I laughed, and then remembered! In 1988, I was traveling with my then-boyfriend and soon-to-become husband, and we stopped at this synagogue. It was the hottest day of our trip. He was modestly dressed in his hospital greens and St. Louis baseball cap. I, of course, had to shlep around in a long skirt, long-sleeved shirt and lots of sweat. We wandered through the synagogue and on the way out I dropped some coins in the tzedakah box. An old man sitting behind the table took my arm and asked if I had children. "No," I responded. He asked, "Are you married?" I said no.
Do you have a boyfriend? he persisted. Yes! I could finally answer. He made some blessing, smiled and told me I was beautiful. Henry (the boyfriend) saw our interaction (and was jealous, maybe?) and asked me what the old man had said.
"He said I was beautiful."
"Ha!" said Henry. "He's blind." Sure enough, I turned around to get a better look at this man and saw that his eyes were glassy and glazed-over.
"He also made some blessings, and I think you were included," I told Henry, feeling a little less beautiful and a little more stupid.
A week later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Henry proposed and I accepted.
As I finished telling this tale to Shelley, she asked, "So what time do you want to go?"
"Six-fifteen tomorrow morning," I said. (Do I need to add here that my marriage, however rabbinically or divinely inspired, lasted only a year and a half, and I was by now ready for more blessings?)
Dressed for power walking, with pockets full of money (dollars for an American husband, shekels for an Israeli, and where was that Italian money that I brought home from my trip a few years back?), we headed for the synagogue. This was far better than Great Expectations, the Jewish Bulletin personals or the biggest Blue Monday ever. Not only were we (hopefully) taking the first step toward getting married, we were also getting exercise!
We arrived at the synagogue and much to our disappointment, it was locked, How can that be? Here we were, two prime marriage candidates and the doors were locked? Is this a cruel joke? Do we have to take out a personal ad? We wandered around the building, looking maybe — just maybe — for an open window, a door slightly ajar, a secret passageway to the tzedakah box. Should we slip a fiver under the door? Will they know where to put it? Will they know from whom it came? Sadly and slowly, deciding that our fate had been predetermined, we walked down the stairs away from the synagogue. And who should appear? The ozeret — the woman who washed the floors and kept everything clean and in order.
Never underestimate the power of the woman who cleans. This one had the key to the synagogue — and to our futures!
With a wise smile, she let us in. She knew. We were not the first girls for whom she had opened the doors in the early hours of the morning. We wandered through the building and alas, came upon not one, but two tzedakah boxes. One was a low flat box and the other was a tall standing box. Were they symbolic of their fruit? Would one produce a short, shleppy guy who hangs around, while the other would bring about a tall, stately husband? Hedging our bets, we dropped cash into both. Coins? Heck, we dropped paper! We were going all out. It's not cheap finding one's beloved. And this is tzedakah, after all.