good news. He had a slight grimace on his face, as though he was not looking forward to our conversation. It made me think about what one of his congregants told me once. She is a supporter of the synagogue. Has long been in the community, and gives a lot of money to the temple. I used to buy groceries for her once a week as she had a hard time getting around. I would also pick her up for services, here and there when she was up to it. “Don’t ever trust Rabbi Bennett;’ she said. “He is a snake if I ever saw one. None of us like him. He has a small little circle around him. But even then, it is just to keep a tighter hold on him.” I never asked why she said that, and I certainly didn’t comment when she did. So, we just changed the subject and never brought it up again. But now I was thinking that she must have had a reason for saying what she said.
“Rena, what happened? You called me from the hospital on… what was it… Monday…? On Monday. You were suicidal. What is going on?”
“Rabbi Bennett, I need to tell you about something awful that has happened.”
“Oh. What is wrong? What happened, Rena?”
“Sonnenberg? From here? Shul?”
“I woke up on Sunday morning naked. He was on top of me. Thrusting back and forth. He came inside of me. He told me he was doing that all night.”
“Rena, where were you? What are you saying?”
“I woke up and he was on top of me. I didn’t know where I was. But soon learned I was at his place in Reno, NV.”
“How did you get there?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know? Where did you meet him? I don’t understand what happened.”
“At kiddush, last Shabbos. He asked me if I wanted to meet him for a drink and some lunch at the Hilton. He said they have a wonderful rooftop courtyard for dining?”
“When was this, at shul? Last Shabbat?”
“So I agreed to meet him there. I went home and got my coat and cigarettes first. I parked my car in the hotel parking lot. He was in the lounge when I arrived. We decided we would have one drink together before sitting outside and ordering lunch. He seemed preoccupied. I just got a bad vibe from him. I wanted to end the experience early. So I made up a ploy that I needed to excuse myself to go to the ladies room. I figured when I came back I would just say I had to go because a friend just called and had an emergency. Maybe I would just have a few more sips of wine. Anyway, I was supposed to meet Candace. He could be really rude to people. It was offensive?”
“Well, what happened?”
“I just remember things going blurry. And I blacked out. Then I felt like I was at a restaurant, but it felt like a dream. Then I must have passed out again. The next time I came to, he was on top of me.”
“Rena, he drugged, kidnapped and raped you! He took you across state lines. You were in his home in Reno, NV!”
“Yes. He was raping me at his home in Reno, NV. I was unconscious.”
“You’ve got to file a police report.”
“Rabbi Bennett, hear me out. I think it best to put this behind us. I don’t want this to get out in the community. I’m just one person. I’ll get over it. But knowledge of this could destroy the whole community. I don’t want to be responsible for that.”
I ended up filing a restraining order the next day, specifically asking Saul Sonnenberg to stay 500 feet away from me, and from Beit Torah Moshe for the next six years. I told the courts that I would keep this confidential and not file a police report. Since the temporary order went into effect right away Saul stopped going to shul. Occasionally, you would hear someone say, “What happened to Saul? He is always too busy to talk these days. Doesn’t come around anymore.”
A month later, on the day we were both to appear in court, he did not show up. So I received a default judgment in my favor. The restraining order went into full effect for six years. It would be good until the end of January 2009. When I gave Rabbi Bennett a copy of the order he seemed displeased. As though he regretted that our interaction had come to that. That there would now be this permanent blight that tainted the most important part of my life.
“Rabbi Bennett, please keep this between us.”
“Sure. Can I ask you something?”
“Why do you still want to do this after this dreadful thing happened to you?”
“Why should I let this man, who robbed me of my dignity, steal my life dream and destiny, too? It’s not all of Judaism’s fault that Saul did this to me. Anyway, after conversion I’m going to go back down south to work on making the transition to Israel from there.”
“And what will you do in Israel, be secular?”
“Not any more or less so than I am right now, right here.”
“Will you go to shul?”
“I don’t know that I will necessarily not go to shul. Maybe I will write a book called In Search of the Promised Land. Who knows. But, I’ll be there and what a great experience, I hope.”
Rabbi Bennett put the restraining order in an envelope and sealed it. He said it was going to be put in a safe. He hoped he would never have to open it. It felt like this cast a cloud over my conversion after that. Rabbi Bennett was not the same around me anymore. I pretended not to notice. And I played it off really well. But it was uncomfortable. I was starting to think I would have been much better off not telling anyone. As if it was my fault that Saul raped me. I should have just pretended that it never happened like Saul had wanted. Somehow, I knew I wasn’t the only victim. I wondered how many women he had done this to? …I never heard from Saul again.
* I started going to a Conservative shul in San Diego immediately. Rabbi Rothstein was the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Torah. He and his wife were planning to move to Israel when he retired. I had found an organization in Israel for women who were seeking an Orthodox conversion. They had ties to America and this Aish group. After the rape, my certainty and resolve about Conservative Jewry started to dissipate. I began to wonder if I had everything backwards. Especially during the summer when it seemed like I was being treated like the new It girl in town everyone was trying to get a hit off. Part of me wondered if my secret somehow got out. But I reminded myself only Rabbi Bennett knew and he wouldn’t tell. Quit being so paranoid, I would tell myself.
I was surprised at how many Jewish men seem to always seek extramarital affairs. At least, that was what Zack made me think. His wife would sometimes go to shul with him, but he was an overly friendly guy with everyone. Namely us female converts. Zack was one of the men that the in-crowd did warn me about. “Just watch yourself around him. He’s a horndog like you can’t imagine. The guy can’t keep it in his pants. And he’s married. The wife knows. That’s why she doesn’t come around.”
He had asked me out repeatedly. I always politely declined his offers, but it was pretty annoying. Still, I didn’t want to make a scene. I hated public spectacles. Rabbi Bennett had a talk with him after he caught wind of this, and he finally backed off. So I figured that it was just men being men. And that the behavior of these Jewish men had nothing to do with Judaism…
I started to consider that I could not know for certain that Orthodoxy was not for me if I didn’t give it a try. Maybe I had let the hypocrisy of the religion in my youth color my perspective for all religions in a way that was not accurate or correct. I figured that I needed to live as Orthodox for a year, and truly give the process consideration, which meant agreeing to convert as wholeheartedly as I had with my Conservative conversion. Unless I did this, I could not say one way or another whether I had made the right choice after all. So I determined I would convert to Orthodox Judaism. The woman who was the head of this conversion program in Israel put me in touch with a big supporter from LA. She also recommended I return to LA to follow through on the process there. Since the consulate is there, it would be so much easier for me to handle everything from there. After about six weeks in San Diego, I decided to go back to LA.
* He was a very wealthy Jewish man who was located somewhere off of Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. Dick Shapiro [seems to be creatively inspired by Dick Horowitz of Aish HaTorah]. If he accepted me, Hannah could accept my candidacy [for an Orthodox conversion] on merit. Also, he gave scholarships to some of the people he sponsored.
* Rabbi [Zev] Bloom [seems to be creatively inspired by Rabbi Zvi Bloch, Av Beit Din of Aish Ha Torah of North Hollywood] was of average height. About 5’8″. I know because that is my height in three-inch heels. He had a well-manicured and full beard and he wore a very nice dark suit and tie. His suit was of high quality. He wore round-rimmed glasses. He had a way about him that made him seem like he was always on-the-go. He had a lot of energy, and a big billowy voice. While he certainly did not have a nasal voice, he very much had a strong New York accent and a very deep resonant voice. I was trying to figure out why he seemed so familiar to me. I knew I had never seen him before that day. That was it! Robert De Niro. He was probably in his mid to late fifties, too. He looked like a Jewish Robert De Niro. Exactly the way Robert De Niro would look if he wore a kippah and round-rimmed glasses and had a full salt and pepper beard.
I called his office the next day on Sunday. Judith, his secretary, put me through to him. We made up to meet the following day at 1 p.m. to discuss an Orthodox conversion. After service that day, I went to the mall out in Northridge. I bought some clothes, dresses, skirts and blouses. I didn’t buy panty hose, as I planned to wear summer sandals and wearing panty hose with sandals is a fashion no-no. After I made my appointment with Rabbi Bloom, I went through all of my clothing at Stacey’s, put it in several big bags and took it to the Goodwill and donated it. I couldn’t believe I was giving away all of my clothing. Beautiful clothing. But an Orthodox conversion required me to change the way I dress.
* So [Rabbi Zev Bloom] he paid the check. As we got the car, he made a number of calls and then turned his phone off. We drove to Santa Monica Boulevard and then found some parking along the coast nearby. And sure enough we went for a long walk on the seashore. It was a beautiful summer night. After a while, we found a bench nearby. We ended up talking about so many subjects. Hours went by. It was almost midnight when he turned his phone back on. Immediately after, the phone rang. It was a call from Israel. His son.
“It’s my son from Israel,” he said, beaming with pride. “I don’t want to be rude.”
“No, please take it.”
“Okay. Hello. Yaakov. Yes, yes, I had my phone off. No, I’m just here. I’m good. How are you? How’s Yeshiva?”
So their call went on for about 15 minutes. Afterward, we got up and walked back to the car. He seemed so happy and relaxed.
“Thank you so much for encouraging me to take the call. That is so unselfish of you.”
“Well, of course, Rabbi Bloom, that is your son.”
“He is an amazing kid. I think he is going to be a rabbi, too. He is much different than I am. Much better than me. My oldest son is a rabbi out in Muncie, New York. He does great. But this one is something?
We spent about a half hour in the car talking and then it happened. We started to make out. We kissed each other like love-starved teenagers. Slowly, his hand inched its way up my skirt and into my panties while his other hand fondled my breast. My body was tingling with excitement. He was a good kisser. It felt so good to be in his arms. It had been more than two years since I had felt that kind of passion with a man. After about an hour of this heavy petting, we made up to get a room. So he drove me back to my car, which was parked at his shul.
“Where to?” He asked.
“Well, we could get a room. Maybe a Motel 6 in Van Nuys somewhere?”
“I’m not taking you to some cheap motel. You have to work tomorrow?”
“Yes, I go in at 1 p.m.”
“I have a meeting at the Orthodox shul in Woodland Hills tomorrow morning. Follow me to the Marriott.”
So we went to the Marriott Hotel out at the Warner Center in Woodland Hills. Since I essentially lived out of my car, I could just get dressed from there and go
to work. As we parked our cars, and got out to go to our room, the strangest thing happened. An Israeli man was walking right by us. He looked right at him and said, “Kol ha kavod, Rabbi.”
It made me very worried and uncomfortable. I did not know what he said.
“You know him?”
“Naw,” he brushed it off.
“What did he say to you?”
“All the honor.”
“Didn’t sound like a compliment.”
“I don’t think he meant it as one.”
“More like you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar.”
After that day, Rabbi Bloom and I were inseparable. For the next few weeks or so we spent every night at a hotel. Nearly every lunch and dinner together. Some breakfasts, and every Shabbat together, too. We went on picnics at the beach or park. Sexually, we couldn’t resist each other. Often, after class, and everyone left the shul, we would make out in the library or his office. Sometimes after shul on Shabbat, too. That is when he approached me one night.
“I’m renting you a place. You can’t live out of your car. Renting hotels is quickly adding up. It will be our place.”
“Are you sure no one will suspect us?”
“I’m like Superman:’
“So everyone only sees Clark Kent?”
“Bidiuk. Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Baby Girl. I’ll take care of you. You deserve someone who will take care of you:”
“What about your wife?”
“What about her? Our marriage is over. It’s been dead for years. We sleep in separate rooms. We keep separate bank accounts?’
At this point, I had still never met or seen his wife at shul.
Sensing my hesitation, he added, “Let’s go looking tomorrow. Also, I want to take a mini vacation with you. Maybe for a few days during the week. Can you get the time off?”
“Yes, of course”
“Well, let’s go and rent a place out in Sherman Oaks tomorrow. And then we’ll go on a mini getaway next week?’
We ended up renting a one bedroom out in Sherman Oaks off of Ventura Boulevard by Whole Foods. It was nice. He had furniture delivered. We got a pair of matching cell phones. And opened up a joint bank account at Bank of America. He even told me I could quit my job so that I had more time to be available to him. I ended up helping him out with his administrative needs, too. Prepping speeches and weekly parshas, meetings, lectures and more. We spent hours and days together. Talking about God and life and Judaism. After the move I no longer went to his shul on Shabbat. I stayed home and went to shul at Rabbi Lipton’s shul at the Chabad in Sherman Oaks. Since it was within walking distance being Shomer was not an issue. The mini getaway to Santa Barabara got pushed back a few weeks. During that time, we went to baseball games in San Diego and still kept with our habit of dining out everywhere.
A non-Jewish person cannot cook for a Jew, as the food would be rendered treif. Since I was not considered Jewish by Orthodox standards, any food I cooked him would be unkosher, unless he lit the fire first. Rabbi Bloom would never eat nonkosher food. Of course, we never expressed any PDA. Orthodox Jews do not even do that with their wives in public.
That July 2004 was probably one of the best months in my life. I had never had someone so into me, and who did so much for me until then. I was never able to be more myself with anyone until then, the way I was with Rabbi Bloom. He shared so much with me, too. We told each other all of our secrets. Well, almost all of them. I never discussed my father with him. Or what happened in Sacramento. He told me about his life, his kids, his grandkids. We even went miniature golfing with his young grandchildren one afternoon. We didn’t talk about me going to Israel anymore. I am not sure what was between us. Maybe it was not love but a lesson. Whatever it was, Rabbi Bloom truly accepted me as I am. Without judgment. Life was perfect. Well, almost.
Santa Barbara happened the first week in August. Rabbi Bloom cleared his schedule for a couple of days, telling his wife he would be at an overnight conference in Florida. Since this was true some of the time, as I even took him to the airport in Long Beach for around-the-clock events, it was not out of character for him. Our last morning there, we made love all morning. I loved being naked in bed with him. I never felt awkward or self-conscious or worried about any flaws he might discover. Rabbi Bloom aimed to please me sexually and so the give and take between us knew no bounds. We engaged in oral sex and intercourse as though we were Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden before the fall. Exploring one another in an ever so gentle and passionate way. Delighting in the innocence of our nakedness. Sometimes, in class, because I knew him this way, I would always see him quite differently. He was actually more intoxicating to me as a result.
We didn’t have to check out till 1 p.m. that day. He got up to do his afternoon prayer, which is called Mincha. Religious Jews pray three times a day facing east no matter where they are in the world. Just the worry alone about stopping wherever you are to fulfill this mitzvah involves a certain type of neurosis, to be sure. As he donned his prayer tallit, I knew the greatest contentment I had ever felt in my life till that point. In Sacramento, I had told myself I wanted to be with a man who wore a kippah all the time. Not all Jewish men wear a yarmulke all the time. Now, here I was, sleeping with this rabbi, who loved and cared for me so much. Who was both a great teacher and friend to me. And as his back was facing me and he rocked back and forth in devotion to his God, my heart melted at the sight. I had never seen anything more beautiful, and more inviting in my life. What could be more titillating than a man praying to God as he is wearing a prayer shawl?
After this, we packed up our things and turned our phones on. His phone started ringing off the hook. Uncharacteristically, he looked bothered by some of the messages he was receiving. I couldn’t help but notice, but also chose not to say anything. But the phone kept ringing. On the drive home, he would answer some calls. He was speaking to his wife in Hebrew. More like yelling.
By now, Rabbi Bloom spent most nights at our place and would get up early every morning to go back to his home in North Hollywood. He seemed so upset in a way that I had not seen him like ever. I had only known him for three months at that point. We had only been together as a couple for two. We did a lot of paperwork and he handled calls at the house. Shmuel Goldberg was teaching his Torah class that night. The darn phone kept ringing off the hook. I could hear a woman in the background yelling on the voicemail. By then, I’d had enough!
“Zev, what is going on? Who keeps calling you and yelling at you like that?”
“It’s nothing. It’s no one.”
“Oh, it’s something and someone. Is it your wife?”
I started to feel really bad. Until that point, I hadn’t seen her or interacted with her. So in some way I must have told myself what I was doing was not wrong. After all, the rabbi said their marriage was long over. But now, whoever was calling him did not sound like someone who did not care. I had never been with a married man before. And I never meant to be with a married man. So I began to feel as though I was hurting someone else. And I did not like that feeling.
“No, it’s not my wife. She doesn’t care.”
“Well, then who is it?”
“It’s nothing, Sweetie.”
“Baby Girl, we just had a wonderful time in Santa Barbara. I love you. That is all that matters, okay.”
Then the phone rang again. Frantically, he sent it to voicemail.
“No, it’s not okay. There is something going on. Let me listen to that voicemail.”
“Zev, if there is nothing going on then you will let me listen to that voicemail.”
With that I grabbed the phone from him. I had the passcode but would never in a million years check his phone unless he asked me to. At that moment, I didn’t care. Then I heard it. A woman’s voice. It was as though she was embellishing sounding sexy and sultry:
“Zev, this is Chana. You haven’t been calling me lately. I know what you are doing You’re with that woman Miriam from class. You think no one knows. But I know what you’re up to. Have you told her about us? Well, I love you still, and I am not giving you up.”
I was stunned. Speechless. I started to feel shaky. My nerves were crawling on my skin. My heart was racing. I had a horrible knot in the pit of my stomach. What was going on? Then I looked at him. I wanted to cry, but wouldn’t let myself.
`To think, I thought I was so special and so unique. That I was the first. That you loved me like you loved no other. Silly me.”
“I do love you. You think all of this is because I don’t?”
“Who is that, and what is she talking about?” “You’ll never forgive me if I tell you. You won’t understand.”
“What won’t I understand? You must tell me the truth. Or what is there between us?”
“My wife and I started having problems years ago. Really, our whole marriage. I think she’s the wrong one. But seven kids into it, what am I supposed to do? She gave me seven beautiful children. About 20 years ago, I started dating one of the students in my class. Abby.”
“She was converting?”
“No, she’s Jewish. She just started to do more learning. She decided to be frum. We ended up having a 15-year relationship. She got pregnant once and had an abortion. My wife never knew about it. Not until the end. When she found out all hell broke loose. She never knew about the abortion. Abby was banned from the shul. My kids found out. It was a disaster. We had to talk to the head rabbi. It was all very bad. Me and my wife have been sleeping in separate bedrooms ever since. She won’t have sex with me.”
“How long ago was this?”
“It ended five years ago.”
Never married. Always devoted to the shul. Always devoted to me. Never really liked her, to be honest. Not as anything more than a congregant. One day after a class a few years back, I went to her place under the guise of some blessing for her mezuzah. She threw herself at me. I was desperate. I hadn’t had sex in a few years. Since Abby and I broke it off. I promised my wife in front of our rabbi I would not see her anymore. So you are lonely and heartbroken. Empty. In a loveless and sexless marriage. You fill your time with teaching and study and torah. But there is an ache in your heart.”
He started crying. My head was spinning.
“Her voicemail doesn’t sound like she is past-tenser
“Chana is very much involved in the shul. She’s a headache. Shmuel deals with her mostly. Can’t get rid of her. She has threatened to tell my wife. So I still help her out sometimes.”
“You what? How? Why?”
“I pay her rent. Her bills. Give her side jobs.” “So she is blackmailing you?”
“You might say so. My wife knows about Abby. I can’t risk her knowing about Chana, too:’
“And where is Abby now?”
“She lives out in the Pico-Robertson area. Works at Chabad there:’
“Do you still talk to her?”
“Sometimes. She calls me when she needs help. I buy her shoes or clothes for Chagim.”
“But why is it your responsibility to support them?”
“Abby almost had my baby, Miriam. I’m supposed to treat her like a dog?!”
Just like that it all came crashing to an end. I didn’t even know how to respond. I sat there in silence. Dumbfounded. Crushed. My mind was racing.
“Miriam, please talk to me. Say something’
“It is so interesting the day a woman realizes she is not so special or unique, after all. That she is just one of many. It is quite humbling, actually.”
“Don’t say such a thing,” he bawled. “You told me to be honest. I really love you, Miriam. It is not a sexual fling for me. You’re different.”
“Oh, please,” I retorted as I rolled my eyes.
“I can’t erase the past, Miriam.”
“Zev, what was I thinking? How long was this love affair supposed to last? I’m stopping the process now. I can’t have you convert me, and have a clandestine affair at the same time. What kind of human being am I? At least I didn’t sleep with the Conservative rabbi, so there was some integrity to my conversion.”
“That’s not fair, Miriam, I love you.” He couldn’t stop crying.
“I’m sure you do. Me and Abby and Chana and god only knows who else! Where did you go and who did you see on your overnight excursions in Florida or New York?”
“You’re being meshugganah now. You shouldn’t have transgressed my boundaries and checked my voicemail.”
“So now its my fault? I’m completing the paperwork to go to Israel. I’m calling the consulate tomorrow. I’m not going to your class or shul anymore:
“Please don’t cut me out of your life, Miriam. I will write you a letter. I will go with you to the consulate. I will take care of you here till you go.”
“Wow. Oh, my. I never called Mr. Shapiro” “What? Mr. Who?”
“What’s his name?”
“With Aish? Out on Wilshire?”
“You know him?”
“I know Dick well. He contributed a lot of money for me to build this shul.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Rabbi Nachman was my teacher and friend. Dick loves Aish. Rabbi Nachman put us in contact. He was really supportive of all of this. But then my wife blew it. We had a fundraiser gala and in typical fashion she made a scene. It was all bad. He’s soured on me ever since. How do you know Dick?”
“I have been following Aish since the late ’90s. Basically, just getting emails from them. When I was leaving Sacramento, I found a lady out in Israel who runs a conversion program for women only. She put me in touch with Mr. Shapiro.”
“Have you ever met him?”
“Yes, right before I met with Rabbi Lipton. He agreed to sponsor my conversion in Israel, but highly recommended that I complete the process here. He even offered to put me in touch with someone if Rabbi Lipton could not help me.”
“Unbelievable. I know exactly who he would have put you in touch with. The rabbinate out in the city. RCA. It’s a different Beit Din. He would never have referred you to me. So what happened?”
“Well, I met with you and got side-tracked.” “What are you going to call him for now?”
“To tell him that I have decided to complete the
Orthodox conversion in Israel. And that I need his
endorsement for the Rebbetzin’s program: “You haven’t been in touch with him in three
“What will you tell him?”
“That I gave it much thought. I studied with you for a bit. And while it has been illuminating, I think ultimately it would behoove me to go to Israel and complete the process there.”
* [Miri goes to Israel under the direction of the Dick Horowitz character to stay at an Aish compound.] I was the last to be dropped off. Somewhere in the hill: of Judea. The driver took one look at me as we approached and then with the most confused face a person could ever have said in his strong Israeli accent, “Are you sure this is the right address? It can’t be.”
“Yes, I’m sure. What do you mean?”
But I looked a my paperwork again.
“This doesn’t seem like a place you would want to live in.”
As I looked around me at a desolate compound, I couldn’t agree more. “No, it’s fine. Just stop here.”
Since I had no bags I just got out and walked into the area where he dropped me off. It was in an open field. A pretty run down and shabby large trailer home was the main center. I walked inside and there were several women. All ages. They looked like they had been transported from Little House on the Prairie. And by then, while I was as tznius as I would ever become in my life, I definitely would always be and look like a city girl. Right away, one of them approached me. “You must be Miriam. Welcome. I’m Shoshana. I’ll show you to your room. Where are your bags?” “Lose “Oh, what happened?” “I don’t know, they seem to have been lost and I have to figure it out. Do you all have a phone here I can use? I have a phone care “No, we are not allowed to use the phone except in grave emergencies. Rebbetzin Hannah lets us use her phone at her house then.” I almost choked. “Not allowed?”
As we got to my room, it turned out to be a mini trailer that looked like several pieces of metal nailed together. It had an outdoor shower covered with a sheet of some sort. “You’ll meet your roommate later. She is doing meal prep from the garden. You’ll get assigned your duties tomorrow.” “Assigned my duties?” “Yes, we have all duties assigned?’ “Right. Uh-huh. And where is Rebbetzin Hannah?” “Oh, she lives up the way. We see her sometimes if we are assigned to clean her house or things like that. Mostly, she comes down to teach a class?’
“I see.” “Well, Miriam, welcome. The only thing you have to be careful of is sometimes, Arabs, they jump over the fence and throw rocks and things like this. Shoot their guns.” “And what do you do in these instances?” “Well, we just always hope they don’t do something worse?”
There was no way I could stay in that room. By then it was evening. I sat outside for a long time looking at the stars. Incredulous. I had been striving to get to Israel my whole life for this. I didn’t sleep much that night on the hardwired cot. The most important thing for me was to get my luggage.
The next morning when I woke up I went to the main area. As I walked in, a whole slew of Amish looking women just stared at me. So I looked right back at no one in particular and said, “Hi. So, can you point out how to get to Rebbetzin Hannah’s house?” Shoshana spoke up. “We are not allowed to just go to her house “Okay, well I need to get my luggage. So I can go to the city and get a phone?” “Well, you can’t just go to the city when you want.” “Oh, really. Watch me. I don’t have time for this bullshit. Where is her house?” She looked worried and pointed as she said, “Just walk up the hill about two miles?’
As I walked up the hill I was stunned that Mr. Shapiro, a wealthy Beverly Hills Jew, was supporting this squalor. So this is what he finds intellectually honest? More stunning still, was the beautiful home that Rebbetzin Hannah lived in. Now I was furious at the situation. But I hid my contempt and knocked on her door. Even though I had never seen her before, I knew it was her when she answered. She was a thin woman, dressed in a bohemian chic frum style with her hair wrapped in a turban. She didn’t wear any makeup but she did wear a big turquoise necklace around her neck and also beautiful rings. More beautiful still, was her home. Almost like a Spanish, Mediterranean-style villa that just so happened to be smack dab in the hills of Judea, no less. “Rebbeztin Hannah, I need to use your phone. My luggage was lost at the airport.” She looked surprised to see me, and while somewhat hesitant, seemed to sense that I was not asking her to use her phone. “Sure, come in. Did Shoshana show you to your room?”
“Yes, if you can call it that.”
I spent the next two hours trying to get my luggage. But I got it. And within a few more, the same shuttle driver who dropped me off the night before, dropped it off for me at Rebbetzin Hannah’s. She didn’t have a lot to talk to me about. And was clearly uncomfortable by my presence. And I was so personally annoyed at the situation I didn’t really care about the awkwardness of it all. Since I had already mentally checked out from there from the moment I arrived, I was just focused on getting all of my paperwork done and figuring out how to find where I was going to live.
“Rebbetzin Hannah, I understand there is a whole order here. However, I have some things to do tomorrow in Jerusalem. So I will be taking the bus into the city and returning in the evening when I am done. I will come here in the morning to call a cab.” She looked very displeased but didn’t say anything. I had lived with her kind for seven years of my life. After all, Suze was a slave driving control freak. She also didn’t offer me any help with toting my three huge bags down a two-mile dirt road. I guess not every Jew is kind to strangers.
My anxiety was on overdrive. But I had always been my best in a crisis. The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn. I didn’t actually sleep much the night before. The roommate I had actually lent me her phone. Apparently, she had to sneak a phone because they also were not allowed. She was actually planning to leave the compound and return back to America. Janelle was her name. She was from Wisconsin. She had not made aliyah. She was simply in the country to convert and then make aliyah. She was a young girl. Twenty years old. Mr. Shapiro was financially sponsoring her, though indirectly. She had discovered Rebbetzin Hannah’s program and the Rebbetzin was able to secure her financing directly. I felt so bad for her. That her first experience with Judaism was so nicked up. So it was about midnight. After we were done talking, I went outside to make a call to Rabbi Bloom.
“Miriam, my god, where are you? What’s going on? You didn’t call me when you arrived? What happened?”
“You’re not going to believe this. But this outfit is a fucking goddamn Amish compound and I’m not staying here. I can’t believe Shapiro backs this!”
* When I arrived back at the compound I could not be happier. Shoshana was not at all shocked I was leaving. Janelle seemed a bit sad, maybe more wistful than sad. I felt so bad for her. I wanted to say, You gotta leave here quickly. Go back to America as soon as you can. This place is a nightmare.
* As I entered the room for the first time, I was grateful it was clean, if not inviting. After all, it was an absorption center. It had running water and plumbing, a decent enough bathroom, a shower with cement flooring, a kitchenette, a twin size bed, a wall cooler, a nice big window and a desk. Roommates did not have a separate bedroom, which was a bit jarring. But hey, I’d been in the Army, so, it wasn’t the worst thing. Beggars can’t be choosers and compared to that compound, this was like Club Med. When I got there, a young girl was lying on her bed. She was quite obviously American. She was a pretty young girl, but seemed somewhat disturbed, as though not in her right mind. She was just staring at the wall when I entered. I introduced myself and she did not respond. She looked like she was in a catatonic state. The first thing I thought was, oh, no. Here we go. Still, I tried to be as quiet and respectful as possible of our cramped space. After I was done putting my things away, she sat up rather suddenly and stared right at me.
“Who are you?” She asked.
“Miriam,” I replied.
“I’m not even supposed to be in Israel. I just came here a month ago.”
She was a thin and very tall girl, with brownish blonde hair. Right at that moment a man walked in. He was a red-headed and bearded man. He seemed surprised and a little embarrassed when he saw me. Then he looked right at me and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know Jessica had a roommate. She’s been on her own for the past two weeks. Ever since she checked in.”
“I just arrived today. You can’t possibly be staying here with her?”
“No, I’m not. I mean, I have been because no one else has been here, but I won’t just show up anymore.”
As he said that he handed her the key.
“Right. And who are you?”
“Well, it’s a long story”
“It always is.”
“Jessica is from the States. She used to go to my synagogue. I was a rabbi in a frum community. I met her and fell in love. She booked a flight to Israel a month ago. I found out she was staying in a hostel. I flew in right away and found her, and arranged for her to stay here until we figured things out. I’m divorcing my wife. Left the frum community.”
I could hardly speak.
“The community ostracized me when they found out about everything. So I quit being frum. I abandoned religious Judaism. I’m worried about her. She was cutting herself last night. That’s why I’ve been staying here. To make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.”
The whole time Jessica just sat up and stared into blank space, and didn’t say a word. As I looked at her I wondered, Did he have to talk for her? Was she in fear of him?
“Jessica, are you, do you need to talk to someone,” I asked?
She shook her head no and started crying. He grabbed her purse and coat and beckoned for them to go and then looked at me.
As she was waiting at the door, he came up to me and said, “Listen, I won’t come in anymore, now that I know you’re here. She is not mentally well. I’m very concerned about her. She’s only twenty years old. I’m going to take her out for a bit. But, here’s my number. If something comes up, please call me.”
“Is she Jewish? Is she converting? How did she get into the Country?”
“Yes. She’s Jewish. Used to babysit our kids since she was fourteen. We’ve been in a relationship ever since. She’s the one who used to hit on me. Flash her boobies and things like this when my wife wasn’t around. Lift her skirt up and let me see her naked. She was precocious. And well, you see how beautiful she is. I had her get an IUD. The pill doesn’t always work. Her father was a big supporter of my shul. My wife kept getting pregnant and Jessica didn’t. And the last three babies made her very upset. She wanted to have a baby with me, and threatened to out us. My wife walked in on us having sex one day and snapped. Made me choose between them right then and there. I chose my wife. Jessica lost it and decided to run off to Israel because she’s in love with me. She’s a trust fund baby, but has no clue about life. I didn’t know where she disappeared to until she called me threatening to kill herself. That was a week after she left. I took the first plane out, and have been trying to figure out what to do ever since. Her father won’t take our calls. Cut her off. And I just can’t leave her by herself?’
I just stared at him. He nodded, realizing that I was not thrilled with his revelation. So he gently walked out of the room.
Jessica came back in the late evening. And for the next few days and nights I had a hard time sleeping. She would hit her pillows and sob. Sometimes she talked to herself or muttered while sobbing. The guy did a real number on her and sent her head into a tailspin. She had been sexually involved with him since she was a teenager and he was a rabbi with eleven children. He was about forty-five years old and for him to begin a sexual relationship with this girl when she was a teenager was unthinkable. Sometimes, she would cry and say I just want to die over and over. I was dealing with my own issues, so I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by Jessica. I was going back and forth on the phone with Rabbi Bloom about my disrupted conversion process. He kept calling me telling me how much he loved and missed me and I was quite sick of hearing it, actually. I didn’t like the direction and tone
he was taking in our ongoing connection. I felt like I was quickly approaching wit’s end.
I decided to spend Shabbat at the hostel in the Old City again just to give myself a break from Jessica’s energy. She was a basket-case in need of help and I didn’t know how to help her. Also, I was worried that she would kill herself or me in some suicidal or murderous rampage. So I determined that when I returned to Beit Canada that Sunday, I would go and speak with Galit and let her know I needed to be transferred to a new room. That Sunday, instead of taking a cab like I usually do, I decided to take the bus back to Beit Canada from the Old City. On the second stop, Ben, Jessica’s boyfriend, got on the bus. He came right up to me.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” “Go ahead.” “Listen, I know you probably think really bad of me. And I don’t blame you. I really do love her, you know. It’s why I left my wife and kids. I want to marry her, but she’s really screwed up and her family cut her off. And the whole community cut me off.” “Yeah? Well, I’m concerned about this girl because she clearly is in a bad head space. But I’m no saint. I was sleeping with an Orthodox rabbi who was also trying to convert me.” “You’re not Jewish?” “Depends on who you ask. I converted Masorti.” “Are you still converting Orthodox?” “I plan to. I initially was going to live somewhere else when I arrived and do just that, but the place was like an Amish compound. It was all bad. That’s why I ended up at Beit Canada.” “Did you make aliyah?” “Yes:’ “Oh, wow. You know, you will never be able to have a marriage recognized here unless you convert Orthodox. As a former rabbi and someone who was born Jewish, and who literally abandoned Orthodox Jewry, I recommend against going through with the process. What will you do here?” “I have no idea. I came here for what was supposed to be forever. But, I don’t know right now. It’s all too much to think about. Maybe I’ll write a book called In Search of the Promised Land. Who knows?” I said flippantly.
Then he said the most curious thing.
“Well, you still have a lot more chapters to live through before you can do that.”
I looked over at him wondering why he would say such a thing to me. It was such a loaded and veiled and almost ominous statement. As though a warning of sorts. I was glad we had arrived at the Center. Without saying bye, we went our separate ways.
* My thoughts went back to Rebbetzin Hannah. A charlatan. Just some American opportunist who decided to move to Israel and run a scam. She made her little center look good on paper while attracting non-Jewish girls from America to bring them to Israel to convert them. Knowing full well that they had nowhere to go in the country as non-Jews, and when they abandoned the quest, she lost nothing, while they may have lost their hope and soul, all the while serving as a source of revenue and slave labor. What an intellectually dishonest business model.
* “I was supposed to convert to Orthodox Judaism. I had already converted through the Conservative movement. Some things happened during the process that made me doubt my choice. So I decided to convert Orthodox. I always had the ultimate goal of making aliyah. But it’s like I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Then I got involved with the converting rabbi. Turns out he’s a player. So I cut it off and decided to just go through the process here. What kind of person would I be to convert under the tutelage of a married rabbi who I was sleeping with? I found a place that converts women. It looked good on paper. Turned out to be a fucking Amish compound with some charlatan who ran the place. So I leave there and spend my first Shabbos in the Old City at a hostel. Then I checked in here a week ago and the roommate is a young girl who is suicidal because her Orthodox rabbi boyfriend who she has been sleeping with since she was a teenager nicked her up so bad mentally.”
* I couldn’t help but remember, as I sat there with these people, how Rabbi Bloom used to invite me to his own home for Shabbat when we were involved. I used to think he must secretly hate his wife to be willing to be so cruel and inflict such pain. Why would you invite your mistress over and have your wife serve her? Why would you demean her? That was sadistic. Then I realized because she had demeaned him in so many ways, too. At least, that is what he said. She always demeaned him publicly and embarrassed him before others. This gave him a complex, made him insecure. He was alway trying to prove he was interesting, and that he appealed to women. I looked over at him and he was beaming from ear-to-ear. While Rabbi Bloom did not seem to mind being so duplicitous, lies and deceit were not something I would ever be comfortable with.
* Rabbi Bloom had arranged for me to stay with a woman who also lived in the Old City on Shabbos. She had long hair, and was somewhat Bohemian though not at all chic. Carol was her name. She had already converted to Judaism. She had a house full of cats. She was a bit off. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but wonder if these women started out somewhere near normal, and then these guys get a hold of them, fuck them up in the head and they’re never the same. She couldn’t stop gushing about how much she adored Rabbi Bloom. Of course, I just listened to her heartfelt arias, all the while thinking, this guy, he just has a squeeze everywhere. Men like him, without a loyal bone in their body, live as though no one woman can ever fulfill all their needs.
* The next day after shul and during kiddush we were sitting next to a young Jewish girl who was estranged from her family. She had fallen in love with a Palestinian boy and decided to run off with him. They were both barely nineteen. Her parents took their baby from her and all of them have been fighting in court since. While she was in love with her boyfriend and wanted very much to be with him, she was afraid her family would kill him if she stayed with him. She was so miserable, she wanted to kill herself. She had come there to get away and to pray and to figure things out. She was ready to abandon Orthodox Judaism. It was such a painful and tragic though eye-opening story. This young girl’s parents disowned her, and took her baby, and she fears they will kill her baby’s father if she stays with him. All because he is an Arab. And they are Orthodox Jews.
* I started to think that maybe all religion is just one big cult that went mainstream. Now all of society is simply crazy because of this ideological poison called religion, which has nothing at all to do with God. Right at that very moment that I thought of religion as a cult I looked up and out the window, and who did I see crossing the street? Sleazebag Zack from Beit Torah Moshe who always stepped out on his wife. I wondered if that was an affirmation. Yes, it is all nonsense, I told myself.
* “You’re right. I’m just going to go up there and turn in my headset. I don’t know why I’m so surprised here all the time. We only live in the holiest city on the entire fucking planet, and you don’t even need to leave our building without finding prostitution, drugs, slum lords, fake universities, a burgeoning sex cult run by a stateless Jew and God only knows what else!”
* We left Rabbi Bloom at The Wall right after havdalah. Then we moseyed about and eventually ended up at a cave of some sorts in the Old City where there were candles everywhere, otherwise it was pitch black dark. It was like a secret society full of Carlebach folks had convened in an underground tunnel, singing and praising. That was the cool part. There were some naked women and men sprawled about. There was a lot of smoke going around, too. Me and Lina couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Was it a seance or a sex cult, or both? Whatever was about to go down, we were not interested at all. One of the most incredible features of Israel for me would always be just how eclectic the place truly is. Distinguishing between the sacred and profane is nearly impossible.
* [Miri almost completes her Orthodox conversion until she becomes disillusioned. She asks to meet with her Beit Din rabbis to say goodbye.] Rabbi Adler was agreeable to meeting me right away, “the sooner the better” he said. Typically, he was the one who contacted you when it was time to meet again. When I met with him and Rabbi Metzger in early March, it was quite daunting, to be frank. They affect an imposing and all-authoritative air. As if they are the most powerful and entitled men on earth and your life and fate and future is in the palm of their hands. They create an imposing aura that screams: You should be scared and careful approaching these most holy and powerful men. I could only imagine how many women would find this so intimidating and scary. For me, it was just another strike on the board. The power of agency is the inalienable right of every person. Without that, you are not human. Only something less than.
As I sat there with Rabbi Adler that Tuesday afternoon in April, not far from where I had seen him that morning, I told him everything. He never once expressed shock, surprise or disbelief at my story. Perhaps only a little bit of discomfort and regret. I suppose no one wants to hear that one of their best friends in the world is not such a stellar guy after all. But also, neither was Rabbi Metzger. And God only knows what Rabbi Adler was really like. These guys were all like the mob. A gang who involved themselves in the shadiest endeavors Crimeville could ever produce. Having a little piece on the side was part of the culture. It was women like me who pushed back that made it a problem. And the problem was systemic and had been going on for millennia. As King Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
It was important for me during that meeting with Rabbi Adler to be honest and to let him know that my opinion of Orthodox Judaism was much less than favorable. In other words, on a scale of one to ten, it was zero. I was sure to tell him about my relationship with Rabbi Bloom in its entirety. And to end with him knowing that under no circumstance was I equivocating, nor did I wish to ever be contacted again. And just like that, religious Judaism was never a part of my life again.
[LF: Did rabbis Adler and Metzger take any action against Rabbi Bloom? One would think that Bloom wood have the goods on Adler and Metzger.]
* In most American Jewish homes, the primary significance that a shul holds is communal and not religious anyway. Synagogues are more like community centers that in most cases offer schools and educational opportunities for families with children, as well as serving as a place for people to connect and grow and learn. One of the biggest drawbacks of synagogues is that often, if you are not married with children, or a senior-citizen, there really just isn’t much they offer to you. It’s all about kids and families. Synagogues sadly gloss over unmarried people over a certain threshold past thirty, or people who are divorced, or who are empty-nesters, which is truly a shame. Because there is a huge communal gap that they don’t even make pretense at trying to fill.
* The place [Sinai Temple in Westwood is called Mount Sinai Congregation] was packed, and so I stayed in the back while I tried to scope out a place to sit. Then I eyed one at the far left side of the shul. All the while, I was listening to the rabbi [the character Daniel Wexler seems to be creatively inspired by David Wolpe], who was giving a dvar torah at the time. He was such an excellent orator. The sound of his voice was like music to the ears. You could listen to him speak forever. It wasn’t billowy or baritone or deep. But it was clear, resonant, decisive, intentional. I think I enjoyed most how articulate he was. How he conveyed his thoughts in a very up close and personable way. He had the gift of rhetoric. He was persuasive. You got the sense that he knew what he was talking about. What stood out the most to me about him is that he was not at all trying to be flashy, but he was very dapper. He had an effortless air about him that was incredibly compelling. As I sat down in my seat I became quite taken with him, which was very unusual for me. Only because I don’t ever get too taken with anyone. I had seen him before. But I couldn’t place where. When I ran a mental inventory there wasn’t one place I remember ever meeting him and yet, I just knew I knew him.
I like good-looking men who are very intelligent.
That has always been my weakness. But they are so few and far between. Sometimes, men are good-looking with average smarts, or they are smart with average looks. Most of the time when you meet a man there will be attraction or lust, but it quickly wanes. The interest never really goes deeper than that. Lust or attraction is typically what fuels most of our relationships and encounters. They are just not soulful. While this rabbi was no doubt attractive, I didn’t feel lust for him. That wasn’t it. Nor did I think, ooh he’s cute. Though I did find him attractive, it was so much more next level. There was just something about the whole person I could not quite place. The way he combed his hair, his voice, the inflection, his gait, the color of his skin, how he moved. I just couldn’t remember where I had ever met him. But why did he seem so familiar?
He stood out to me in a way that no other man has ever stood out to me in my whole life till that point. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, then that must be what it was. I had never been in love before and I was already thirty-six. I didn’t know it was possible to feel something so profound that defies explanation. But how ridiculous is that? You can’t love someone you just met or don’t even know. That’s preposterous. What wasn’t preposterous was that I loved listening to him talk. I felt like I could listen to him talk forever and never be bored or tired of it. How often do any of us feel that way about a man? Mostly, they are so annoying, especially with their mansplaining bullshit. But, I really liked what he had to say. And the way he said it. And most of all, the sound of his voice.
After that first Shabbat at Mount Sinai Congregation, I started to go every week just to hear him speak. It was always a full house, so everyone felt that way, I told myself. On more than one occasion, a congregant would whisper to me in broken English, “Are you Persian? You look Persian.” For some strange reason, I had a clear read on Rabbi Wexler. He was like an open book to me. I don’t know why. I wasn’t trying to read him. But, just from hearing him speak, combined with all the other environmental cues, I was able to completely profile his life and I was a hundred percent right. Or was I? As it turned out he was also an author and had just come out with a book about faith.
Like so many other rabbis, his wife was largely absent from the equation. At least, that’s what it appeared like on the surface. Though I remember seeing her one day in June, as she showed up with their daughter on a Shabbos morning. She was pretty. About my height. Kind of simple. Very natural-looking. Sometime soon after that I began corresponding with him. In fact, it was after a lecture he gave on Martin Buber’s work I and Thou. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a different color of blue button-down shirt that day. I happen to be a big fan of Martin Buber’s writings and that book in particular.
Right before I started going to Dan’s shul, I started working at The Sephardic Temple a few doors down. The Jewish school I was working at was going through some rough challenges with their executive leadership and I just got bored with the situation there as it was a real dead-end. The Sephardic Temple needed someone to help with the enrollment and financial aspect of their school program, so I signed on board. I did that until just past the high holidays. Then I went to go and work with a broker who was Persian out of Beverly Hills. I had a pretty active social life. Often, after shul on a Friday night, right there at Dan’s shul, a bunch of us friends would get together and go out. People from his shul, people I had met at other shuls, or through Ari or Sally or Lonnie.
Around that time, I started seeing less and less of Ari. Sometime in mid-July I had my first meeting with Rabbi Wexler. Though, I never once addressed him as Rabbi Wexler. That’s another thing. Usually, I’m very formal with people. Particularly in that context. But I always called him by his name from the start. Dan. I’m not sure why. I guess I always saw him as a man who happened to be a rabbi and not a rabbi who happened to be a man. I talked to him about joining the shul. This was the first rabbi I met in seven years who was not interviewing me about conversion. But I did tell him a lot about my life and story that day. He asked a lot of questions. So he knew that I had converted out in Sacramento with Rabbi Bennett.
By then it was known to me that he was pretty close with Kirk Douglas. Only because he shared many anecdotes quite openly during services. Kirk Douglas used to learn with him. So I mentioned to Dan that I had a book of his that perhaps he could get signed for me some day. He told me, “Sure, bring it whenever and I’ll ask.” From the first time I spoke with Dan, what stood out about him is that he is a good listener. He is interested. He asks questions and then he listens to your answer. He never interrupts when you speak. He truly is an excellent conversationalist. I appreciated that so much.
The real art of conversation is the ability to talk less and listen more. Because often, people are not like that in general. Rabbi Bloom sure wasn’t. He never loved the sound of anyone’s voice more than his own. And invariably, you could never get a thought out before he would interrupt you. That was one of the things about Rabbi Bloom that was most frustrating. An inability to just have a conversation with him that flowed.
Even though I had joined Dan’s shul, I had committed to helping out The Sephardic Temple where I was working during the high holidays. I was going to help them look after some of the children during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And also catch some of the services. I’m not quite sure how it came about, but the rabbi of that shul, Rabbi Azoulay, found out I was a member of Mount Sinai. So we got to talking one afternoon, right before Rosh Hashanah and he brought it up.
“I hear you’re a member of Mount Sinai:” “Yes, I just joined them in July.”
“Are you going to them for the holidays?”
“I wanted to, but the school needed help so I’m
committed to that. I’ll be here for the services:’ “Good. They gave you a ticket, right?”
“Good. Maybe if you experience some of the services you will join us instead. Everyone gives Rabbi Wexler a lot of fanfare, but he’s highly overrated.”
“Oh, I’ve gone, the services are great:”
“Yeah, so I hear. But he’s not. Don’t let him fool you.”
I thought it was so strange Rabbi Azoulay would spill that kind of tea. What in God’s name could he be talking about? Strangely enough, there seemed to be something about Rabbi Wexler that was giving a lot of people something to talk about. Once I was on a hike with someone in the crew who used to go to Friday night Shabbat services there with us. Shelly Kassin. She lived out in Van Nuys. So, she asked me a very out-of-the-blue question one day when we were at Runyon Canyon. This was right after my first meeting with him, too. And I had never once brought him up to anyone. Her question was so left-field I was wondering why she would ask that. And of course, I never tell what I know or think. That’s rule number one.
“So, what do you think of Rabbi Wexler?”
“I haven’t thought about it. Why?”
‘What’s going on with his wife?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“There’s chatter here and there. You never see her around?
“Honestly, I don’t know anything about that. I saw her once with their daughter. But I don’t know?
Then another time, after a lecture where he had some panel guests. It happened again. Some lady, I don’t remember her name. She was maybe in her late forties. She was going through a divorce. She said she was a lawyer. She was a bit haggard-looking. A little rough around the edges. She sat next to me during this lecture. She had a permanently bemused expression on her face.
Right after the lecture, she looked right at me and said, “Do you know Rabbi Wexler?”
“I met him. Talked with him. But do I know him? No.”
“There’s something up with that guy. What do you think about him?”
“You know, I haven’t given it much thought. Why?”
As this was going on he was actually standing right across from us but at a distance. As he was looking over at us, he had a strange look on his face that was unmistakable. I wondered what I was missing.
The night before Rosh Hashanah that year was the last time me and Ari had sex. And it was one of the wildest nights we ever spent together. We were just hanging out for a bit before we got going, and he was browsing The Jewish Journal, a local LA magazine on Jewish life. There was a pair of bloggers in The Journal, a couple of very young twenty-somethings [Dikla Kadosh and Danielle Berrin] who were branding themselves as the It Girls of Judaism. Like in that oh, my god, roll your eyes, sort-of-way. I know because Rabbi Bloom and I were flipping through a copy of The Journal once, as it had been left on the table during one of our lunch meetups at Orange Delight. He specifically commented on this.
So Ari looks up at me as he is thumbing through pages.
“Miri, why don’t you blog for The Jewish Journal? You’re way better than what these girls offer. They’re a pair of ditzy broads.”
“Be nice: I said as I stifled a laugh. He sounded like Rabbi Bloom.
“Because I blog with a purpose. And my purpose isn’t to blog for The Jewish Journal.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” he said as he pulled me near him.
Then he threw The Journal down and we got on with our purpose. We screwed all night, every which way, all over his apartment, while blasting Tupac’s All Eyez On Me. It was one of the best and purely carnal sexual experiences of my life. The next morning, I took a shower, got dressed up and drove to shul for Rosh Hashanah from Ari’s place downtown. He had a nice loft apartment in a posh highrise. Me and Ari never saw each other again after that. I told him that morning that I was done and kissed him goodbye. But at least we went out with one hell of a bang! The sex was great, but what I wanted and needed was love.
Rabbi Bloom never knew about my private life. It wasn’t his business. But all of a sudden, after four years, he started acting like he was interested in rekindling. So we started bickering a lot again. In December 2009, I moved out from my apartment into a really nice spot in Windsor Square, near where the mayor of Los Angeles lives. By then, I was really into Dan and wrestling with these deep feelings I was nursing. Under no circumstance would I ever be with a married man again. Back in November, after one of his weekly classes, I had finally asked Dan to ask Kirk Douglas to sign the book that Esther had given me in Jerusalem back in ’05.
The day I had a meeting with him to drop off the book, I told him about my feelings. I sat in the reception area of his office, making small talk with his secretary, who clearly doted on him and seemed quite enamored of him herself. She had a little baby and for some reason her baby’s name reminded me of the movie Dr. Zhivago. Right as I was about to mention it to her, he opened the door to his office. Rabbi Wexler is a tall man. Average build. He had some serious health issues in his past, but looked very strong and healthy at the time. He had wonderful black hair that he kept short but you could tell was somewhat curly. I don’t know if he is the handsomest man in the world. But he definitely had something exceptionally compelling about him.
“Miri, hi, nice to see you. Come in,” he said with a big smile.
His office was spacious. He had coffee brown leather sofas in his seating area, apart from his desk area. And of course, his walls were lined from floor to ceiling on all sides with books. And also a few scattered pictures and other important keepsakes. He had chocolate candy in glass bowls on the coffee table. As we took our seats, he mirrored me, and turned his phone off and set it down on the coffee table in front of us. Although, for his part, it was clearly quite a deliberate gesture, indicating I had his full attention. Whereas, I always did that with everyone. Nothing is ruder than taking calls when you are in a meeting with someone. I have always felt that you should always be fully present with whoever you are with. As I sat
down, I got straight to the point.
“You know, I’ve always been very direct with you. I’m a direct person in general. But with you it’s different. I’m very attracted to you. But not just in a surface or carnal way. It’s something I don’t fully understand. I never felt this way before. And I’ve wrestled deeply with this because I’ve been down this block before?
“What do you mean? How so?”
“I was once involved in a sexual relationship with an Orthodox married rabbi. I believed then his marriage was over and that I was the first. Of course, I became educated soon enough. But I vowed I would never become involved with a married man again.”
“I see. And now?”
“And then I met you. No one has ever stopped me dead in my tracks before. It’s all so weird. I don’t know what it means. Usually, you notice a guy after-the-fact. Or maybe he even grows on you a bit, for a while. But there is something about you that intrigues me so much?’
“In what way?”
“In every way. I think I love the sound of your voice. Maybe it’s everything. I’m not sure?
“Where can we go from here?”
“I don’t know. So I find myself in a little bit of a dilemma?
“I just don’t know that I can come to this synagogue anymore. My interest in you is not benign. And I don’t want to indulge ignoble intentions:’
“I hope you will stay. I like you being here?
“All the things I ever wrote or told to you till now, I do stand by them. I just sensed certain things about your life. I don’t know why.”
“Miri, I don’t know what to say. No woman has ever approached me so boldly. But it’s most welcome.” “You don’t alwa s have to know what to sa ”
“Wow. When you asked me to get a copy of Kirk Douglas’ book signed, I thought you meant a copy like the kind you buy at the bookstore. I had no idea you meant the galley. How did you get this?”
“In Israel. Long story. A friend I had there used to cook for him.”
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to sign it for you. I’ll let you know when he does:’
“Thanks, I appreciate that. Good `ol Spartacus. Loved that movie.”
“Me, too. Am I still going to see you around?” “Of course. I love listening to you talk.”
He smiled and said, “Thank you.”
Interestingly enough, he was not at all prone to flattery.
“Well, let me leave you to your rabbi duties?”
“My rabbi duties?” He said with a sort of distant look.
“Dan, do you like being a rabbi?”
“It’s a very restrictive life. I was once an Atheist?”
“Now, I do my best to help other people!”
“I would never want to be a rabbi. I thought about it before!”
“Really? I could see you in the Reform movement. Maybe Hebrew Union College?”
“No longer interested. Because rarely do people practice what they preach. It’s impossible. Religion starts out on a false premise.”
“Why bother going to shul at all?”
“Other than for you?”
“For the social aspect. I do love Torah and God and religion are not the same thing.”
He had a kind of sad look on his face.
“It’s hard to be a rabbi.”
“But it’s the life you chose.”
“I guess I’m stuck with the choice.”
“Not really. You can always choose otherwise.”
* After my meeting with Dan that November, I just sort of left him hanging on a lurch. I still went to shul for every single service and for every event. It was quite evident to me that whatever I was feeling must have been some kind of love thing. The truth is, I never felt that way for any man in my whole life. I didn’t even know it was possible to have those kinds of feelings. The depth of those feelings scared me. I was afraid of loving someone so much. Of losing myself, of losing control. Sex, lust, attraction, those are small potatoes in the game of love. You don’t risk a lot with those. But love? Real love? Once you get caught in that, there is no hope of recovery.
I had gone through my whole life believing I was never going to know what real love is. Or what it would be like to be loved by someone. I had made my peace with that, and accepted my life as it was. Not always ultimately fulfilling, but hey, who of us is ever truly happy? I would see Dan all the time and smile and say hi, but more than that, I really avoided engaging him in conversation. I also stopped going to his weekly class. It was just too up close and personal for me. I was not able to control the immensity of my feelings. They were so foreign to me. So strange. It
By now it was January 2010. I kept myself busy with my new job in Beverly Hills. It was essentially just a paper-pusher position, setting up various insurance contracts. It wasn’t a forever job, so I took it with a grain of salt. I had never really got back into a groove with meaningful work since I returned from the Army in ’08. Mount Sinai always held a special service for the Martin Luther King Holiday every year. Their special guest that year was none other than Congressman Berman. It was the third time I saw him at a synagogue in six years. I sat on the far right side of the shul that day, enjoying the beautiful service. When I saw Dan’s wife nicely dressed in an all black dress. His daughter had just approached bat mitzvah age.
She was wearing a miniskirt that day. For some reason she walked around the shul and passed by the side of the aisle where I was. Her eyes widened when she saw me, which struck me as curious. Then she smiled at me and I smiled back. I remember thinking how cute she was. She looked exactly like her dad.
It was that day I decided I needed to move on. I had developed some weird connection with Dan that I didn’t understand. The situation was at an impasse. Nothing could ever become of this inexplicable feeling. So it just was a big looming problem in the way of my life that was taking up all of my time and attention. Now going to shul became more about facing this undeniable dilemma than enjoying the services. Besides, I would never hurt another woman and take what was hers for myself. I would hate for someone to do that to me. Nor would I ever settle for second best because that is one thing I always knew I didn’t deserve. But most importantly, I wanted no part of a clandestine affair. I learned that from my situation with Rabbi Bloom. I didn’t realize that his marriage was nowhere near over as he had said to me. Also, I felt truly insulted that he thought I was only good enough to be a side piece. For me, that was unforgivable and forever marred my respect for him. How dare he? So I met with Dan about a week after
the MLK service to say goodbye.
By now I had met with Dan several times at his office so I was on a first name basis with his secretary. When I arrived that day, she handed me the book. I didn’t bother to look at what Kirk Douglas wrote. I was actually kind of nervous and didn’t know why. I had never felt nervous around Dan before. Then he opened the door and motioned me to come in. Since there was already quite a familiarity between us, we were relaxed and casual with one another. But I was feeling really strange and that was confusing to me. My heart was beating. My palms were sweaty. My throat felt dry. I could hardly talk. He even kind of had a slightly puzzled look on his face. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, and said as much as I cleared my throat.
“I’m so sorry, I think I need some water. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He got me a bottle of water and I thanked him and took a big sip straight away. I didn’t imagine in a million years the problem was that I was in love with this guy. There is just no way. I mean, how? We didn’t even have sex. But how many times have I had sex and was never in love? Every single time so far. So, I finally just let it out.
“Dan, I think I’m in love with you. What else can it be? I truly don’t understand the intensity of my feelings. It’s more than I have ever dealt with before?’
And I started to falter.
“But there’s no place for us to go. And I will always honor the vow I made to myself. I will never be with a married man again. I could never hurt another woman. And I love myself too much to ever settle for second best. This is all very strange and unexpected. I’m not going to come to this shul anymore. It’s just too much?
The whole time he was looking right into my eyes. Then he said, “I don’t know what to say. I wish you wouldn’t go.”
“You know, I was just looking for a shul when I showed up last year. I was dating some guy when I first met you. But ever since the first time I saw you, it was like all of heaven opened up.”
“Will you keep in touch with me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s best not to.”
I started to feel like I was going to cry and so I fought back the lump in my throat.
“I think it’s time to go.”
As we both stood up he walked toward me. Then he said to me, “Can I please hug you?”
I nodded yes. And we held each other for a very long time without saying a word. Then we looked at each other for even longer. It was as though time stood still. As he was holding me so close to him, I could feel his body pulsate against my own. And every part of him warmed me to the core of my being, filling me with a delight and pleasure I had never known until that time. This is the whole point of being human, I thought.
I was running my hands through his hair, gently caressing his cheeks, his neck, his lips, all the while, staring longingly and lovingly into his eyes. As I felt so overcome with love and a kind of desire that surpassed mere lust, I knew I could live in the blissful rapture of his presence forever. And I started to get so scared. How much longer could I resist? Our lips were so close to one another. As though we were breathing in the soul of the other. My body was tingling everywhere. This was pure ecstasy. My heart was beating so fast. And then, it almost happened. Instinctively. Our tongues darted forth, as if to start the exploration of the best adventure either one of us would ever embark upon. But I pulled away and looked at him. Shaking. Almost in tears. How close we got to the point of no return.
“Dan, we can’t do this.”
He said nothing for a moment and then, “Can I have one more hug, please?”
I nodded yes again. And he held me for what felt like forever. We just held each other so tightly. I loved everything about him. His smell. The way his body felt when pressed next to mine. Then, as we let go, we held hands and looked into each other’s eyes for a long time without saying a word. I felt like I was telling him all the things I ever wanted to say to anyone. And I felt like he was doing the same.
“I’m so glad I met you,” he whispered.
“I’m so glad I met you, too,” I replied.
“Please, always take care of yourself,” he continued. “I will. You, too.”
As we were approaching the door I noted a couple of pictures on his shelf. I asked him if I could look at them. One was of his wife and another of his young daughter. I stared at the picture of his daughter for a long while. There was just something about that picture. Like a sadness I recognized in some weird way. It’s true what they say. A picture is worth a thousand words.
You never know how a person is going to affect your life. Or how deeply or even why? But sometimes, people come into your life and they become permanent residents in your psychic space. Once, someone told me that every person we meet comes into our lives primarily for a reason, sometimes for a season, and rarely for a lifetime. There wasn’t a day that went by since the first time I saw Dan in April 2009 that I didn’t think about him. He was always at the forefront of my mind. That is not something I ever experienced for anyone, before then or since that time.
When I got to my car, after I drove out of the parking lot, I pulled over and cried. I broke down. How close I had come to love. What cruel fate. I was submerged in an emptiness that I had never felt before, and I had lived my whole life with gaping voids. Something of priceless value to me was now gone. Something I would never be able to replace. It was all too difficult to understand because none of it made any sense in the first place. But I hated the horrible ache that now lived in the center of my being. How could I have such strong feelings for someone I barely knew? Who I never even had sex with? But we had shared so much of ourselves over those nine months. So many ideas and conversations and thoughts about life. And I did know him. Why couldn’t I place it? Then I looked at the book, to see what Kirk Douglas had written: Keep climbing. What a strange thing to write, I thought.
Needless to say, after that day, I slipped into a horrible depression. I didn’t want to eat. Couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus at work. So I quit that job. I had money in the bank anyway. I was just really out-of-sorts. I would go hiking or to museums, or hide up at the Getty Center. My friends knew something was up but no one ever knew about my feelings for Dan. I carried on like this for about a month until I couldn’t take it anymore. I contacted Dan to see if I could meet with him again. This time, when I saw his secretary, we were friendly enough as always, but she seemed to have a concerned look on her face. He was happy to see me, but also looked kind of serious, too. He sat down and just looked at me for a long while.
Then he said, “Miri, how have you been?”
“Dan, I’ve missed you so much!’
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Maybe I made a mistake? Maybe life and love are just simply complicated. I thought about it. I’ll be with you, and just take whatever little pieces of your time you can spare for me. Something is better than nothing. I just can’t stand this horrible pain.”
“Miri, not while I’m still married. If my wife finds out, all hell will break loose. She can be chaotic.”
Why would he say such a thing? Did such a thing happen before?
And I replied, “I don’t know what came over me. I’m so sorry.”
Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to run. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
“I have to go.”
He seemed a bit puzzled.
“I’ll be in touch.”
He went to hug me but I moved away.
As soon as I left his office I changed my number. And I drove to Santa Barbara, and stayed in a bed and breakfast for a few days. Pampering myself with self-care and wine and pot. Then I went to San Francisco and hung out for a few more days doing more of the same. Then I went to New York for a week and hung out. And finally after about a month of this, Rabbi Bloom emailed me: “Miri, I’ve been trying to contact you. It seems you changed your number again. Please call me.” So I texted from my new number, and let him know I was on my way back from New York and would call him when I was back in town.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in finance anymore. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was hiking almost every day at Runyon Canyon. Or going to the Ocean. I wasn’t going to shul anymore anywhere. Then, sometime in May, a man who I met via my blog back in ’06, a producer in the film industry, got back in touch with me. I never heard from Dan, so I figured maybe the whole thing was just my illusion and he
was simply indulging it out of pity. Who knows? Maybe he was just used to crazy women professing their love for him in his office. I was just one of many. But then, out-of-the-blue one day I did get an email from Dan. “Miri, hi, I thought about you. Haven’t heard from you in a while, and just hoping you’re okay . So I thought about it and replied asking him if I could stop by and visit with him. Anyway, I never booked our meetings with his secretary. He always scheduled me to meet with him directly. And this was from the start.
We made up to meet on June 1st. By now, my six-month lease was up and I was glad I was on a month-to-month. I liked my place, but I was in such limbo, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had lost some weight by then, and I showed up wearing some cute Capri pants and a pretty summer blouse with some cute sandals. I didn’t wear any makeup that day. Dan was dressed in slacks and a shirt, a few buttons open, no tie that day. He was wearing a sports coat though. And once again, his secretary greeted me warmly though she still had this strange look on her face. I chose to ignore it. But this time when I arrived she said, “He’s waiting for you. Just go in.” So I knocked lightly on the door and he said, “Come in, Min.”
He smiled when he saw me, but there was something about him that seemed different. His energy was different. He seemed anxious. We took our usual seats.
“How’ve you been?” He asked straight away. “I’m okay. You?”
He was really fidgety and I was distracted by it. I couldn’t help but think what the hell was wrong with him. I had never seen him that way before. So we continued to make small talk and that was also not something we ever did.
Then he said, “Anything new?”
“No, my lease is up. And I’m trying to figure out what I want to do for work. It’s just sort of a being in limbo time of my life I guess. I don’t know?’
He kept shifting back and forth. For some reason I thought at that moment that Dan was really sexy. He was very manly, but in a way that wasn’t gruff or rugged. I got the impression he knew exactly how to handle a woman in bed. Sometimes when I would talk to him, he would just kind of bite his lip in this interesting sort-of-way that was suggestive of something more. Lust. Sex maybe. He was literally sitting on the edge of his seat and it was really making me nuts. I was wondering what was wrong with him and finally said as much.
“Dan, my God, what is your problem? I’ve never seen you this way. What is going on? What am I missing?”
“Why haven’t you said anything?”
“What do you mean about what?”
“I mean about what? What are you talking about?” “You mean, you don’t know?”
“Dan, know what?”
“I’m getting divorced.”
I was stunned. A million thoughts ran through my mind.
“Congratulations, I guess?”
“That’s not the response I was expecting:”
“I guess I don’t know what to say.”
“I thought you knew. We sent out a letter to the congregation letting them know we’re ending our marriage. I wondered why I didn’t hear from you.”
“Dan, I unsubscribed from all correspondence when I canceled my membership and stopped coming here.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
I just sat there in silence. I was horrified, actually. “Miri, what’s wrong. Talk to me:’
“A newly divorced handsome fifty-one year old man. Guess it’s time for you to “play the field” and sow your wild oats.”
“I’m not that kind of man?’
“No doubt women will be throwing themselves at you.”
His whole demeanor changed and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I just wanted to run out of his office. Now he would have to go through the sowing his wild oats phase, and I was not going to be able to deal with that. That would utterly crush me. To see him with other women, and stick around waiting for a call while he was getting it all out of his system? There was just no way. That would kill me. As a newly divorced man he would need his space. He couldn’t just jump into another relationship. I was ready for a lifetime of togetherness. He had to play the field. As I was thinking all of these thoughts I did what I normally do in really difficult emotional circumstances. I got logical and practical.
“Dan, I need to go.”
“What?” He seemed thrown off*.
“I have some appointments, and I don’t want to be late.”
He went to hug me and I pulled back again. I didn’t even want to look at him because I knew I would break down.
As soon as I left I went to the beach. And I just sat at the shore and cried for hours. Dan was such a heartbreak for me. I kind of hated that I loved someone so much because this love had such a great power over me and made me feel so vulnerable. Finally, at sunset I walked back to my car and drove home and cried myself to sleep. Rabbi Bloom was really concerned about my depression. He noticed that I was different. One day, a couple of weeks after the big announcement, Rabbi Bloom came over unexpectedly to check in on me. So I went to grab a bite to eat with him though I wasn’t hungry. We went for a drive, and when we got back to my place we sat in his car and talked some more.
“Miri, something is wrong with you. You haven’t been the same for a while now. I’m really concerned. I love you so much and just want to see you happy. Is it something I did? Miri, I have always had feelings for you, and I will always care about you:”
Exhausted, I just finally had it with everything.
“Rabbi Bloom, if you must know, I’m in love with someone. I have been for a year now, and he broke my heart.”
“What? Who? Do I know him?”
`I don’t know, I don’t think so. He’s a conservative rabbi.”
“What’s his name?”
“Rabbi Wexler? Are you kidding me? That guy is a man about town. He’s got a huge reputation. He’s a ladies man. Everyone knows about him.”
“What are you saying?”
“You wouldn’t last a week with him! You’re too much work. He likes `ern simple and easy, no strings.”
“How can you say such a thing?”
“Has he called you? Has he offered you a life together? Did you ever tell him you love him?” “Yes, he knows.”
“And did say he loves you back?”
“Didn’t he get a divorce?”
“You know about that?”
“Everyone does. Talk of the town. He was stepping out with someone in his community. Not a first. He did it all the time. Baby Girl, I want to see you happy. You mean the world to me. You have such a beautiful soul. I accepted it a long time ago that we were not each other’s fate. I know sometimes I still hint at stuff. I’m human. You deserve someone who loves you. But this guy Wexler? He’s a schmuck. It ain’t him. I’m telling you as if you were my daughter—this guy is no good.”
My head was twirling. I had no idea Rabbi Bloom knew who Dan was. He was having an affair and the whole community knew about it? How could I have been so foolish? So blind?
“He must have thought I was so pathetic. He was looking for a good time, and I was stuck on love.”
“Miri, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I had no idea you were into this guy. If you would have told me a long time ago, I would have warned you then.”
“Rabbi Bloom, I’m tired. I’m going to go inside. Talk to you later.”
He looked really worried.
“Miri, you’ll be okay. There is someone out there for you, Baby Girl. You deserve the best.”
“Right. So I always hear. Be safe driving home.”
As I walked into my place, I was numb. I made up at that moment to leave LA. I was going to do what I always did my whole life. Run as far away from the pain as I could. The producer guy was French-Canadian. A Quebecois. He was ten years older than me. Liam was actually very handsome, but I didn’t love him or even like him in that way. Even though he was handsome he just didn’t appeal to me. Still, by that point I knew him for four years. He had always pursued me hot and heavy. Right before I met up with Dan that fateful June day Liam had invited me to go and stay with him in Montreal. So that night I called him and said yes. And we left it open-ended. No time-frame. Just see what happens.
This time, I gave away all my furniture and sold my car. I packed up my belongings and mailed them to his house the day before I left so that I would be at his house to receive them. Then I took a shuttle to LAX and flew out to Montreal. But we fizzled on contact. There was just no chemistry between us. At least on my part. All I could ever think about was Dan. While I was there in Montreal I sent Dan an email one day. It had been about four months since we last spoke. I told him I was just reaching out to say hi and see how he was. He replied that he was fine but going forward he preferred that we remain cordial from a distance. I was deeply wounded by his coldness. So I told myself I would never contact him again.
Soon after that I left Montreal, as there was just no future for Liam and I. I went to San Francisco and rented a spot in San Rafael.
* Sometime in the spring of 2011, it was in March, I had occasion to go to LA. There was a big fundraiser gala being held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel out in Beverly Hills. It was hosted by some pro-Israel PAC in honor of then Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, an incredible statesman, thinker and prolific writer. The Network wanted me to go to this event. I would only be in town for two days. Since I was in town I decided to pay Dan a surprise visit at his shul. It just so happened that he was facilitating a panel with a relatively well-known female Jewish author. I didn’t RSVP to the event because it was optional to do so, and I didn’t want Dan to know I would be there.
As I walked up to the front entrance, because I didn’t park in the garage this time, there was quite a commotion going on. Then Dan came out and told the security guards that some woman who was trying to get in was clear to enter. I didn’t really get a good glimpse of her. It was dark outside but he escorted her inside himself. After we were all inside the synagogue I waited till the last minute before I went into the hall. Then I went inside and sat down in the back, literally right before the program started. I noticed a girl [Danielle Berrin?] several rows in front of me, she seemed young. Her hair was in a french braid. What stood out most to me about her was how much makeup she had on. It was a lot. She seemed to really fixate on him. So much so that she noticed that he had his eye on something.
Five minutes into the program he saw me there and he never took his eyes off of me the whole time. She was clearly quite concerned with who or what he was staring at so intently, as she was busy scribbling on a notepad herself. And finally, unable to stand it much longer, she got up and walked to the back to see what the heck he was looking at. That’s when I saw how tall she was. And that is when she discovered his eyes were on me. He never once bothered to look at her. Or look away from me, except when he had to courteously engage his guest speaker. He seemed really self-conscious during that talk. As though he knew I was examining his behavior. I was trying to make sense of everything. How did I get it so wrong? I wanted to see if I could get a clearer picture of him. But nothing. Right as the program ended I left immediately. It was the last time I ever saw Dan.
About a year later, as fate would have it. My new job sent me to Sacramento for a six month assignment. Rather than drive back and forth from Marin County to Sacramento every day, they thought it would just be much easier to put me up in a place there. It was January 2012. So they put me up in a nice loft apartment by the Capitol. It was about two weeks before Shavuot. I decided to go and visit Beit Torah Moshe [Mosaic Law Congregation]. It had been eight years since I had last stepped foot in that shul. So one day, out-of-the-blue, I showed up for Shabbat morning services. It looked like an entirely different place. I strolled the grounds, peaking around everywhere. They had really done a lot of incredible work. It was pretty impressive. It looked like an amazing campus. I went inside this new and big and imposing library when I saw the most monstrous thing in the main area. There, in all its gaudy shame, was a life-size portrait of Saul Sonnenberg on the wall. Along with a plaque in honor of him for donating the funds needed for building the library. Well, how about that, I thought. At that moment I had a perverse idea to kill him. Somehow, the whole plot just formed in my head instantly. I knew exactly how to do it in a way that would leave no trace.
I thought of Rabbi Bennett. I guess Saul, and that other lady, were right ten years ago. He’s a snake and there is nothing that money can’t fix for him. Then I walked in the shul dressed to the nines. In some ways, beauty is a shield and a defense. If you are beautiful, you must use it to your advantage. It is a tough mask to hide behind. Being really beautiful is like being a celebrity. Life is far from easy, and everyone is always going to be trying to get or take a piece. If beauty is not managed well it could be a curse. But if managed well, doors will always open for you. Beauty is a powerful thing. Rabbi Bennett had remarried by then. When he saw me walk in, he turned beet red for some reason. Saul was sitting in the front row of the shul during the service. I went into the dining hall afterward.
I was chit-chatting in line when Saul walked right up to me.
“Hello, Rena, do you remember me?”
The chutzpah, I thought.
“Of course, how could I ever forget? I’m going by Miri now.”
Rabbi Bennett was looking over at us and seemed very uncomfortable. He never once came up to me to say hi. I sat down with the two sisters that sponsored my conversion. They were awkward around me now. Saul sat by me, and as before, he asked if I wanted to go have dinner with him later. Of course, I agreed. I met up with Saul at some Sushi place not far from the shul.
“Do you remember what happened?” He asked as soon as we sat down.
“Well, some of it, anyway,” I replied.
So then I shifted on him a bit.
“I see you donated lots of money for the new library?”
“Yes, it was a big to-do. $3 million dollars. They put up a plaque to celebrate me.”
“Well, isn’t that just lovely?”
“Yes, it was a great event.”
Then he started talking about various things, and nothing in particular. One of my coworkers walked in right at that moment with her husband. She had a puzzled look on her face. Kind of like, what in God’s name are you doing here with this old man and why haven’t we heard anything about this? But she was discreet and aside from a subtle smile, didn’t even act as though she knew me. In a wide pivot, Saul then asked me, “Have you ever really loved anyone?” And with only slight hesitation, filled with bitter anguish and pain, I replied, “Yes, only once, very deeply.”
We ended the night young. I gave him my number, and he called me during the week to invite me to lunch with him after shul next Shabbat. It would be Shavuot that weekend, and he would be going home after our lunch. But he invited me to go to Reno the following day, which was perfect. I was more than delighted to take him up on his offer. Not only was it my opportunity to do what I set out to do, but, I would also retrace the steps from that day. As though 1 needed to relive that experience in order to process it once and for all. To reclaim the parts of my life that he stole from me.
The next Shabbat we sat together in this library that was a tribute to him during Torah study. Saul gave zero fucks about Torah study. That kind of stuff did not interest him, and he made no pretense about it. But he was interested in me, and since I loved Torah study, he sat there. I was repulsed by him and the entire situation, but I masked my hatred and contempt with a smile. Once Torah study was over I left him in the library and walked to the sanctuary alone. I sat in the back, much preferring to scope everyone and everything out. I stared at Rabbi Bennett, barely able to disguise my disgust.
After shul that day Saul and I met up at a wonderful Tapas restaurant downtown. And of course, I didn’t drink or dare take my eyes off my food or water for even one moment. In fact, I didn’t even take a bite of the very expensive lunch I ordered, which really annoyed him. Saul was such a crude individual. Then, out of nowhere, the strangest thing happened. He started talking about AIPAC and his involvement with the lobby. AIPAC is a pretty powerful lobby that works on behalf of the State of Israel’s interests in Washington. Saul couldn’t help but brag about how he was a roundtable member and a big money donor.
“So, tell me, how much money does it take to buy into roundtable status?
“$50,000 a dinner plate?
“Ah, not bad. I trust the meal is more than worth
“Yes, we just had the conference on March 4, 2012. It was incredible. President Obama was there. Big name rabbis, like Dan Wexler out of LA and more. Rabbi Bennett was there, too.”
“You know Rabbi Wexler?”
“Oh, very well. He was there with a young girl. I mean, she was of age, but had to be in her mid-twenties at best. She was tall. Clearly, head-over-heels for him. I’ve known him for years. I started to kid him about some things from the past. He got upset and told me to tone it down. That his girlfriend didn’t need to know about all that?
“Oh, wow, like what kind of things?”
“He’s a really sick guy. Off in the head. One of those weird types. ”
All I could think was that my rapist is calling someone else a sick guy. That was when I knew that the girlfriend Saul was talking about was the young girl I saw at that talk a year earlier. This was the girl from The Jewish Journal Ari called a ditz. I was shocked that of all the women in the world Dan could be with, he was dating a young twenty-something blogger. Even more shocking to me was that the girl had written an article about his ex-wife a year before they divorced, praising both her youthful beauty and the love between her and her husband. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the one he was having an affair with and why his marriage broke up? Maybe she had her eyes on him the whole time? Or maybe he had his eyes on her? These what ifs could go on forever so I asked Saul instead.
“So how do you know all this?” I asked.
“The lady he used to be man-led to. I was her mother’s boyfriend for about four years. We hosted them and Rabbi Bennett and his then wife a few times at my place.”
“Yes. Also at Elise’s place in Sacramento.”
“That’s your former girlfriend’s name?”
“Yes. She ended up meeting someone else and marrying the guy. He’s nice enough. A little dull and boring. Some kind of X-ray tech. Her daughter, Wexler’s ex, really disliked me. Always wondered if I was going to marry her mom or what.”
“Yeah, they had a little daughter. He went and gave her some weird Middle Eastern name. I told him, Dan, what’s your problem? You’re American. Give her a normal American name.”
“Well, life, people. What do you do?”
To say I was shocked or stunned would be an understatement. I stopped pushing because at that moment I didn’t want to know more.
Then he said, “Are we still on for tomorrow?” “Yes, what time?”
“Come about 1 p.m. We’ll go to lunch.”
“Okay, sounds good. Saul, I’m going to get going?
I went home and laid on my bed for hours. I was numb, to be honest. It was just too much information that hit me all at once, and it was more than I was truly capable of handling. That night I went to shul for Shavuot till about 11 p.m. before I got bored and tired and went home to sleep. Rabbi Bennett talked to me that night. Small talk. But I never saw him again after that.
The next day I drove up to Reno, surprised by what a long drive it is just to go to services on Shabbat every week. As I was seeing everything for the first time, I was gripped with disbelief that Saul had driven me while I was unconscious in his car all this way. When I got to his house, I didn’t remember any of it. I didn’t know where I was. None of it looked familiar. What I did recognize was the place the moment I was inside. For having so much money, it was pretty shabby and kind of run down. As if he hadn’t bought new furniture since the ’70s. I say that because he told me he lived there for forty years. So we ended up talking a lot. He was showing me pictures of Elise, Dan’s former mother-in-law. I didn’t recognize her at first.
“Do you know who she is?” He asked.
I didn’t, and just looked at the picture blankly. “It’s Elise.”
“The mother-in-law?” I said.
Then I remembered she was the woman at that arts council that he was talking to ten years earlier. He started showing me pictures of many women that he had dated throughout the years in this thick photo album. Lots of them were naked or scantily clad. All were much younger. Most of them were Asian. I couldn’t help but wonder if those were his victims, and the photo album was a collection of his trophies.
As soon as I thought that he said, “You’re the only woman who I didn’t get a photo of.”
“Lucky me,” I replied.
I played it so cool and calm and collected. Saul was so comfortable with me, he didn’t realize I was about to knock him off. He even told me how he had a bout of testicular cancer. I thought it served him right. Like divine retribution or karmic justice. Then he told me how he was lying in bed with an Asian girl, he pointed to a picture, when the Constable showed up at the door, and served him the restraining orders. Saul was Canadian and was trying to become an American citizen and when that happened, it derailed his prospects. We didn’t talk about what happened otherwise. Finally, he was done spilling more tea than was lost in the Boston Harbor. So, I looked at him and decided to ask.
“What did Wexler do that was so weird?”
“Oh, the guy, he is really something. Very sick in the head?’
“Honestly, I don’t even know how he’s a rabbi.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Worse. He would lock himself in the garage, practicing his sermons. Or so he said. Once we caught him. You don’t even want to know.”
“No, I guess you’re right, maybe I don’t. Life is so strange?’
“Why’s that?” He asked.
“Yesterday at lunch, when I told you I loved someone once in my life
“It was Wexler?’
“What?! You know him?”
“Dan’s with that young girl [Danielle Berrin?] now. And who knows who else. He’s not a good guy.”
“So I’ve heard.”
In that instant, everything in me changed. I just wanted to go home. Anyway, Saul was already dead. He seemed thrown off balance. I got my purse and just left without a word. I was so anxious to get home, I didn’t realize I was speeding until I got pulled over and got a ticket. The whole time, all I could think was that Dan never told me he knew Rabbi Bennett. Back in ’09, when we first talked that July I told him Rabbi Bennett had converted me. Why didn’t he tell me that he knew him? How was it that every single person who ever talked to me about Dan always had something negative to say about him? How was it that I was so blind to what kind of person he is? How did I fall in love with what appears to be one of the worst human beings on the planet?
I felt like I was going crazy. The one person in this world I loved was married to a woman whose
mother’s boyfriend raped me. This cut me like a knife. Everyone always says such awful things about Dan to me. Is he really that much of a fraud? How did I not see it? If there was any glimmer of hope I was still nursing about us, it was all just soot and ash now. For one, he was just playing the field as I had predicted, and even if he wasn’t, what was I supposed to say to him? So, you know your ex-wife’s mom. Well, remember her boyfriend Saul? Yeah, that guy. Well, he drugged me, kidnapped me and raped me back in ’02. That’s not a secret you can keep from the love of your life. My hope died when I learned the truth.
I always felt until that point that no matter what happened in my life, my belief in God would always be unwavering. When I finally got home, I lost it. I cried out from the depths of my being. God, what sick joke is this? Why did you do this to me? What do you want from me?