We had the privilege of publishing the love letters written to Regina Jonas, the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Berlin in 1935 and who died in Auschwitz. Among the many folders that attest to her rabbinate there is one with more than 100 letters from her beloved. For the first time, those letters give a glimpse of her personal life and of the love she found for herself amidst enormous adversity.
We knew the book would not be complete without the stories of our generation. We wanted narratives of modern love with all its complexities. We expected to see differences and we did. But what startled us the most were the similarities.
While how people come to meet and fall in love has changed dramatically, there is so much that remains the same. In the past relationships were mostly heterosexual, local and within familiar communities and cultures; now they include gay and lesbian couples and they span cultures and continents. In the past dating was short, marriage was early and matchmakers brought couples together. Handwritten letters were the form of communication. Now the internet is often the matchmaker; we text and tweet, date longer and marry later; bonds are easier to dissolve.
Still in every story, it is love that helps people survive imprisonment, war and serious illness. No couple rides off into the sunset on a white horse with the words, “and they lived happily ever after.” There are challenges, jealousy and competition, conflict and war. Relationships are forged under difficult circumstances, tested by trials. Perseverance, forgiveness, patience are still the cement that bind two individuals. The sensuousness and physicality of the Song of Songs still resonates today. Hearts are broken, but somehow they heal.
Just after the book was published, I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of a couple whose grandparents letters are in the anthology. I read them under the huppah. From generation to generation, the story of falling in love and growing in love continues.