It was the summer of 2009. Janette Margolis and her husband, Sheldon, arranged a meeting with a real estate agent to have their Huntington Valley house appraised.
When Margolis opened the door, she recognized the woman before her, Elaine Glauberman, despite the fact that the childhood friends hadn’t seen each other in four decades.
Anytime old friends stumble upon one another, it makes for a nice story. But what made this interaction extraordinary was the sad family history that preceded it — and the happy occasion that followed.
Both Glauberman’s and Margolis’ parents were Holocaust survivors. Three of them made it out of Auschwitz, one made it out of a Russian work camp and all of them landed at displaced persons camps in Vienna. There, the two fathers formed a black market “business,” selling everyday items. Both couples eventually landed in Philadelphia, where they reconnected.
“There was some strangeness in European children’s upbringing that we shared,” Margolis said of her and Glauberman, who were childhood friends because of their parents’ connection.
As the two women grew up and formed their own families, they ended up living blocks apart from one another. Their children even attended the same high school, and yet they went decades without meeting.
The seeds of a connection between the children were planted when the mothers met in 2009. Lance Margolis, then 26, came home from a workout to find his mother pouring over pictures of Glauberman’s two daughters. Lance was single, so it wasn’t surprising when his mother said, “Look at her two beautiful daughters.”
He nodded politely, agreed that they were attractive and walked upstairs. The mothers thought, “Well it would be nice,” but they took a low key approach.
Little did they know that cholent would act as a culinary JDate. The traditional Eastern European Jewish slow-cooked stew, made from meat, potatoes and beans and eaten on Shabbat, was a favorite of the two daughters and Margolis’ son.
When Dana Glauberman, the older daughter, found out that her mom had delivered cholent she and her sister had prepared to a guy around her own age, she was intrigued. “Who else eats this stuff?” she wondered.
Between the photos and the cholent, mutual curiosity took over, and the young people connected on Facebook. The families attended Rosh Hashanah services together that fall at Chabad Lubavitch in Abington — Dana recalls spying Lance through the barrier separating men and women — and then they decided to go out on a date.
If liking the same food had been the one thing they had in common, the relationship might have ended after a meal. But eating habits have roots, and in this instance, the roots meant they both shared a love of Jewish food, culture and their grandparents’ Eastern European accents. Some couples might have felt overwhelmed by their mothers’ matchmaking, not to mention a family bond forged during the worst of times across the ocean. But here, the common history strengthened their relationship. They dated a few years and, in March of this year, were married. “The main part that we share is the traditional, European, old-school Jewish values,” Lance said. “I just never thought that I’d be able to find somebody with that kind of background, so I didn’t even know that that was what I was looking for.”
Elaine Glauberman calls what happened bashert, the Yiddish word for destiny. Had it not been for the mad fluctuations in the real estate market, she might never have received the call from the Margolises. Had her parents and Janette’s parents not been driven out of Europe, the grandchildren might never have met.
“Both our kids feel that they’re lucky they have any family left. It just feels like we were related even before they decided to get married in a sense,” Glauberman said.
Serendipitous moments continued after the families connected. Glauberman was tidying the Passover silverware drawer at her mother’s house when she happened upon a stray red kipah. She looked on the inside and saw that it was from the Margolis’ wedding. Glauberman’s father had written the ketubah for the marriage and attended the wedding.
Margolis said they no longer had any kipot left from their wedding. Her husband wore the newly found one at Dana and Lance’s wedding. “It had to have been the finger of God to direct us to meet. My husband could have picked any realtor out of the book, or I might not have been home when Elaine came,” Margolis said. “It’s just an interesting story. It’s something special between them.”
Their grandmothers were still alive when Dana and Lance started dating — the grandfathers had died much earlier —but both grandmothers died before the wedding. At the ceremony, the rabbi held up Glauberman’s father’s kiddush cup and told the two families’ story.
“He used the word bashert,” Glauberman said. “We’re sure they’re up there smiling down.”