Saw him at Sinai

How is it that no matter how hard we try, we invariably end up living our parents’ lives?

sinai t shirt 370 (photo credit: deborah danan)
sinai t shirt 370
(photo credit: deborah danan)
There are some kids who want to live life as differently as possible from their parents’. They will go to great lengths – sometimes even moving to a different continent – just to ensure that their lives will not resemble that of the people who raised them.
I was just such a child. At the tender age of 18, I moved away from the provincialism of my parents’ London life, and into the craziness of Jerusalem. And I haven’t looked back since.
Problem is, what I didn’t realize was that no matter how far I try to run, life will come and slap me on the behind with a great big guffaw. Or more specifically, my mother’s life.
I ended up moving to the corner of King David and Mapu streets in Jerusalem. A fancy area, my surroundings were about as far removed as possible from my ethnic neighborhood in London.
It was only after I moved there at the age of 19 that I discovered that 30 years earlier my mother had lived on Lincoln Street, the parallel street to mine. She was 19 and had made aliya from London.
Sound familiar? The discovery filled me with amusement and consternation in equal parts.
But the consternation grew after I realized that my preferred university course – English literature – had also been hers. To add insult to injury, we both studied – or “read” if you’re British – the course at the Hebrew University.
Now you might be wondering why I’m writing all this in a column about my upcoming marriage. Yes, the wedding plans are still clogging up a large percentage of my gray matter, but I decided to take a break from dress drama and makeup malfunctions and pay a little attention to one wedding-related component that brides often tend to ignore.
The groom.
If there was any choice in my life that I was certain would be different from my mother’s, it was my choice of husbands.
Yes, we were both dilettantes who worked for many years with people with disabilities and who had made aliya alone as teenagers, to live on parallel streets and study English at the Hebrew University, but we are also about as different as a moonbeam from lightning – both in physical appearance and character.
Our choice of partner was, therefore, never going to be the same. I always saw myself marrying someone like me: a sucker for danger with a need to explore this planet and try everything once, who is the dictionary definition of nonconformist and can only cope when he’s doing 50 things at once. He would also be an artist of some kind – in all probability, the penniless kind.
As much as I love my father and I am surely convinced that he is the best father in the world, he just isn’t my type. He’s the total opposite of reckless. He’s calculated, a staid man who worked most of his life in an office opposite a computer adding up numbers. I can’t stand numbers. Or math. My father is a mathematician.
I was co-chair of the Never Mention Maths Club in primary school.
Plus, my father is a purebred Moroccan.
As much as I’d have loved to find a Moroccan (as indeed, was my parents’ latent desire), there aren’t too many that are crossbreeds like me and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to reconcile my Anglo side with a purebred.
My mother met my father at the Hebrew University shortly after he’d made aliya from Fez to study mathematics.
They moved to Paris to continue their studies at the Dauphine and Sorbonne universities respectively, my father going on to earn a master’s in economics.
Married with two children, they moved back to Israel and I was born. My father served in the IDF as a medic and then worked at a bank for several years, before eventually turning his financial prowess to the business world.
Fast forward a few years to when I turned 16. That summer, I went on Israel tour, a three-week summer camp in Israel that many Jewish youth in the UK take part in. The youth movement was called Sinai and it was there that I met Zed, my groom, for the first time (cue the “Saw you at Sinai” jokes.) He was the soldier accompanying the tour and incidentally, also the medic.
Fast forward another few years (for the purpose of not revealing my age I won’t be specific), and I make the move from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I bump into Zed at a function on the roof of the hotel he works at and I recognize him. (He later insists that he also remembered me, but that fact has yet to be proven.) We start catching up, which eventually leads to us dating. (It takes me a while before I let Zed know that in all those intervening years I have been wearing his name on my back because it was imprinted, along with mine, on the Sinai T-shirt that serves as my pajamas.) I learn that in the interim years since he was a medic on the Sinai tour, Zed studied mathematics as his first degree and – surprise, surprise – economics as his second.
He is a purebred Moroccan. He shares the same last name as my paternal grandmother – Dahan. He worked for several years at a bank before turning his financial prowess to the business world.
But what shook me the most was how similar Zed’s mannerisms are to my father’s. I had always joked about how my mother was the Moroccan one of the pair – she was easy to ignite while my father was easy-tempered and lived life like he wasn’t in a rush. Like my father, Zed takes three times as long as me to finish a meal. He sings in much the same way my father does with many of the same tunes. On our second date, I giggled at something Zed said and he responded in English, “You make laugh of me?” At this point, I almost gagged. My father always used to say exactly the same thing – verb error and all.
Sigh. Despite my herculean attempts to be a nonconformist, it seems I’m textbook Freud.
Things only got worse from there. After I left my second date with Zed, I bumped into an old friend that I’d met while backpacking in India. We checked to see if we had each other’s numbers. I looked at his phone and remarked, “Right number, wrong name, dude. I’m Debbie Danan not Debbie Dahan.” To which my friend responded, “Danan, Dahan, same same but different.” Turns out he was right.
After we get engaged, Zed confesses that he’s using me and only marrying me for my yichus (Jewish genealogy) – which as I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, harks back to Maimonides. His twin brother (twins being a whole other dimension of weirdness, I might add) always jokes that he only married his wife because she’s the great-granddaughter of Rabbi Abuhatzeira. Just to add more juice to fate’s bizarre sense of humor, it turns out that my great-grandfather and Zed’s sister-in-law’s both served as dayanim (judges) at the same time in the Beit Din of Fez.
If for a moment I put aside my belief in divine providence and if all that wasn’t enough to convince me that Zed is my destined partner-for-life, then I should be calmed by the knowledge that I too am using him. I’m only marrying Zed for his kindness, his endless patience (especially when it comes to me), his passion, his penchant to just randomly laugh out loud, his megawatt smile, his sensitivity, his joie de vivre. I am in awe of his mind, how he can quote whole sections of Talmud and yes, I am even in awe of his obsession with numbers.
But above all, I am awe of how he intuitively knows the consummate doses of gravity and respect versus the laughter and levity that make for a fulfilled life.