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Jessica #36 - Ring Around the Rabbi

May 9, 2009 | by Jessica

Jessica thought that conversion would solve everything. But Rabbi Ringman throws a wrench into the mix.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to dainty crossings: the leg or the ankles.

I've always thought that the leg cross is far more sophisticated, more European, more je ne sais quois. But I am still pretty sure that the ankle cross is actually more appropriate.

Grace Kelly, pre-Ranier, would have crossed her legs. Post-Monaco, the ankles.

I had fixed my skirt about 19 times and readjusted my legs and feet at least twice that much -- and I'd only been waiting for seven minutes.

These are the serious thoughts that were running through my mind while I waited to meet with Rabbi Ringman, the rabbi Rick had been speaking with about converting.

"Jessica?" Rabbi Ringman poked his head out of his office door and, smiling, beckoned me in. "I'm sorry that I'm running late..."

I smiled weakly, and followed him, unsure of whether I was on the road to triumph, or a lamb going to the slaughter.

I sat down and crossed my legs.

Then uncrossed them.

And then crossed them at the ankles.

For a fleeting moment I considered asking his opinion about the Grace Kelly thing, but thought better of it. If he had noticed me fidgeting like a slapstick heroine, he didn't let on. Instead, he sat facing me, looking at me benignly.

It flashed through my mind that Rick must have sat here when he first came to talk to Rabbi Ringman, that he'd probably also scanned the certificates and pictures of (what I presumed to be) the Ringman family on the shelves behind the desk.

He must really love me to do this all for me!

If I was this uncomfortable, what must Rick have felt like?

Woooooooow, I sighed in my head. Rick must really like me to go through all this for me!

My drippy reverie ended when Rabbi Ringman leaned forward.

"Jessica," he said. "I found Rick to be very bright and sincere. And he obviously cares deeply about you."

I agreed, warily.

What? So that's it? It's finished? He can join the Team Yid?

"Um, Rabbi Ringman, I have no idea how this, uh, works..." I stammered.

"Hold on, Jessica," Rabbi Ringman said. "I wanted to speak with you because, after having met with Rick at some length, I want to understand where you fit in. My understanding is that Rick found me on his own, that you didn't encourage him at all."

I nodded.

He repeated what Rick had told him: that I had begun to distance myself from him because of the religious issues straining on me.

I nodded again.

"Do you think you would have ended the relationship if he hadn't come to me?"

"Well, I think I had a sense that our relationship was doomed to some sort of spectacular, fiery, multi-cultural failure," I grumbled after a moment's pause.

Our relationship was doomed to some sort of spectacular, fiery, multi-cultural failure.

He smiled gently and nodded.

I explained that I really liked Rick and that it just seemed horribly unfair (not to mention old-fashioned) that religion was coming between us.

"It's like another ethnic version of West Side Story, except in this case the Jets and Sharks aren't fighting but Maria's going absolutely crazy," I said.

I told him of my recent surge of melodramatic thoughts. I keep thinking about my great-great-grandparents in Russia and Hungary, all these stories I grew up with about running from village to village because of pogroms. They could have been baptized, but they weren't. Their lives were in danger because they were Jewish, but that was more important to them than anything else.

I shifted in my seat, re-crossed my ankles, and continued.

"I feel like that's an irrational reason, but I can't help it. It's more than just guilt, although that's certainly a part of it... I feel like I understand that drive toward Jewish preservation. It's an emotional understanding, rather than an intellectual one that I can explain, but it's there, rabbi, in my gut."

Will he share your gut-level drive toward Jewish preservation?

"But you like Rick?" the rabbi asked.

"Yes, I do," I said, pleadingly. "I almost wish he would do something horrible so I wouldn't anymore. And now he started this whole conversion thing. It's amazing that he would do this for me."

"For you," he repeated.

"Yes," I repeated, slowly. "For... me."

"Jessica, we're talking about a lifetime commitment. And do you think if Rick converts that he'll relate to your gut-level drive toward Jewish preservation? That's the question you and I both need to be asking."

By the time I got back to my office, it was close to 5 and I hoped that Rick's car wouldn't be there. I was overwhelmed by my discussion with Rabbi Ringman and I wanted time to reflect.

The car was there. And when I got to my office, there was a post-it on my computer screen to call him as soon as I got in. Before I even could, he poked his head in.

"Good," he said, seeming distracted. "You're, uh, back."

"Yes," I said, mimicking him uncharitably, "I'm, uh, back."

"So how did it go?" he asked.

I told him that I was surprised that the rabbi hadn't wanted to discuss our dating relationship, but rather we ended up discussing me.

"Rick, I don't want to alarm you," I continued, carefully, "but I want to propose something..."

He nodded warily.

"I am totally overwhelmed by everything that's going on and I am sure you feel the same way. I mean, you're talking about a huge decision..."

My voice trailed off. Rick was still listening.

"I think we should take a break to think about things. Let's say two weeks. I am NOT saying we should break up. Just that we both have a lot to think about and we can do that better on our own."

He gave me a lop-sided grin and seemed to sigh with relief.

Whatever will be, will be.

"I was thinking about the same thing," he said. "Great minds..."

He suggested that we go out for a nice dinner before our week apart. We went to a quiet mom 'n pop Middle Eastern place in Tempe. I relished introducing him to the wonders of falafel and shwarma.

Before we paid, he pulled out a flower, a bright Gerber daisy, which he'd somehow purchased on his way down to the restaurant (we'd gone in separate cars).

When I got home that night, I flopped on the couch and flipped channels until I came to an old Hitchcock movie.

"Que sera, sera..." Doris Day sang, "Whatever will be, will be."

Twirling the flower in my hand, I sighed deeply and hoped that whatever was going to be... would be for the best.

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