Yes, romance is key to this one – and it goes a lot deeper and longer than the stories you might find in a Hollywood movie. This romance is now 56 years old!
I’ll start with this one from my perspective, because God knows that men are a bit different in their perceptions than women, though not better of course (check out Vayetzeh in Genesis: When Jacob first laid his eyes on Rachel, he didn’t make a coffee date, he didn’t put her through a J-date personality inventory. No, he just knew, his soul—or unconscious, if you prefer—being his guide. Of course, you have to throw in a little synchronicity and a lot of chemistry.)
It was at the beginning of the camp season at Ramah in 1949 that I first noticed Joan (Rachel, in Hebrew, honest—my name being Yisrael, having passed the divine test which Jacob was to overcome to become Israel). She was dancing Israeli folk-dances in the Beth Am of that time. It was the way she held her head to the side, with beauty and dignity, and the way she danced, that first hooked me. Of course I joined in the dance. I was in my second year as a madrich— sports counselor—and was a pretty good dancer myself.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her as we danced and was sure, she couldn’t have noticed me. After all, I was going on 22 years old and she was not quite sixteen. There was something about her that was “classy” in a very Jewish and European way—and indeed my own unconscious, which was shaped by my family’s shtetl style, reached out to her. Forget the age difference, I said, and took a few shots from my buddies—whose names will not be mentioned—for “robbing the cradle”. But, believe me, Joan didn’t look like a child nor did she carry herself like a lot of other teen-agers. In other words, she faked me out so well that I was drawn to her no differently than Jacob was drawn to Rachel. And indeed, I kissed her very early on in our relationship. (I’m forever thankful that my good friend, Lillian Orzoff (z’l), sent Joan out, unseen by others, to be with me after “taps.” (Lillian later married my very dear friend, Ira Glick, whose three daughters all attended Ramah Wisconsin.)