Udi, according to his JSwipe profile, was 37, very tall, and a graphic designer. His profile had several photos of a man with thick black hair, big, dark eyes, and a cleft chin – and not much else in the way of information. He was quite handsome, and looked substantially younger than his age. We messaged a few times, and he gave me a couple of recommendations to great vegetarian restaurants around town, but we couldn’t get together before I left for Greece.
I left Israel for five days and drove around the Greek countryside by myself in a tiny little four-banger stick shift rental that sounded surprisingly like my grandfather’s ancient Volkswagen bus. The day after I had arrived in Jerusalem, I came down with a terrible head cold, the first time I had been that sick in a couple of years. It got so bad over my first day in Greece that I didn’t feel comfortable driving, so I canceled the northern part of my trip and spent two nights in Delphi, reveling in the beautiful hillside town and scenery, basking in the aura of ancient wisdom, contemplating what had happened at the Western Wall, and feeling like complete and total shit. I had gotten some medication in Israel, but even alternating between Israeli-style Sudafed and Dayquil and an endless supply of cough drops, I was happy to leave my bed only as many times as it took to go out and find food. I wasn’t doing nothing, however: I powered through several good books (The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion; The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton; Snap, by Belinda Bauer; and Carrie, by Stephen King. These were supplemented by some shitty speculative crime novels that I enjoyed nonetheless).
I was sick, but happy as a kosher clam. A few days earlier, I had somewhat affronted a member of the extended family I was traveling with when they asked if I ever used AirBNB events to meet people in new places, and I straightforwardly said No, that I didn’t really care to meet new people when I traveled and much preferred to keep to myself. Harsh or not, that is the truth. Driving around the Greek countryside alone scared me not at all. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, did not get bored or lonely in the slightest, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen in my life. Supplemented with many nights spent staying up late reading, I was about as content as a person could be.
I came back to Israel feeling mentally recharged and mostly physically better, although I still had a raspy voice and a cough that lingered for weeks. When Udi realized I was back and would be visiting Tel Aviv over the weekend, he made plans to see me. Halfway through the plan making, before Shabbat began on Friday evening, he asked if he could call me. I was pleased with this, as it seemed both mature and polite, and I answered the call with a cheerful, “Shabbat shalom!”
Udi remembers this as the first thing I ever said to him, and he says he loved it. Despite misgivings, he had swiped right on me because he found my profile to be clever and funny, which I have to admit, it kind of was. I outright stated my status as a goy who was, as the mother of the children I nannied told me frequently, “More Jewish than 90% of most American Jews.” I could count to ten in Hebrew and I knew you shouldn’t use a slotted spoon on Shabbat. Not bad for a gentile.
Udi and I made plans to meet up on Saturday night. Udi arrived a few minutes after I did, and we ordered drinks and started talking. I generated most of the conversation, in the form of questions, which Udi would answer – and then say no more. If I smiled, he would hesitate for a moment, and then a very sweet and shy smile would also appear. He was very, very shy, and after about half an hour, I realized that if I would just sit and not say anything for a few seconds, he would finally speak.
Udi and I leaned talked about his family and his experiences in the IDF. He showed me a short animated film he had made in college that won a major graphics award. He had gone to present in Seoul, in front of a large crowd, and was, by his admission, terrified. He hates public speaking, he said. Not me! I said. I love it. We stayed for a couple of hours, generally got along well, and then I said goodnight, honestly said I’d like to see him again if possible, and jumped in a Gett.
The next day, I took myself to brunch and ended up sitting for several hours with a bottle of champagne, several juices with which to make mimosas, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Udi texted me about meeting again, which we had talked about the night before, but I didn’t respond right away. I hadn’t decided if I would. He now recalls the wait time, which was really only about two hours, as being tortuously long and had convinced himself that I wouldn’t go. But in the end, I thought about what cute and pleasant company he had been, and decided to take a short nap at my AirBNB and then meet him at the Gordon Beach promenade.
We walked up and down the pathway, sharing water and a beer that Udi had brought. I started asking him more questions. I wanted to know what Udi thought about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Netanyahu, and American Judaism. I asked him questions about Israeli politics that I mostly already knew the answers to. I wanted to see whether he knew things – the Israeli and international political situations, an interest in politics in general.
Udi had great answers with much more information than I did. He was informed, opinionated, educated, and compassionate in his analysis. He was eager to discuss these topics and we seemed to share a similar viewpoint of politics. The day was hot but not uncomfortable, the background of the beautiful Mediterranean was perfect for conversation, and families with kids from all over the world ran around us as we walked.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening together, talking and immensely enjoying each other’s company. At some point, we left and walked around Dizingoff Square looking for dinner. We went to an Asian restaurant, and then walked around and talked about our favorite movies and shows. Udi analyzes films and plots the same way that I do, and we spent a lot of time discussing our favorite movies and found we liked and disliked similar films for similar reasons. I increasingly tried to make him laugh, partly because of that great smile, and partly because he has such a soft and gentle laugh and I liked to hear it.
I went back to Jerusalem later the next day. As I seriously contemplated my own mortality on the crazy bus from the Central Jerusalem station back to the German Colony, I realized that although I had no idea how such a far-fetched relationship would work, I was really starting to like Udi a lot.
Just a few days later, Udi decided to come to Jerusalem to see a light show in the Old City with me. Neither of us thought the lights were impressive and we both felt uncomfortable in the oppressively huge crowd, so we left the Old City and walked around Mamilla and Nachalat Shiv’a instead. It was a relief to realize I could tell him about my anxious dislike of large crowds and loud noises without judgment and with his complete understanding.
We wandered aimlessly, and somehow began discussing parenting philosophies, which we found we held in common. We both wanted kids, well-disciplined, well-behaved, and fiercely loved. Udi spoke fondly of his nieces and nephews, and of his three younger sisters and parents.
Udi says that night is when he fell in love with me. For me, it wasn’t until I came back to Tel Aviv that weekend, mostly to see him again. We spent the long weekend talking, eating, visiting museums, talking, walking around Old Jaffa, talking, drinking iced cafes, visiting HaYarkon Park, and talking some more. At one point, I looked at Udi and I was suddenly overcome by a powerful impression: I’m going to marry this man. He’s the one. I had never felt such thing before, and I can’t explain it any more than that.
Udi came up to Jerusalem on my last night in Israel, and we went to dinner and walked around the the German Colony, avoiding the inevitable. Finally we found ourselves standing in front of the apartment I was staying in, trying to say goodnight. I implored him to come to me in the States, and he promised he would.
Several days later, Udi tried to end our relationship. The distance was too far and the odds were too great. I called him and asked him not to make up his mind – yet. He clearly did not really want to end things, and although I recognized the immense challenges we would face if we decided to create a future together, I didn’t want to end things either.
A week and a half later, Udi came to the US to visit me. We visited some of my favorite places in the world with my family, like Yellowstone and southern Utah, and Udi became acquainted with my brothers and some of my closest friends. He stayed for three weeks, and by the time he had to return to Israel, we had discussed the future at length.
We had the same values and similar visions for the future. I had seriously considered converting to Judaism before, when I’d been a nanny for the Jewish family, and I told him I would do it gladly and ask him to be more observant with me. Israel was a place I could see myself living in, both due to its highly Westernized culture and the fact that it’s so close to the rest of Europe and Africa. But I told him I wouldn’t make any substantial plans moving forward without an engagement; he agreed.
During our time together, over and again Udi proved himself to be considerate, kind, and giving. He accommodated me whenever possible, and made sure I was always comfortable. He was a gentleman in every way, and treated me with respect and honor.
Maybe what I love the most about Udi, of all the many things there are to love, is that he makes me want to be better. He makes me want to be kinder, more considerate, more patient, more gentle. He makes me want to be smarter and funnier. He makes me want to take better care of my health, and to prepare myself more wisely for parenthood, and to make smarter financial decisions. He does this because he is all of these things; good, kind, wise, prepared, intelligent, patient, funny.
Udi is consistent. He is selfless. If something is wrong, we talk about it, come to an understanding, and seek resolution. He is sweet to my dog and my family. He is sensitive and funny. He is open and expressive of his feelings for me, and I never wonder if he will do what he says he’s going to do. He is where he says he will be. He goes where he says he will go. He listens to me – really listens – and remembers what I say. He offers gentle advice. He is interested in my life and encouraging of my ambitions.
He is, at the same time, uncompromising in his values. He knows what he wants. He carefully watches over what he loves. He is fiercely pro-Israel, and loves his country deeply. He is peaceful but knows that fighting is sometimes required to protect what is valued most. He is proud to be Jewish. He sees the world through clear eyes and doesn’t turn away from things that are difficult or challenging. He is smart and disciplined. And through all that, he is unceasingly kind and warm.
As we’ve become more familiar with each other, the shyness has been replaced by a clever and often dark sense of humor. We scheme and daydream endlessly about the future and when we’ll be able to be together all the time. We talk about our future children and names we might pick, the way we’ll raise them, the values we’ll try to teach.
When I tucked the prayer on that receipt in the Western Wall, I had no idea that things would come together as quickly or as providently as they have. I feel so lucky and grateful and, because I was willing to work for it, like a prayer has very much been answered.