When he graduated from Rabbinical School, he pondered the questions: “Two rabbis marrying? What kind of mishegas (craziness) is that? No way I’d ever do that.” Forty one years later Rabbi Steven Kushner married Rabbi Leana Moritt. Leana notes a current term which refers to the husbands of women rabbis – “hubbitzens.”
When googling the question, “Why Study Torah?” 16,400,000 responses pop up. Here’s one more: that’s how Steve and Leana met. Steve belongs to a Torah study group which meets weekly at a diner in Little Falls, New Jersey. Both Reform and Conservative rabbis attend – studying, schmoozing and eating pancakes. After fifteen years of being men-only, Rabbi Jonathan Woll polled the group about inviting a woman rabbi to join. At their first session after Simchat Torah in 2009, Leana Moritt joined the group. They had just completed the first chapter of Genesis. It was indeed a new beginning for Steve and Leana. At the time he was then 59, she, 46. Both had previously been married and divorced.
After overhearing a telephone conversation where Steve sounded stressed, Leana made him an offer: “If you want to talk about this, I’m happy to lend an ear.” In early December, Steve invited Leana for lunch. “It wasn’t a date,” she claims. Leana was wowed by the interior design of Steve’s apartment. “Steve has a great artistic eye and he’s almost as good a photographer as he is a rabbi; and he’s an incredible rabbi.”
On December 25, Leana hosted her “Feast of Ashkenaz” – her annual deli buffet. Steve was invited along with 35 others. Definitely not a date.
Then Steve invited Leana for a New Year’s Eve celebration, hosted in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey. He still remembers the buzz in the room when members of his congregation noticed their rabbi had arrived with a date. Leana insists that it wasn’t a date.
Steve: “We went together for about six months and then we broke up. I got cold feet. But I missed her so much and soon wanted to get back together. I called her after Yom Kippur.” Leana: “I was a bit reluctant. For me, it had to be a conversation that would lead to marriage. Otherwise, I felt I was spinning my wheels.” Steve made a commitment. They were married nine years later.
Steve: “I wanted to wait until I was retired, until my older daughter got married, and until other matters were settled.”
Steve is a 13th generation American. He’s a descendent of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, passengers on the Mayflower. His grandmother converted to Judaism in 1905. A graduate of Wayne State University, he became the rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, New Jersey in 1980. After 38 years, he became their rabbi emeritus.
Leana, a graduate of N.Y.U., is the rabbi at Temple Beth-El of Jersey City and the vice president of the New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Association of Reform Rabbis. Before moving to New Jersey, she had worked as a part -time pulpit rabbi, educator, chaplain and Jewish Outreach Director at the 92nd Street Y.
In April 2019, the couple started to plan their wedding. They wanted something private and intimate. “There was only one non-negotiable variable: the date,” Leana said. “It had to be when these ten people were available: Us, our five grown children (Steve has two daughters and I have three sons), Steve’s brother and sister-in-law and our very good friends, Rabbi Rex Perimeter and his wife, Rabbi Rachel Hertzman, who would officiate and lead the ceremony.”
And they did. Leana and Steve were married on July 7, 2019 at Temple Ner Tamid. Mazal tov.
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.
More from the Matchmaker column here.