Nothing in the world is single
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle
Why not I with thine?
– Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Amid the plain metal nameplates on the lower floor of the L.A. Mayer retirement home in Jerusalem, a pretty ceramic one stands out. It reads: Chinitz.
Inside the apartment, the feeling is one of light and air. The cream sofa and armchairs are welcoming; young newlyweds would feel comfortable here.
Jacob and Dolly Chinitz are quite newly wed. They married two years ago, when he was 87 and she was 78. Their happiness together is evident. She bubbles over with it; he is more restrained, but his contentment is clear.
“I have been stimulated intellectually as well as physically,” he says. “She goes out and makes life happen. Our friends call us ‘the amazing couple.’”
Dolly: “He’s an incredible guy. I have never been so fulfilled and happy as I am now.”
Jacob had a pacemaker installed in 2006, but this doesn’t stop him exercising.
“My friends say I look 10 years younger,” he says. “I feel
younger. This morning I did 20 minutes on the treadmill and swam 20 laps in 30 minutes.”
Dolly’s life is very busy. In addition to her workouts in the gym and active interest in all things cultural, she has a job helping a woman rabbi organize her many papers – second nature for the former bookkeeper. She also attends ulpan twice a week.
JACOB, a Conservative rabbi, made aliya with his family in 1979. He met the Hungarian-born Dolly 10 years ago, while working as an interim rabbi in Montreal. She was in his Bible class. They didn’t have much contact; he was still married to Ruth, his wife of over half a century, and they had two children.
Dolly, with two less-than-inspiring marriages behind her and four children, visited Israel in November 2007 for a child survivors’ convention. By then, Jacob was a widower.
“I loved Ruth,” he says. “I was very angry with God for taking her. And I was lonesome.”
Dolly, for her part, felt she was in a rut.
“My grandchildren had grown up and didn’t need me any more. I had a lot of friends and wasn’t lonely – but I was looking for new challenges.”
Not the type to let the grass grow under her feet, she invited Jacob to dinner at her hotel after the convention ended.
“We sat down at 7 o’clock, and at 11 o’clock we were still talking,” she says. “We just hit it off. We have the same taste, the same opinions. We are very much in tune with one another.
“I was leaving for Petra the next day, and after that I went to Sarel” – the IDF volunteer program – “after which he invited me for dinner. Actually, I cooked pasta for him...”
“And then I
was cooked,” quips Jacob, happily.
“He has the unbelievable attributes of being an intellectual and yet so full of fun,” Dolly says. “I would think up philosophical comments to impress him – and he would be telling me Jackie Mason jokes!
“Look at that smile,” says Jacob.
“That is what captivated me.”
THEIR STORY sounds like a fairy tale, but it is playing out in the real world. And when you take someone into your heart after a full life with someone else, you need to make room for both – even though, as Jacob puts it, “you have the emotional excuse which gives you permission to forget.
“I went to Rabbi Avraham Feder for advice. He told me: ‘It’s very complicated, because you don’t want to forget what you had.’
“Every once in a while,” Jacob muses, “it’s like having two wives.”
Dolly smiles, pointing out the many photos in the apartment that bring the pasts of both of them into their present lives.
ADULT children’s attitude to a parent’s late-life marriage can also be complicated; visits may taper off. Not unlike when a couple has a new baby, the established family pattern shifts, with everyone needing to move to a slightly different place from the one they occupied before.
It can take children time to come to terms with the remarriage of a parent they had become used to thinking of as being on his or her own, and somewhat dependent on them.
Contact with his children has lessened, Jacob admits, “but they know I’m in good hands.”
Dolly recalls the “lovely things” that Jacob’s children said at her recent 80th birthday party.
“I only hope we’ll be around at 120 so they can come true,” says Jacob.
Dolly’s oldest daughter has been here to see the couple. Her two younger daughters have written, but neither has visited.
“They were supportive of my marriage but bewildered by it, thinking it was too sudden,” Dolly says. “One of them even called it bizarre.
“But they are coming around now. They knew I had a very bad marriage with their father, who died a year ago. I told them I was sorry he had not been able to make me happy the way I am now.”
IT TAKES courage to really live one’s life, as opposed to just existing, blown around by circumstance like a dry leaf in the wind. Living requires opening oneself to risk, to the unknown, which can be a scary prospect at any time.
One of the sad things about many old age homes is the people you see just sitting around passively, staring straight ahead, relating to nothing and no one. You get the feeling that this is how they pass the bulk of their days, waiting for the movie that is their lives to end.
A social worker in one place I was visiting told me that older people
frequently close themselves off from the possibility of a relationship
because they have lost too many people who were dear to them and shy
away from the prospect of further painful loss. They just can’t take
the risk, even though the alternative is loneliness.
Not so Jacob and Dolly Chinitz. They have opened their arms wide to the
late, great gift life has held out to them and embraced it joyfully,
even while they know their time together is likely limited.
“I prayed to God for three years with him,” Dolly told me.
May they be blessed with many more.