You could consider their marriage a bit of a forbidden love. Not that it was truly taboo, but Rabbis Gaylia Rooks and Joe Rooks-Rapport’s relationship was certainly frowned upon when they first began dating. As the first husband-and-wife reform rabbi team, their rabbinical school teachers were none too pleased to find out the two were dating, nevertheless engaged.
But, after 30 years of marriage, they’ve proven that a husband and wife can not only work together, but also guide their community successfully as they live their lives in tandem.
How did you meet?
Apparently Joe met Gaylia before Gaylia met Joe.
“It depends on which of us you ask,” Joe said.
“We were both first year rabbinical students at HUC (Hebrew Union College) in Jerusalem,” Gaylia explained.
Joe first saw Gaylia at a student get-together.
“She walked in, the Jerusalem Orchestra was playing in the background, because we were just down the street from there, and I decided I was going to marry her. I said ‘hello’ – she doesn’t remember this at all.”
Gaylia doesn’t remember this first encounter but definitely remembers their first date, which she agreed with me was an “epic first date.”
“The first date was the fifth night of Hanukkah,” she said. “He heard that I had stopped going out with my boyfriend and he said, ‘Oh, does that mean you’ll have lunch with me?’ And I said sure.
“We had lunch, then we went shopping for Hanukkah presents and to the post office to mail them back home to the States. Then I promised I’d have latkes and stuff with my roommates, so he came. Then we went to a movie theater that I had found when I was a Brandeis student (abroad). Then we went to a place called ‘Don’t Pass Me By Tea and Pie’ … ”
“Everything in Jerusalem in those days closed at midnight because the buses stopped running at midnight. He was in the middle of a great story and said, ‘Well, we can just walk back. I’ll walk you back to your apartment.’ Then the guy who owned the (pie) place said ‘I’m gonna be here until 3 or 4 in the morning baking fresh pies for tomorrow, so if you wanna stay, you can stay.”
So they stayed. The owner even brought them fresh pie and told them they had to name their first born Zev, after him.
“We named our first new car after him,” Gaylia explained.
They walked home in the rain, got to Gaylia’s apartment and decided to keep talking until sunrise.
How did he propose?
They were engaged three weeks later.
“While I was in Jerusalem, I was looking for a Ketubah for my parent’s anniversary,” Joe said.
A Ketubah is a special Jewish prenuptial agreement that outlines the husband’s rights and responsibilities to the wife.
“I asked her to come with because her Hebrew was a lot better than mine,” he explained. “When we found this amazing shop – this was before there was a ketubah.com – I said, ‘You know, it would probably make better sense if we could get a deal and got two.’ She said, ‘Well why would you need two?’ And I said because we were gonna need one.”
He admits that Gaylia was a bit freaked out and stopped seeing him for a – gasp! – a full day.
How do you make it work on a day-to-day basis?
The pair work hand-in-hand every day. In fact, they even share an office. But it truly doesn’t take a toll like it might with other couples.
“When we were in rabbinical school, we had one key to the apartment, one car; we were together all the time,” Gaylia explained.
“They used to say that he should kiss me goodbye when he went to the men’s room because it was the only time we were apart,” she said with a smile. “So our first four or five years of marriage, we were together probably more than most couples are in a decade.”
Having spent almost all of their time together since their first date, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses like the backs of their hands. And they know exactly how to complement each other.
“Odd as it may seem for people who share the same career and the same passions and the same interests, we actually are very different,” Joe said. “So it makes working together very good. She learned from the very first date that I’m the study geek. We have very complementary skills. We’re somewhat naturally interested in different things. We’re good at different things. I would never have passed Talmud class if she hadn’t dragged me through it. She wouldn’t have gotten through history class without me. When we melded our libraries, we had like only one book in common. Given that we studied the same things, that’s pretty odd.”
They’ve learned throughout their years as a couple, and as rabbis leading the same congregation, which roles are better suited for each other.
“She’s inspiration and I’m perspiration,” Joe explained. “Even the things that we actually work on together, she comes up with the creative ideas, and I kind of put the wheels under the cart and make it happen.”
How do you divide up household chores?
“We don’t do them,” Joe joked.
“We used to have a nanny for 17 years. So we had like a third parent in the house,” Gaylia said. “And our son has autism, so it was very important to us to have a stable other person in the house.”
The two spend so much time at The Temple and working in the community, that they don’t even have time to cook. Gaylia admitted she’s a good cook, but simply doesn’t enjoy it.
“We wish we could still have a nanny, but we don’t have kids (living at home). So people would probably talk if we still had a nanny,” Joe said.
But since their youngest, Lev, left the house for Centre College, they’ve slowly figured out their roles in the housework. But they laughed at themselves for being unable to compromise when it came to their chores.
“There are still things that the nanny used to do that neither of us has picked up because, for example, if I pick it up then it becomes my job,” Joe said, mocking both himself and his wife.
Where do you like to go when you’re out ‘n’ about?
The pair admitted that they eat out often but are hesitant to disclose their favorite places.
“We don’t wanna tell you because just last night we bumped into a million congregants,” Gaylia joked.
“My father was a professor of Shakespeare, so we go to the theater a lot,” Joe said. “We’re members of Actors Theater.”
But, in order to enjoy their favorite places, the two must work with their busy datebooks.
“We find that if we lock it into our schedules, because things are so crazy time wise, it works,” Joe explained.
Of course, they also do a lot of work in the community.
“A lot of our social life is geared around The Temple, obviously, and the community things we’re involved in,” Joe said. “So there’s events at the University of Louisville, Crusade for Children, the hospital.”
“We also do a lot of work with STAR (Support and Treatment for Autism and Related Disorders),” said Gaylia, who is STAR’s co-chair. “We do a lot of social justice work and we enjoy that.”
What is one thing you always do as a couple?
“We always watch Jon Stewart and eat Shabbat dinner together,” Joe said.
“Even if I’m working or he’s prepping a class – whatever we’re doing – we stop at least for the first 15 minutes of Jon Stewart,” Gaylia explained.
“For our 25th anniversary we went to Tahiti because I always wanted to go there,” Gaylia said. “I grew up in Boston, so if it doesn’t have a beach, it’s not a vacation. But he hates sun, sand, sea, the whole thing. So he said that for our 30th he wanted to go to Iceland.”
“She thought I was kidding because it’s the opposite of Tahiti,” Joe said.
But they went to Iceland and Stockholm and had a blast.
What is some advice you would offer couples – new or old – who desire to walk through life in tandem?
With jobs that entail quite a bit of counseling and 30 years of marriage, the couple has some sage advice for couples.
“Don’t always compromise,” Gaylia advised.
“I was just going to say, we just had this conversation,” Joe interjected.
“Sometimes when you compromise, nobody wins … ” Gaylia started.
“ … You end up getting half of what you want,” Joe finished. “We invented this thing, it’s called ‘punting.’ Like in football, when you’re not getting anywhere, it’s better for you to give the other team the ball because you’re not getting anywhere with it at the moment. When you get to one of those places where cutting it in half isn’t going to make anybody happy, one of you needs to decide to punt. Which means, ‘No. I want you to get what you want. I want you to get all of what you want so that I can feel good about you getting what you want.’ And then the receiver needs to get what they want with no guilt.”
“You’ve gotta be open and honest,” Gaylia encouraged.
Joe agreed, “Whatever it is, being honest about it is better.”
“Communication is in the ear of the hearer,” Gaylia added. “So whatever I said, and whatever I meant is irrelevant. It’s what he heard and how it made him feel.”
“If you’re hurt, don’t hurt back,” Gaylia said.
“Don’t assume,” Joe said. “One of the problems with treating people how you want to be treated is that it assumes that they’re like you and they want the same things that you want. You should treat people the way they need to be treated.”
Aug. 10, 1980
Yael, 24, a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College in New York, N.Y.; and Lev, 21, a rising senior at Centre College.
Louisville’s East End.
Senior rabbis at The Temple.
Cards or Cats
“Cards,” Joe said undoubtedly.
“Oh, I thought you were talking about pets!” Gaylia admitted.
Category: In Tandem