by J. Zel Lurie
J. Zel Lurie is a longtime supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace. At the ripe young age of 101, after a long career in journalism, he decided to write his first love story. As he writes himself from Delray Beach, Florida - Dear Friends and Family, I have been a reporter since 1934, but this is my first attempt at fiction. Actually, 90% of it is true based on my life and others that I have known.
Her name was Sarah Rose named for her grandmother, Sura Raisel, who never left Poland and was lost in the Holocaust.
An Arab-American known as Izzy, a contraction of Ismail which happens to be a common Jewish nickname, was the the son of a Brooklyn Oriental restaurant owner known for his hummus, who was born in Haifa when Haifa’s population was predominately Arab.
They met at Cornell University when they were both juniors. He was studying civil engineering, intending to help build a Palestinian state in the country which he had never seen. She was studying marine biology, intending to rescue coral reefs all over the world including Israel.
They fell in love. A love that consumed them, a love that they felt in their bones.
“I get a stomach ache,” he whispered to her one evening in their love nest under the bridge, “when I have to leave you to go to sleep in my dorm.” They shared an apartment throughout their senior year.
Sarah Rose’s parents strongly disapproved of her boyfriend. They were Zionists. Her father Jacob known as Yankel had made a pile in the Shmata (textile) business. He had bought an expensive retirement home in the heart of Jerusalem which he occupied during the Jewish holidays. He figured that after her graduation, he would take Sarah Rose to Jerusalem and keep her there until she forgot her childish romance.
After graduation, Sarah Rose and Izzy spent a few weeks in Brooklyn under the indulgent, but disapproving eyes of his parents. Izzy’s father had had a Jewish girlfriend in Haifa before he immigrated to Brooklyn.
When Sarah Rose and Izzy parted, they had planned to reunite after Izzy found a job and could support them. She flew to Jerusalem with her parents. She found a job at the Israel Museum and when her parents returned to New York, she lived alone in a luxury two bedroom apartment.
She was cool and distant to the men she met. She took courses at the Hebrew University and immersed herself in Jewish history. She decided that the Zionists were right and that her love for Ismail was wrong.
She broke the relationship. She wrote Izzy not to write to her again.
Izzy obeyed her, but he kept in touch with her brother Shmuel known as Sam. He kept asking, “When is she returning?” Sam’s standard answer was, “I’ll tell you.” Fast-forward a couple of years, Sam fell in love with a Catholic girl who agreed to convert to Judaism. Sam told Izzy that Sarah Rose was returning to New York for his wedding and gave him the flight number and date of arrival for her flight.
Yankel and his wife were taken aback when Izzy appeared at Kennedy Airport to welcome Sarah Rose. Sarah Rose was so surprised to see him that she stopped dead and then proceeded to her parents’ arms. Then she hugged Izzy, a hug that lasted for a few minutes. He slipped her a card with his address and phone number and then left. She went home with her parents. She could not enjoy the joyful homecoming that her parents had prepared. In the evening, she phoned Ismail. “Come and get me,” she said simply.
Yankel decided that if he tried to interfere, he would lose his daughter. So as he hugged her goodbye, he said, “Ask him if he will convert.”
Izzy had some familiarity with Jewish conversion. He told Sarah Rose, “Your new sister-in-law will not be registered as Jewish in Israel because she had been converted by a reform rabbi. As for me, everybody thinks that I am Jewish, but to preserve peace in the family, I will go through the same rigmarole with the same Reform rabbi who converted your sister-in-law.”
After their wedding, Izzy and Sarah Rose moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Queens. Izzy became active in the Reform temple, but he refused to allow his temple friends to nominate him for the presidency. “It doesn’t seem right,” he said to Sarah Rose.
They raised a Jewish family, two sons and a daughter. All of them went to Cornell.
Yankel died happy. “All’s well that ends well,” he had said to his wife. “Love conquers all,” she replied.