Some answers from on High
Next week, Marion and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. As wedding anniversaries go these days, this is no big deal. Friends have recently marked their 60th wedding anniversary, and some years ago I was privileged to have attended the civic festivities that accompanied the anniversary of a charming couple who claimed never to have had a quarrel in their entire 75 years of married life!
Still, 40 years is a milestone, and Marion and I had intended to mark it with a small dinner party for close family members. Now, however, it risks being completely over shadowed by a much grander celebration — the dimensions of which I am having to come to terms with, namely the impending marriage of our son Eliot, a Cambridge-trained physicist turned chazan.
We live in the digital age. Initial contact between my son and his future wife (who hails from the USA) was facilitated by free video calls on the internet, supported by an array of other electronic media technologies. An engagement party (in London) was arranged online and the invitations were dispatched electronically. For the wedding, caterers are being accessed through various corporate websites. Yes, there’s no doubt about it: this is going to be a 21st century wedding.
In my day it was all so different.Mine was an arranged, or perhaps more accurately, an assisted marriage. There was no internet. My recollection is that mobile phones (quite beyond the reach of my pocket) existed only as bulky contraptions with telescopic external aerials.
The then rabbi of the Clapton Federation synagogue, Mark Smith, acted as the shadchan and was (naturally) paid a fee — shadchanes gelt — by my parents. He knew my family and he knew the family of one Marion Freed, a graphic designer who had been based in London but was then living and working in Jerusalem. I met her (under strictly controlled conditions, I hasten to add) during her holiday in London and I drove her back to Heathrow Airport — with her mother in the back of the car! I had just started work as a lecturer at the University of London, and I handed Marion my business card. We began a “snail mail” correspondence. Rabbi Smith told me that Marion considered me acceptable as a spouse and that her parents agreed. He urged me to fly out to Israel and pop the question.
The truth was that, coming as I did from a seriously cash-limited family in Jewish Hackney, I simply did not have the wherewithal to pay for such an excursion.
Then a miracle occurred. I use this word — miracle — deliberately. I was knifed, in Hackney. On a clear autumn evening. While posting a letter to Marion at a postbox only yards from my parents’ home, where I was still living, I was approached by two youths who demanded: “Give us your money or we’ll knife you.” Naturally angered by this impertinent, not to say illegal request, I refused to give them anything, explaining that I was an underpaid academic.
So I was knifed. And being the innocent victim of a crime of violence I received, from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, £300 (this was 1972, by the way). This money paid not only for my air fare to Israel, but also for a suitable gift for Miss Freed, who agreed to become my wife.
From that incident — the bloody, unprovoked assault on me, which I joke about now but which was no laughing matter at the time — a great deal of good has stemmed.
Without that knifing I would not have been able to afford the cost of the London-Tel Aviv flight. I might never have got married and had children — the daughter who is now a novelist and the son who is about to get married himself. I am not saying that the two thugs who attacked me (and who were never apprehended, incidentally) were themselves instruments of the Divine Will. I am saying that they might well have been.
When unpleasant things happen it is only natural that we should search for explanations. But I believe that some answers are known only to the Almighty. Forty years ago He gave me Marion Freed as a wife. Now he is giving me a daughter-in-law. To them, to Naomi and Eliot, and to all of you, I wish a Kesiva v’Chasima Tova. Happy New Year!