Thirty years after Jacob Chinitz, a Conservative rabbi, and his wife Ruth and two children moved to Israel, he took an interim post at a Montreal synagogue. A woman in his Bible class there would turn out to be his next wife. But not yet.
Jacob was widowed in 2005 after 50 years of marriage. He was back in Israel and still had the company there of two children and six grandchildren. But it’s not the same as a partner. "Two years later, I was still lonely," says the rabbi.
Enter his former student, Dolly Dezsofi, who also had led a full life. Hungarian-born, she came to Jerusalem for a conference of the Jewish Child Survivor’s Network in November 2007. Though her first two marriages hadn’t worked out, she still believed in marriage and in the pursuit of happiness. "That’s what prompted me to call Jacob and invite him out for dinner."
“We hit it off from the very beginning,” says Jacob."Dolly was full of life. She was energetic, fun, and optimistic. And I was captivated by her smile.”
Yet the second date had to wait a while. Dolly liked to keep her commitments and she had signed up for a three-week Sar-El Volunteers for Israel program in which civilians live on an army base. Still, Dolly wanted Jacob to know that she was interested in their relationship. She emailed Jacob: "I’d like to cook dinner for you.”
“The pasta was cooked,” says Jacob, "and I was cooked.”
They shared many interests. They both worked out in the gym; they played Scrabble together; and they began reading a famed Jewish mystical text, the Zohar, together.
Yet Dolly decided to return to Montreal. "I wasn’t going to uproot myself for an unstable situation. There had to be a commitment," says Dolly.
Jacob had feelings for Dolly. A rabbinic colleague, Reuven P. Bulka, had written: “A good first marriage naturally begets a second marriage.”
Jacob, however, still had feelings for his first wife. As he himself admitted: "Every once in a while, it’s like having two wives.” As a member of the Moreshet Israel congregation in Jerusalem, Jacob discussed the matter with his rabbi, Avraham Feder. Rabbi Feder told him: "It’s very complicated, because you don’t want to forget what you had.”
The idea of parents remarrying is not necessarily an easy thing for the children, even when they are grown-up. Jacob notes how the Babylonian Talmud addresses this issue of step parents in Ketubot 103. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi says the commandment "Honor your father and mother" refers to the wife of your father, including a second wife, and the husband of your mother, including a step parent.
For Dolly’s children, the idea of their mother remarryiing would be a double blow. She was leaving their settled family constellation and she was leaving Montreal. Actually, though, only one of her four children lived in Montreal, as the others had scattered, but were still on the same continent, in L.A., Miami, and Toronto.
Both Dolly and Jacob celebrate January birthdays. Their 2008 gift to themselves was the decision to get married. For Dolly, the fact that one grandson lived in Israel made the move easier. She returned to Israel in July of that year and in four days, everything was ready for the wedding. The four poles of the wedding canopy would be held up by Jacob’s four grandsons. Their friend, Rabbi Feder, would officiate. What did he say to the couple under the wedding canopy? "Every marriage is a gamble, and this one is even more." But life is a gamble, right? Dolly was 78, and Jacob was 87.
Dolly and Jacob were married on July 11, 2008. Mazal tov!