Cindy Klein was a young widow and past president of the Sisterhood when she and her rabbi, Shalom Lewis, started dating 18 ½ years ago. She had not dated anyone since she was 19, she told a crowded Congregation Etz Chaim sanctuary at the “Shalom, Shalom” ceremony June 2 marking her husband’s transition to emeritus status.
Her son, Hadley, and Lewis’ son, David, were friends. Lewis’ daughter, Jill, was one of Cindy’s babysitters.
“Do you know what you’re getting into?” Lewis’ mother and sister asked her when they started dating, to which Cindy considered, “He seems so normal.”
She remembers jumping into what seemed like a fishbowl when they started courting. Her grocery cart was examined by passersby, looking for treife, no doubt. “I didn’t think people would be so judgmental,” Cindy told the AJT in a subsequent interview. “When I was not the rabbi’s wife, I didn’t judge the rabbi’s wife.”
For instance, a congregant told her she should wear more makeup now that she was a rebbetzin. While she wasn’t the rabbi, she was also surprised congregants would turn to her as if she was. She also became more observant, not able to join friends as freely out in the community on Shabbat or participate in bridge or tennis events if they weren’t in her neighborhood.
One of her favorite dating history stories stems from a little misunderstanding during an ulpan class she was taking at the time. When the instructor said, in Hebrew, she lived in East Cobb, Cindy said she did too. When the instructor said she lived near the rabbi, Cindy practiced her new language, saying she lived “with the rabbi.” “Lo, lo, lo,” the instructor corrected, believing Cindy had used the wrong word. “Ken, ken, ken” Cindy confidently replied in the positive.
Rabbi Lewis also recounted their early courtship at his send-off ceremony earlier this month. The two went through painful times when Lewis, who was divorced, comforted Cindy after she lost her husband. When their friendship deepened, he described the day in his office when he decided to take the relationship beyond platonic. “‘I’m going to take a chance here that something is changing, that you are no longer my congregant and I am no longer your rabbi.’ We embraced and agreed to see where it was going to go.”
After a while, he had to set her straight about their cordiality. “It’s gonna be weird if we dated and she kept calling me rabbi.”
Ever proud of his union, he boasted, “The rabbi and the past president of the Sisterhood – pretty slick.”
He said he considered Cindy his “trophy wife and his great wife. … Thank you for ignoring my mother and my sister.”
If opposites attract, the rabbi and Cindy couldn’t be more different, he said. “You like kale and beet salad and I like anything fried. You like the Food Channel and I like the History Channel.” While she believes in making the bed every day, he finds it a “silly waste of time but I do make the bed.”
And about their future beyond the pulpit, he added, “Do you know what you are getting into?”
The pair expect to spend more time with their children and grandchildren and increase travel. “We will have more flexibility in our private time,” the rabbi said in a follow-up interview.
But they’ll remain part of the synagogue, as most of their friends are members. “We’ll be visible and invisible at the same time. We will still be involved. Being spiritually committed is not necessarily attached to a title.”
Like his father, the now departed Rabbi Albert Lewis, the younger rabbi said he is happy to be able to sit with his wife in his retirement instead of having her look up at him while he’s on the bimah.
“My father after 44 years on the bimah was finally able to sit with my mother.” Rabbi Lewis, in contrast, made it a point over the past five years during his transition to emeritus status to sit with Cindy when he’s not leading services. He’s looking forward to doing that more now.
“We were drawn to each other seeking comfort,” he said at his send-off event. “May we wake up next to each other for years and years to come. I love you.”