Italicized print by Joanna Halpern Zisman;
Plain print by Laine Halpern Zisman;
Purple print co-authored
How do we retell our still-in-progress love story? So much has happened in the last three years, and our narratives of this journey are the same, but different. Two stories, two beginnings, endless experiences, these roads leading to one home, one family, one start to forever.
Our love story is built from individual memories: how it began as missed connections, sliding doors, piecing together two distinct narratives, until our stories collide into one.
December 3, 2016:
I’m asked to speak on a Torah in Motion panel, as a (then) modern orthodox Jewish person who is in the LGBTQ+ community. I only recently came out of the closet and the event is a scary, but exciting opportunity to share my experiences of coming out as a religious person. It’s really nice to have friends come to the event and support me.
December 3, 2016:
My close friend Akiva wants me to go to a panel on LGBTQ+ Jews. His childhood friend from Calgary, who recently came out, is one of the speakers and he wants to see her. I go. The panel is pretty great and I see other folks I know there too. I am talking to my friends after the event and don’t have a chance to meet Akiva’s friend in person.
I create a website for queer and LGBTQ+ Jews to find a match—what would soon become Yente Over the Rainbow (YOtR). At first it’s just a simple form participants fill out online, where matchmakers read profiles and suggest matches. But I quickly figure out this platform needs to be more.
I see a website online for queer Jewish matches. It is still in beta testing looking for its first users. I recently went through a breakup. I feel certain I will never find a queer Jewish partner, and for me personally that is who I need to find. I send an email to inquire but they are already filled up with users and will let me know if they are accepting more people to create profiles in the future.
September 23, 2018:
I plan a bonfire with my friend Lauryn and wonder who will show up to this “high holy blaze,” pre-Sukkot community event. Our communities are built on collectivity and collaboration, spaces where our queerness and our Jewishness are not siloed. Where we can be our full complex complicated selves and find each other. We prep the wood and marshmallows and bring them to the park.
September 23, 2018:
My friend Suzanne invites me to a bonfire in the park. I haven’t lived in Toronto that long and I’m actually very excited to meet other queer Jews. We are searching for community in surprising places. I see you, telling stories about your summer camp. So animated, excited, engaging. We don’t talk at all, but I sit next to you to try to get your attention. I hope this is a beginning.
September 23, 2018 (10:49pm):
We don’t talk, but in very, very uncharacteristic behaviour, I add you as a friend to Facebook and send you a message before the night is through. My best friend liked your glasses, so I take that as a sign that I should at least get to know you a bit more.
October 12, 2018:
Our first date at Mulberry Bar on Bloor. I think we are both nervous and unsure of what to expect, but excited. A queer Jew! It’s like finding a unicorn. We talk big life plans over drinks. We talk about marriage and kids and Jewish values. We both agree: We are dating for marriage.
October 13, 2018:
Even though I’m not feeling great, I am so happy on our first date, our second date, our third date . . . We see each other four days in a row through my sniffles and coughs. First the bar, then Snakes and Lattes, and then a work date at Field Trip, followed by lunch at Fresh on Monday. We have a lot to talk about and it feels so comfortable. I ask you if we are just friends, and you confirm “no, we are dating. These are dates!” Beyond excited, I record a video for myself that night: “I think she is the one.”
December 1, 2018:
Less than a month later, after drinks and karaoke at the Gladstone . . .
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
“Wait are you joking??”
“Yes . . . [insert long pause] NO! I’m not joking!”
“Oh. Then, yes. Obviously!”
March 19, 2019:
We joked about “uhauling.” Wouldn’t that be funny, we laughed. You told me that you won’t move in with anyone unless you are engaged—too scared to be heartbroken. And then days later we started seeing apartments. Today, we sign a lease. Things are moving quickly . . .
April 30, 2019:
Move-In Day! After a very long day of packing and unpacking, we get in our matching onesies and cuddle in our new house. Mottel the Tailor (the cat) officially gets a step-mom.
May 24, 2019:
I create an app that tells our story. I tell you we are having a date night, an art activity to silk screen t-shirts. Picture frames line the walls of the venue. At the end of the night, each frame transforms through my app: montages of videos and pictures, talking pictures on the wall. I ask you to marry me. I invite my parents from Calgary, your sister and her husband, all waiting for us with champagne at the end of the night. We are engaged.
May 24, 2019:
The most incredible day of my life. You ask me to be yours. All of your beautiful planning and preparing, strategizing, finally comes to fruition. You are my everything. I want to be with you always.
December 3, 2019:
Exactly three years since that first missed connection, we stand under a chuppah. We break a glass. Family and friends, laughing and dancing, drinking and eating. A massive community celebration. We didn’t know what we had, what was to come in just a few short months—this would be our last family celebration for years ahead.
Amidst the pandemic and all of the unknowns, we begin the process of conception.
It starts this month, with a conversation—we conceive of you in our thoughts. Bated breath as we make consultations and go to appointments, in these moments we birth the thought of you. Our beautiful baby. A thought of you that intentionally brings you into existence.
February 1, 2021:
Our journey to conceive is like much of our relationship: we learn to expect the unexpected. Every plan we make quickly changes course, we learn to grapple with vulnerability and strategize through change. We do IVF. Our second transfer is a dramatic rush for COVID-19 tests before they let us proceed. And then, there you are on the screen. A little embryo implanted in a uterus.
We watch you grow on an embryoscope video—a time-lapsed sequence of your first five days. We see you pulse with possibility on a screen, fertilized and swelling through the process of mitosis. This mass of cells could become a human.
We hold you, our embryo, our baby. With each time we let the warmth of our hands circulate into the depths of a belly, we imagine you, each time we sing to you—joy and commitment, family, and unrelenting uncompromising love. Every night, a lullaby, and a prayer, we sing “hamelech hagoal,” we say the Shema. Together we anticipate who you will be. We watch a line darken. We see you on an ultrasound week after week. We watch how you continue to grow, how our family grows.
October 20, 2021:
We welcome our daughter earth side. Our journey has only just begun.
Joanna Halpern Zisman is a software engineer and tech lead at TWG, a Deloitte Business. She started Yente Over the Rainbow in 2017 because she recognized the lack of queer Jewish community spaces and believed she could make a difference.
Laine Halpern Zisman is a queer fertility doula and academic. She lectures in sexual diversity, popular culture, and communication studies.
Such a cute story!!