#MyMembership at Holy Blossom Temple gave us family when we needed it most
I often say that those who do not believe in God have not met my wife, Thuy. After the end of my first marriage, I prayed every night for God to send me someone who would love me as much as I would love them, let her welcome my kids into her heart, and please God, if it’s not too much, give her a pretty face and a nice figure! It took a while, but I got my answer.
My kids from the first marriage were still young, we’d agreed to raise them “Jewish” and while their mother and I had yet to formalize that, they attended Friday night services when they were with me.
About a year and a half after becoming single again, I began dating Thuy Trang Deu. She was born in Saigon in 1972. Her mother was in the Southern Vietnamese navy, her father was an officer in the Southern army, her maternal grandfather was a district police chief, and her one of her uncles was a combat pilot flying Huey helicopters for the US Army. In 1975 the South was conquered by the North, and her family had to flee. Thuy’s maternal grandfather had Indian ancestry as well as some property in India, so the family left everything behind in Saigon and were airlifted to Chennai, India, as refugees. Thuy’s father remained behind; she has not seen him since.
Growing up in Chennai, Thuy learned Tamil and Hindi and was schooled at an Anglo-Indian convent, where she also learned English, taught by British and Commonwealth nuns. She excelled in her subjects and became a high school track star, often sprinting and hurdling barefoot rather than in cleats. She came to Canada in 1991 and went to Ryerson and George Brown College for fashion design. She held 3 to 4 jobs at a time to help support her family and to self-fund her education. She got her first full-time job working as a pattern maker and fabric cutter for Seven Continents, owned by Ken Albright. I joined Seven Continents a few years after she started, so we eventually met and worked together.
I left Seven Continents to work for another millwork firm and worked up the courage to ask Thuy out for a date. We went on many more dates, and although our backgrounds were vastly different, our core values were the same and we found more commonalities with each conversation. The relationship evolved to the point where it was appropriate that she meet my kids. She also agreed to come to Kabbalat Shabbat services with us. Congregant Ann Rosenfield approached us after services and recommended Family Services, which were kid-friendly and she thought I might like the folksy music as well. When we attended our first Shabbat morning Family Service, there was indeed a fellow tuning his guitar upfront. When he turned around I exclaimed “Holy smokes, it’s Dave Gershon!!” to which Dave replied, “Holy smokes, it’s Mike Morgulis!!” We had not seen each other in many years; we were song leaders together in PKYG, the forerunner of HABSTY.
As positive as all of this sounds, it was very difficult for Thuy. While her family didn’t mind having me around as a friend to Thuy, having me date her was not in their cards, and so she was forced to decide between her family and me. She phoned me to come pick her up immediately; she had only the clothes on her back, her identification, and her cell phone. My parents invited Thuy to stay with them, which turned into a year of bliss for all three.
It was not long afterwards that Thuy expressed a desire to become Jewish. She felt that something in Judaism had resonated deeply within her. We met with Rabbi Jason Rosenberg, and Thuy committed to becoming a Jew officially. And while Thuy was with my folks, she and I were attending the JIC classes together. My mother chided my father that if Thuy could learn Hebrew, so could he! So my father enrolled in an introductory course with Dalia Alalouf and then remained a student for many years with Rabbi Ed Goldfarb.
I took Thuy on a quick trip to New York City as she’d never been there. During one of our long walks, I steered us to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge and proposed. We each have humorous versions of the actual events, but truthfully I did pretend to tie my shoelace while kneeling down.
The Beit Din met with Thuy, she told them that she would like her Hebrew name to be “Tal” which means ‘dew’, sounding much like her family name. Thuy thought it to have a great metaphorical meaning for her as well, with dew being present upon awakening. When the rabbis asked if there was another explanation for the name, she quipped “It’s hard for me to pronounce a chet or tzadik, so I didn’t choose a name like Zipporah or Rachel!” The rabbis had a good laugh and the appointment for the mikveh was scheduled. As I was also entering a new phase of my life, I too had a mikveh. Thuy’s first public mitzvah occurred during Family Services where she proudly carried the Torah!
Shortly after that was our aufruf and then the wedding. We scheduled it to occur in the month of Cheshvan, to bring some joy to the only month that is void of any Jewish holidays. Thuy also told everyone that we picked the date as it was after the flying season, which was important to me as a glider pilot!
One issue had arisen, as we expected. Thuy’s family would not participate nor attend the wedding. Although we had tried to reach out and had extended invitations, only three relatives sat in the most rear pews, and they left shortly after she’d entered the chapel. We spoke with Rabbi Rosenberg prior and requested that HABSTY, the Temple youth group, be invited en masse as our guests, in keeping with an old Jewish custom of yeshiva boys standing in for the family of an orphaned bride. HABSTY attended in full, as it turned out, and was the life of the party.
The ceremony was held in the Youth Chapel as it was not only a more intimate setting but also held special meaning for us as a new family as well as having significant memories for me as a youth and in youth group. Our chuppah was Rabbi Rosenberg’s tallit, held by my brothers and our friends Dennis Chow and Alberto Quiroz. Cantor Maissner chanted Dodi Li as Thuy entered the chapel, wearing a traditional Vietnamese marriage overcoat and head-piece made from red silk with hand-painted ornamentation; underneath was a white Vietnamese au dai (pronounced ‘ow yai’).
For the reception, dinner and dancing, Thuy and I had decorated the Philip Smith hall ourselves with an Asian theme. The food was great, the crowd was a great mix of family and friends, especially Thuy’s Vietnamese friends! The hora was well populated, we were hoisted up on chairs as were my kids! We put disposable cameras at each table for the guests to use. HABSTY gave us a beautiful challah plate, and Ari Lyon led some songs for us. HABSTY had most definitely fulfilled the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom, and the photos from their disposable cameras were epic!
A few days later, Thuy and I were honeymooning in Israel, driving all over the country and soaking up the scenery from Be’er Sheva up to Har Bental. It was during the height of the second intifada, so we had the country to ourselves and were welcomed very warmly by the Israelis. We had also brought some ‘virtual tourist dollars’ from HBT, so when we paid a restaurant bill of $30, we gave them an additional $30 of HBT money and explained the reasoning that it was our congregation’s idea of helping. It was received and appreciated very much.
While driving in the north, we picked up some hitch-hiking soldiers and drove them to their respective bases. One of them in particular, Sgt. Lior, was a sweetheart to speak with and was particularly good looking. He asked if we could drive his buddy from their base to the bus station in Rosh Pina, so on the way down from the Golan we spoke with Sgt. Nimrod who told us all about Sgt. Lior, and life on a remote IDF base on a mountaintop. Admittedly we were both smitten with Sgt. Lior; of all the people we had met, his heart and soul were the most vibrant, and his happy smile was ever-present.
Three years later, on February 14th Thuy delivered our son. We named him Lior, to remind us of our honeymoon in Israel and of the deep happiness that still existed, despite the upheaval of daily life with the intifada. Lior’s middle name is Dat, which is a Vietnamese expression for the path of an arrow, straight and on target. Many folks ask if we’ve ever contacted Sgt. Lior since then, and we did try through the valiant efforts of former shinshinim Gal and Gefen, who went on live Israeli radio to re-tell our story. Sgt. Lior must have had his radio turned off that day, but we hope he is well and still smiling, as are we.
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