Every time Gayle sees me, an Orthodox Jew, hair completely covered and bopping to Santana, she laughs and says to me, "There has to be a story behind you. I'd love to hear that."
And now that I've read the book she co-wrote with her husband and fellow Times of Israel blogger, Harold Berman,"Doublelife," I get where's she's coming from: Gayle Redlingshafer Berman has her own story to tell, and it's a doozy.
Gayle and Harold met at the end of May in 1989, and within a week were engaged to be married. It's a cliché, of course, the love-at-first-sight thing, but these were/are two very thoughtful people who just clicked. They knew everything would fall into place. And it did, but it sure took an awfully long time.
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I know this couple. I told Harold he better bring the book to me on a Friday because these days, Shabbat is the only time I have as a staff writer for Kars4Kids to read actual books. I read "Doublelife" cover-to-cover in a single afternoon and it is an inspirational delight.
The book is an exchange of love letters between two people, Harold and Gayle, over the course of more than two decades. Not my favorite format, but here it works because the two have very distinct voices and this helps the reader really see them, get a taste of the individuals they are. At first glance, they are poles apart. He's a secular Jew from upstate New York. She grew up on a farm in Farmington, Ill., population 2,800 -- 2,800 Christians, that is.
She's the Minister of Music in a "Texas mega-church." He's based in San Antonio, playing marches for the Air Force Band. So music is a bond for them. But being that the two are discussing marriage, the issue of religion arises, forcing both of them to reconsider how they each feel about religion in general: What it will mean to be an interfaith couple, and what raising children in a confusing thicket of mixed religions will entail.
The two do a dainty two-step coupled with a compelling mixture of honesty and self-examination. Gayle's Christian faith has always been a part of her, while Harold had never thought much about religion at all. The commitment they have made to each other forces Harold to take a closer look at what Judaism means to him, while Gayle finds she must reassess her relationship to her God.
A chance encounter with a missionizing Christian co-worker has Harold looking closer at Scripture, wondering if those lines in Isaiah really mean what the Christians say they mean. He turns to the Jewish chaplain on base for assistance. After a bit of a back and forth, the chaplain offers a gentle nudge, urging Harold to do some independent study.
As Harold delves into the ancient Jewish texts, he realizes how much he's missed out on and how little most Jews know about their own religion. Harold begins to question his own lack of interest in Yiddishkeit and Gayle is sympathetic -- so sympathetic in fact, that she fasts for 26 hours on Yom Kippur, to try to get a feel for the other side.
There are constant epiphanies. Harold recounts singing Joy to the World on Shabbos at a Christmas Eve church gig:
"'Harold, it's Shabbat. What are you doing here?'"
"I belong elsewhere. Showing up in a church -- for pay -- to sing words I don't believe in front of people who do is not open-minded. It's opportunistic."
And Gayle's sometimes comical Midwestern straight talk:
"This is not like switching from Crest to Colgate -- it takes time if it's going to mean anything. That is, if any switching is going to take place ... Not being a Christian doesn't mean I have to be Jewish."
Harold ends up on a search committee to find a new rabbi at the local temple. He defends one candidate, pointing out his excellent qualities only to be cut off by one of the synagogue officers who half-shouts,
"'We are not a handwashing congregation!' 'Yes,' everyone agreed -- 'wasn't it just terrible that he made such a display of washing his hands?'"
It's all a journey, a very long one that translates into a loving home filled with faith. There's even a surprise ending. But no spoiler here -- not even for my own tale.
Gayle? We'll have coffee.