Tuesday, November 23, 2004
This was in the paper this weekend.
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER
Published: November 21, 2004
WHEN 6-year-old Henry Strongin Goldberg was being treated for Fanconi anemia, a bone marrow disorder, at a Washington hospital in 2002, he liked to play with Dr. Ali Meredith Mendelson, a pediatric resident. One day, he sat in a lotus position on his bed, tethered to an I.V. Dr. Mendelson assumed the same position on a chair and, like buddies with a secret pact, they hummed "Ommm."
"She has an incredible ability to be extremely professional and direct and trustworthy as a medical doctor but with a passionate heart, someone you would want to take care of your child," said Laurie Strongin, Henry's mother.
That September, Dr. Mendelson slipped into a back row at Adas Israel Congregation, a Conservative temple, for Henry's funeral. She noticed the man one seat over had a bare ring finger and knew the prayers.
After the service, Dr. Mendelson asked him how he knew Henry. He said he had not had the good fortune to know the child.
Dr. Mendelson, 30, pressed on.
"So what are you doing here?" she asked.
The man, Jeremy Adam Winaker, 31, replied that he was the new assistant rabbi. He told Dr. Mendelson he wanted to get to know Henry as best he could, even in death.
Suddenly something clicked. Dr. Mendelson realized that she was speaking to the Rabbi Winaker who knew her sister, Alysa Mendelson Graf, an associate rabbi in Westport, Conn. Rabbi Mendelson Graf had become friendly with Rabbi Winaker in the fall of 2000 in Jerusalem, where they were studying for the rabbinate. When Rabbi Winaker was moving to Washington, Rabbi Mendelson Graf urged him and her sister to connect. They both ignored her.
Dr. Mendelson had tried online dating services in a quest for a mate who enjoyed going to synagogue. But "I had dated a rabbi before," she said. "I didn't want to get into that political drama."
Rabbi Winaker, meanwhile, had congregants clamoring to set him up. "It's very hard to be a single young rabbi in a large urban community," he said.
A few weeks after Henry's funeral, Rabbi Mendelson Graf and a friend began plotting again. They persuaded Rabbi Winaker to call her sister.
Soon Rabbi Winaker was running to the hospital late at night to be with Dr. Mendelson.
"He'd be sitting there working on a sermon. I'd be dealing with some kid's ventilator," Dr. Mendelson said. Three weeks after their first date, he professed his love.
"He gets what I am going through in a way that a businessman would not," she said. "I'm not afraid of what he is dealing with. It's very much reality, very much cycle of life."
But the cycle of life includes light moments, too. Fellow clergy members say Rabbi Winaker oozes sappiness like melting cheese. He cries at sad movies and spends hours cooking gourmet meals for the sabbath. And Dr. Mendelson's friends describe her as "bubbly," "goofy" and a "girlie girl."
In October 2003, Rabbi Winaker scattered rose petals over a game of Scrabble in Dr. Mendelson's apartment, dropped to one knee and proposed. In August the couple moved to Mount Kisco, N.Y., where Rabbi Winaker is now the senior rabbi at Bet Torah Synagogue.
At their wedding Nov. 13 at the Fountainhead, a caterer in New Rochelle, N.Y., Dr. Mendelson wore a beaded satin gown and a tiara. Her betrothed danced toward her surrounded by friends for the signing of the marriage contract.
Later, Rabbi Winaker donned a white ritual robe as he stood under a huppah fashioned from Dr. Mendelson's purple and white prayer shawl. And Ms. Strongin and Allen Goldberg danced together for the first time since their son died.
"This is a sign that life continues, and it continues with Henry in it," Ms. Strongin said. "Not just for us but for Ali and Jeremy, too."