Couple comes together- at last!

Frederick had only a few months to live when, one morning, he woke his wife, Simone, and said, “Remember that guy Danny? We should find him.”

Simone cannot hold back the tears as she remembers that moment in 1997.

 “That guy Danny” is sitting beside her now, covering her hand with his.
This is a love story about second chances. A love story that took 40 years to work itself out. It involves international cricket, half a dozen countries, a willingness to defy convention and a series of remarkable coincidences.

Or were they? The rabbi who married Danny and Simone is convinced God lent a hand.

Once upon a time…
The story unfolds in 1958 when 18-year-old Simone, known then by her Hebrew name of Malka, was training as a children’s nurse in a hospital outside Tel Aviv. Among the crowd of students was 19-year-old Israeli Danny Kiesel, who was studying physiotherapy.

“We were just friends,” says Simone. After eight months, though, when she was assigned to a hospital in Naharaya in the north of Israel, close to where her family lived, Danny carried her suitcase to the train.

“And that’s when we realized we wereoing to miss each other,” says Simone. “I was crying on the train.”

Danny would make the long trip each Friday to spend Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with her family.

“I remember,” says Simone, “we were going to the beach, and I was sitting on the crossbar of the bike. ‘I want to talk to you,’ he said. ‘Let’s get married.’ I laughed.”

He was forgetting the realities. Times were hard. Her parents still needed her paltry salary for necessities. “And I was just a kid,” she adds.

Drifted apart
They remained boyfriend and girlfriend as they did their military service in a hospital near Haifa. However, Danny’s father wanted him to go to Germany to study medicine. There seemed no future for them. Simone came to Canada “to forget him” and went to work at Toronto’s Branson Hospital.

Eighteen months later, when a dream gave her a premonition that her father was in peril, Simone returned to Israel-in time to help him through a life-threatening illness. Danny was still there, saving to go to Germany. The flame still burned. he proposed again.

The next day, though, when he came to see her, he was crestfallen. His uncle had said he had better forget wedding plans if he wanted to be a doctor; a medical career would mean he would be a penniless student for years.

Next page: Chance encounter

Chance encounter
Back in Canada and studying French at university, she met Frederick Gerson, a French literature professor at the University of Toronto, on a blind date. They married and, in addition to his daughter, Aviva, by his first marriage, they had a son, Joel.

In 1987, while on sabbatical in Europe, they happened to meet Danny, about whom Frederick had heard so much.
“He still loves you. I could see it in his eyes,” Frederick said. He was not the only one to notice.”

“How come you didn’t marry my mother?” a precocious 12-year-old Joel asked Danny. He replied, “I had my priorities all screwed up.”

Danny’s career would soon take a bizarre turn. Qualified in medicine and osteopathy, he went to Sri Lanka to learn about acupuncture. He had worked with high-performance athletes as well as handicapped patients and was eventually hired as team doctor by Pakistan’s national cricket team — an Israeli doctor now working in an increasingly militant Muslim country.

And he never married. “She was always on my mind, always,” he says.

Tragedy strikes
Then, in 1994, Frederick learned he had cancer. Simone describes it now as “three-and-a-half years of mourning.” There was anger, laughter and endless talk as they made the rounds of operations, chemotherapy, radiation and alternative remedies. 

He became increasingly concerned about her life when he was gone. “How will you manage?” he asked. “They’ll want you to mourn me for the rest of your life.”

Simone did nothing at first about Frederick’s middle-of-the-night request that she find Danny. Two weeks later, Danny himself called to say he was coming with the Pakistani team, which was playing India in Toronto. (India and Pakistan have played each other several times at the Toronto Cricket Club-to avoid the inevitable riots back home).

Although she met Danny on that occasion, she didn’t bring him home to see Frederick. The reason: Danny looked so tanned and fit, she worried that Frederick, now wasted by disease, would feel hurt and depressed.

Next page: Getting acquainted

Getting acquainted
A few weeks later, though, Frederick tracked down Danny in Pakistan and invited him for Christmas.

Danny flew 25 hours to make it. He stayed at a hotel a couple of miles away but walked over every day. Frederick spent the time alone with Danny, talking of his unhappy childhood memories-of his father being taken away by the Nazis in wartime France, of being hidden in an orphanage and with a French family, and of finally escaping with his mother.

“He wanted to get to know Danny,” says Simone. She remembers holding both their hands and saying, “I am with the two most wonderful men in the world.”

Danny returned to Pakistan.

Rabbi advises
One day, Frederick told her, “Simone, my life began when I met you.”

Two weeks later, in May 1998, he died, listening to Beethoven, with Simone and the children around him.

“I never thought I would see Danny again,” says Simone. “I was alone. Everyone else had their lives. The silence of the house. The loneliness. You know, when you lose your husband, you just don’t count. People bury you with your husband. All that summer, I really did not want to continue this life.”

She heard that Danny was coming to Toronto again in September with the team. She talked to Rabbi Raphael Marcus, who had conducted Frederick’s funeral.

After hearing the story, he told her, “Don’t let him go back to Pakistan. You are two souls who have met many times. This is God’s doing. It is through miracles like this that we have proof that God exists.”

Third proposal
Son Joel met Danny at the airport and Simone went to all the cricket matches. Their moments alone were spent walking the grounds of the hotel where the team was staying. “I was suddenly 18 again,” she says.
For the third time, Danny proposed to Simone. And an odd thought went through her mind: “Could I bathe and look after this man?” That was what her life with Frederick had been in the last years.

They went to see Rabbi Marcus. Today, the rabbi says, “The fact that Frederick himself was very positive about them becoming reacquainted carried a great deal of weight with me. I felt the relationship Simone had with Frederick was very special, to the point he was even encouraging her to start a new life. I think he wanted to give her the strength and encouragement to carry on.”

There were those in the community, says Rabbi Marcus, “who looked askance” at a widow remarrying so soon after her husband’s death. “Simone did require some encouragement.”

Danny still had his duties with the cricket team. Within days, they would be off to Australia. There was not a moment to lose.

Next page: Happily every after

Happily every after
With the colorfully dressed wives of the cricketers joining family members as witnesses, Simone and Danny were officially married at Old City Hall in Toronto. However, Danny was anxious to have Rabbi Marcus’s blessing.

It was the final day of play– and the eve of Shabbat to boot. If they were not in his office 10 minutes before sundown, said the rabbi, he could not do it.

The game was dragging. Then someone hit a six (the equivalent in cricket of a home run). The crowd went crazy.

“He took my hand,” recalls Simone, “and said, ‘Let’s get married.'” They made it to the rabbi’s office just in time.

Off and on for the next two years, this Jewish French teacher from Toronto travelled with the Pakistani team-to Guyana, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, England, Dubai and elsewhere-acting  as a kind of a mother-confessor to the young cricket wives.

She never stopped worrying about Danny. With horrific events taking place in Israel, he could easily, she realized, become the target for a fanatic although they both say the friends they made in Pakistan are “friends for life.”

He quit the job once, twice, three times, and finally came to live in Toronto in August 2000.

Last year, they returned to Israel for a reunion. One of Frederick’s relatives was graduating from the very hospital where Simone and Danny had done their military service. Frederick’s family was coming from Paris.

“Frederick will be with us because we will be talking about him,” says Simone. She looks up at Danny.
“For me, it’s enough to put my head on his shoulder,” she says. “I don’t think God means us to be alone.”

Today you see them, a short woman with dark hair, a man of upright bearing with a silver brush cut, walking hand in hand in the park near their home.

“Sometimes, I think it’s all a dream,” says Simone.