A week after I graduated college, I moved into a small railroad apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with my friend Danny. I had liked him for months and got the feeling he had a crush on me as well. Very quickly, my feeling was confirmed, and we started dating.
That summer, my day job was an internship at the now-defunct New York offices of the Onion. After work, I’d accompany Danny to small clubs in the West Village, where he performed stand-up comedy. We’d go to the laundromat at 2 a.m. and pay a dollar to sit in the massage chair, hang out with our rooster and chicken and pit bull in our back yard, and hit up our local pizza shop whenever we got off the L train.
We were young, broke and happy — and we spent all of our time together. But I was afraid that we’d burn out on each other because we moved so fast, so I offered to move into a place down the block.
“Why would you do that?” he said. “You don’t like it here?”
“No, I just don’t know if this is healthy,” I said.
“Do you feel unhealthy?”
“Well I don’t, either. So don’t move.”
And that was that.
We spent the next five years getting closer and rarely being apart. There were times when Danny would go on the road to do shows, but I’d usually be right there with him. I was a freelance writer, and he performed at night, so we would spend most of our days together.
During the time we dated, I had also decided to convert to Judaism. Danny had taken me to meaningful Shabbat dinners, and it felt like Judaism was where I belonged. After he proposed, our rabbi told me to take kallah (bridal) classes to learn about the laws of marriage. One of the customs dictated that, a week before the wedding, Danny and I would separate and not see each other until the veiling ceremony at the wedding, also known as the badeken. The badeken is a tradition that stems from the Torah. Rebecca put a veil on when she saw that her husband-to-be, Isaac, was approaching her. It’s a symbol of modesty and discretion. It also relates to the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, when Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel because he didn’t look under the veil.
I wasn’t excited about not seeing Danny for all that time before the wedding. I would have to do last-minute wedding preparations, host family members who were staying with me, and take care of our home and our pets on my own. This was when I needed him the most, I thought. And this was when he needed me.
But we decided to give it a try. It was customary in Orthodox communities, and we lived in one and followed the lifestyle. The other customs that were prevalent in Orthodox Judaism made sense to us and enhanced our lives, so we wanted to trust that this one would, too. Plus, I had officially passed my test and converted through the Orthodox movement the month of our wedding. After I became a Jew, Danny and I decided to follow the rule of shomer negiah, which means a couple cannot touch until they get married. We figured that would be much easier to uphold if we were apart.
During that week, we talked on the phone for a few minutes every day. I tried to avoid sounding anxious when I’d call, even though my head was spinning with wedding details. Danny was staying at our friend’s house two blocks away, and I made sure that when he arrived to his temporary room, a photo of my face was on the pillow next to his.
Throughout the week, he’d come by the house to see our animals and grab some of his things. First, he’d give me a warning call. One time, I was in the garage sorting through centerpieces and didn’t have my phone on me, and I saw him running out of the house and into a car. Although it was hard, it also felt kind of fun. Like we were both spies.
Every day, a new gift, like a backpack or a piece of jewelry and a card would be on our dining room table when I woke up in the morning. The card would say, “_ days until I marry you!” The last one was the most exciting: “One day until I marry you!!!!!!!!!!!!”
When I got to the hall in Malibu the day of our wedding, I sat in a bridal chair on the deck, overlooking the ocean. The guests came up to me, wishing me “mazel tov,” or congratulations. I blessed them with good health, long lives, happiness and wealth.
Then I heard the sound of loud singing. I looked to my left. Danny was walking toward me, with 80 men dancing around him and joyfully belting out Jewish tunes. He was wearing his sunglasses. When he got closer and took them off, I realized why: He had tears in his eyes, as did I.
“I love you so much,” he said, placing the veil over my face.
“I love you, too.”
I’m grateful that we spent that week apart. At the time, I missed my fiance, but I’m glad that we weren’t around each other during the chaos of that week. Surely we would’ve been stressed; we might’ve fought leading up to the big day. That’s no way to start a marriage.
During that time apart, I had the chance to be alone and reflect on our relationship. When I missed Danny, I looked at his gifts, or pictures of us on Facebook, and got even more excited. It made me appreciate him as well as all the time we normally spent together.
When I got to hold his hand again under the chuppah, the marriage canopy, it felt like we were touching for the first time. And I was never going to let go.