How I Met Your Mother
This article first appeared in the ‘Miracles’ Passover Edition of the McDonald International Synagogue, Netanya, Israel. April, 2019.
So, there was a priest, a vicar and a rabbi discussing miracles.
The priest said; “An amazing miracle happened to me when I went to visit Northern Ireland during the time of the Troubles. I was walking down the high road when there were three massive explosions. Suddenly all around me there was a huge protective bubble, and I didn’t get hurt at all!”
The vicar nodded in agreement. “I remember when I went to visit the Christians in Syria, there were bullets flying left, right and centre as I tried to reach the church. Suddenly all around me I felt a protective shield keeping me safe. That’s what I call and a miracle.”
The Rabbi nodded. “I experienced an amazing miracle too!” he said. “It was Shabbat morning and I was on my way to shul, when I saw a half open suitcase on the pavement in front of me. Nobody was around, so I unzipped the case and had a look inside. There must have been about £300,000 in used £50 notes. And then the miracle happened. Suddenly everywhere around me, it was Thursday!”.
Obviously that wasn’t a miracle. But the joke always got me wondering about miracles.
I mean, at our cheder classes we learned about the miracles that happened to our forefathers in the Torah. Avraham unharmed in the furnace; Noach surviving the flood, the ten plagues, and beyond. The Torah is full of absolute miracles. So where are they today?
When I was growing up, I asked my mother that question.
She smiled as she told me ‘They are here today. Every little baby that is born is a miracle. Every life that is saved, the State of Israel is a miracle’. She explained to me the idea that there are miracles that we don’t see. Later in life, I was to discover in Hassidic circles that there is a blessing that asks Hashem to grant us ‘revealed’ miracles, implying that some happen but are not revealed.
So I had to think really hard when I was asked to write this piece. Write about a miracle that happened to me. I went through the obvious ones; my family and friends who had near brushes with death. People who nearly got onto the bus or train that exploded in 7/7, in the UK; others who just missed being in the wrong building or aeroplane at the wrong time on 9/11in the USA. So many miraculous stories.
But discussing it with a friend, she told me that the story I’d told her, of how I met my wife, was in fact a huge miracle, without us knowing it at the time. A miracle that resulted in 27 of happy marriage and four children. As I write this, I can feel my mother and my wife reaching for the red ribbon as they ‘teh teh teh’.
So how did we meet? Well, I was single just turned thirty. In London Jewish circles in those days thirty was short for ‘thirty-and-not-married”. I had a great career on breakfast television, a newspaper column, and was about to publish a book. Everyone explained away my singleness as a man clearly more interested in his career. But the opposite was true. I wanted to be married.
So, when I was invited to be the ‘celebrity’ guest at Stanmore Synagogue, to address a group of parents with young teenage children who hung round Edgware station and were getting into all sorts of trouble, I didn’t want to go. “I do loads of charity stuff. This evening will be full of married mothers older than me, and teenage girls too young for me!”.
Nevertheless my mum recommended I go and like a nice Jewish boy I did what I was told.
When I gave my speech, I lost my place twice. It’s something that I rarely did. I was staring down from the podium at this beautiful face-gorgeous eyes-and I remember thinking “I do hope she’s Jewish?!”.
At the end of the meeting, I tried to follow her out but people wanted to speak to me who were in the audience. I said I’d come back, and as I left the shul hall I just caught sight of her heading for a white car. I ran after her, and to my horror she increased her speed. By the time I reached the car she was already in it and starting up the engine. I grabbed the passenger car door, opened it and jumped in. I apologised for being so forward, but I wasn’t some random person-I’d been the guest speaker at the evening.
I told her that I saw her taking notes, and asked which paper she worked for. It turned out that Madeleine was not a journalist at all-but have been asked to ‘spy’ the meeting by the secret CSO, precursors of the UK’s Communal Security Trust, who’d heard that there was talk of an independent group being set up to look after the security of the area. They’d asked Madeleine to go, because she lived in the area and would blend in. I’d accidentally blown her cover.
The upshot of it all was that I sent flowers to her office the next day-while she wrote a detailed report on what happened in the car outside the shul. Within 18 months we were married. Madeleine later told me that the only other time she’d visited synagogue was seven years before for her brother’s Barmitzvah.
At the time we weren’t shomer Shabbat, but as we married, we started heading in the right direction together. Later on when we were fully integrated members of the Orthodox community of Edgware, a Rabbi asked us what the Hebrew date was, of the day we met. It turned out that we had met exactly a year after Madeleine’s late father, Bill Orkin z”l, had passed away.
It’s said that on that yahrzeit, the neshoma of the departed makes an aliyah up to another level and is empowered to ask Hashem to intervene for the benefit of members of his own family.
To my mind, Hashem was absolutely the hidden force that drove two people to meet in the most unlikely of circumstances. The miracle was that we met, subsequently fell in love and produced a family out of that love.
Madeleine and I always shared another love; the land of Israel. We’d always said vaguely that one day we would end up there. I have to confess that I think she meant it more than me. I’d always been an “armchair Zionist”. Political affairs officer of the Union of Jewish Students, defending Israel in the media, all of that stuff. But never felt I had the right to write anything about the country, since I never put myself on the front line by living here.
Yet the week after the Brexit vote, we put our house on the market and six months later found ourselves living as Israelis in the State of Israel. It’s the best decision we ever made; for us and for our children. Three of our children live here, and the eldest is married – they hope too to come here soon. B’e’H. We both feel that living is Israel is a miracle granted by Hashem.
Miracles don’t have to be seas splitting or waters turning into blood. They don’t even have to be obvious. But if you look, you’ll find them everywhere.