Ten years ago my daughter was getting married, and I wanted to give her a gift of Jewish love stories which included her own. In searching for the very best stories, ones that might share love’s wisdom, I looked to a good friend and folklorist, Peninnah Schram. She suggested a number of beautiful narratives. As we talked, I proposed that we put together an anthology of Jewish stories of love and marriage. Not only could we provide an important historical collection, we could also show the evolving and eternal nature of romance. There was nothing like this available.
Neither of us had the time then, but we never abandoned the idea. One day we would create a book, Jewish Stories of Love and Marriage. When my daughter and son-in-law were celebrating their tenth anniversary, we were ready. Before we could even off a proposal to a publisher, we would have to do our research. All through those study months, Peninnah and I would call each other to share what amazing material we were finding. Each narrative had its own power and beauty; together they wove a tale of joy and sorrow, defeat and triumph, spontaneity and tenacity. Every day we found a new story, it was like opening a surprise gift. Every night I would pour a glass of wine and read those legends to my husband, Dennis. It was like renewing our vows.
One unexpected discovery was the story of Pearl, the wife of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague. I knew the rabbi of Golem fame, but not Pearl, the clever and wise student of Talmud. The two are buried side by side in the Jewish Cemetery of Prague. One tombstone sits over both their graves. When I stood before that grave with a group of fellow travelers, I told her little known story.
We hadn’t anticipated including love letters in the anthology. But we kept finding such stunning correspondence that we decided to devote a section of the book to them. Reading the correspondence of Alfred Dreyfus (the Jewish French captain falsely accused of treason) and Lucie Hadamard, Martin and Paula Winkler Buber, we were witness to playful wit and compassionate longing. We came to understand in a much deeper way how those relationships sustained and fostered their creativity. Particularly important for us was how these letters often gave women a voice.