It was after the World War II. There was a lot of confusion; people were moving around the world from Displaced Person’s camp (after surviving the concentration camps) to countries across the sea. Maybe that is what set up the scenario. But it happened that Esther came to New York and needed some way to get a green card so she could stay. She didn’t have any family left.
In those days there was Malka the matchmaker. She wasn’t known for the usual type of weddings, she wasn’t interested in getting Moshe married to Naomi from down the streets; she had bigger sights. She was saving the world.
Malka called by everyone Mrs. Malki was in touch with all these orphan young women who escaped to New York. They were looking for a way to stay in the United States to get away from the furnace of hatred they left in Europe.
Esther had heard of Mrs. Malki through the grapevine that existed among Jews then and made contact. Mrs. Malki immediately sized up the situation and explained to Esther the key was to marry her off to some guy for a bit of money and after a certain amount of time when her American papers – the green card was taken care of; she would then get a divorce. Mrs. Malki made a little, the young man would make a little money and the young women would find a job and was able to become a citizen of the great country, United States.
Esther agreed and waited to hear good news from Mrs. Malki.
Mrs. Malki went through her list of eligible bachelors and remembered Yitzhak now called Irwin from Delaney Street. He was already in his late twenties and marriage didn’t seem to be happening for him too fast. He worked very hard at his brand new butcher shop and didn’t have time for a social life. He was actually born in America and hadn’t experienced the turmoil of Europe but certainly had heard about it. His family was in the business of helping others if not always staying on the legal side of the law. They were part of the network that was smuggling arms to the struggling new country, Israel, which was approaching war any day. Irwin was quite willing to help a young lady escape the horrors of Europe and the imminent war about to explode in the Middle East, her only other option.
When Mrs. Malki got in touch with Irwin, he not only agreed to the fictitious marriage, he didn’t want any compensation either. Thus Esther and Irwin met and went to the local Judge to make their ‘Green card’ marriage official. Other than wearing the prettiest dress she could find, there weren’t any regular props usually found in weddings, even in those simple times when the country was recovering from a war. The Judge did not ask them to kiss, which was a relief to both of them. They officially signed the papers and outside of the courtroom; Esther thanked him profusely and Mrs. Malki , who of course was taking care of all the legal issues and had guided them through each step (and paid for her efforts) reminded them both that in a year’s time they could meet and start the official divorce.
The party all went in their own directions. Esther finally felt free and started to put her life together now that she had official papers that she was an American bride.
Mrs. Malki was incredibly sufficient even without iPhone, computer messaging and all the other gadgets we walk around today to remember an appointment next week, much less a year later, but Mrs. Malki was on top of it. She had all her couples worked out when each could get their divorces and really start their new lives and hopefully find their real matches.
She went to visit Irwin in the butcher shop and told him of the period of time needed for Esther to escape forced departure had passed and they could file for a divorce. But Irwin had a surprise up his sleeve. Irwin explained to the ‘matchlady’ since he already married Esther, he thought it was about time he actually should meet her and ask her if she wanted to go ahead and get divorced.
He had been given Esther’s address and went one day to visit her. He formally greeted her at her home one evening and asked if they could talk not in front of all the other boarders in the home she had found.
As they walked through the avenue Irwin told Esther, “Of course, I would be glad to start the divorce papers as soon as you want, but I was thinking, if we are already considered married, perhaps we should actually try to get to know each other. “
For Esther who had no family, had lost everything in the war, this was a welcome surprise and hadn’t even crossed her mind until that point. “That would be fine,” she answered.
And that is what they did. They started dating.
It wasn’t so much later Irwin proposed for real.
Their kids would ask them, how is it you two were put together; as they could see there were very different types. And they would be told the story. And when Irwin wasn’t listening, Esther would wink at her children and say, “with the kindness he showed by being concerned about me, I realized that in spite of all our differences, he was a mentch. And that is really the only thing that matters.”
Once they were married they were never apart until they died, only a week apart from each other. It was a blow to all, but a loving statement about their commitment to each other.