Do You Believe in Bashert?
Roving ReporterStyle Magazine

Do You Believe in Bashert?

AJT's Roving Reporter asks Atlanta couples to share how destiny led them to their spouses.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Miriam and Nata Saslafsky

Miriam: Graphic designer
Nata: Loan officer

2007 was the first year of college for Miriam Kessler at Lynn University in Boca Raton and Nata Saslafsky at Miami Dade College. Once they met, they dated only each other, traveling regularly between Boca Raton and Miami. Nata transferred to Cornell University after two years, and Miriam visited him once a month in New York until she graduated in 2011. They married and moved to New York, until Nata completed his studies. While at Cornell, Nata started a longboard club, the longboard being his chief means of transportation. The Saslafskys now live in Atlanta with their daughter Isabella and pets Leena and Mia.

Nata, who is from Florida, was in an automobile accident the night before his first day of college. He headed to Boca Raton to borrow his parents’ car but stopped to visit his childhood Chabad Rabbi Boruch Shmuel Liberow. Nata stayed for Shabbat dinner.

Before settling into her Boca Raton dorm, Miriam, who is from Atlanta, opted to spend a Shabbat weekend with her parents, who had driven her to school and were staying with Rabbi Liberow and his family. The stage (or in this case, the table) was set!

An automobile accident caused Nata and Miriam Saslafsky to meet.

Miriam describes that first meeting: “Nata walked in and we spoke for a little while as we waited for Rabbi Liberow to come home from services. During dinner Nata and I weren’t seated near each other, so when one of the other dinner guests left, Nata came to sit across from me. We started talking, and we’ve been talking ever since. We love outdoor sports, hiking, longboarding and socializing with friends.” Nata says, “Miriam’s a real ‘balabusta!’ She’s a cook, advisor, planner. Our friends call her, ‘The Mom.’”

Ironically, Miriam and Nata could have met while in high school. Nata did not go on the March of the Living trip with his class; Miriam did participate in that year’s trip. Georgia and Florida are both in the United States Southern region March of the Living program, and their buses toured together. Therefore, Miriam met all of Nata’s friends before she met him.

Phyllis and Joe Arnold

Phyllis: Community volunteer
Joe: Retired physician

Joe Arnold and Phyllis Gershon were among the many Jewish teens who met regularly at the Jewish Educational Alliance on Washington Street and Atlanta Avenue in the ‘40s. Phyllis, who went to Grady High School, was Joe’s date at his senior prom at Hoke Smith High School. However, their paths dramatically diverged when Joe accepted a four-year scholarship to the University of North Carolina as a math major and joined the ROTC. That decision required his active duty on a naval destroyer in Norfolk, Va., continuing through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, Calif. He served in the Korean War, thereby entitling him to benefits of the GI bill, which financed his attendance at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. He then interned at the Naval Hospital in Charleston, S.C.

In the meantime, right after graduating from high school, Phyllis married and gave birth to two children. That marriage ended in divorce, and Phyllis stayed in Atlanta where she worked for the Colgate Mattress company.

Phyllis and Joe Arnold went to his senior prom together.

After his internship, Dr. Joe Arnold returned to Atlanta and opened his own medical office. It had been many years since he had seen Phyllis, and they had not kept in touch. Joe said, “I was dating different women, and the word got out that Phyllis was back on the market. That’s all I needed to hear.” The couple soon married and had three children, who blended with Phyllis’ young daughters. Joe built a popular medical practice, they played tennis at the Briarcliff Woods Beach Club, and Phyllis became active in many community organizations, especially Ahavath Achim Synagogue, where Joe was a baritone in the choir for 25 years.

Joe and Phyllis, while homebound during COVID-19, enjoy playing gin rummy, listening to symphonies on YouTube and being visited by their five children and seven grandchildren, who live in Atlanta (two other grandchildren live in Oregon and Maryland). They have been happily married for 58 years.

Michelle and Sergey Barskiy

Michelle: Mother-of-all-trades
Sergey: Software architect

Serious-minded, Ukranian-born Sergey Barskiy and all-American, easy-going Michelle Herzfeld were urged to meet by mutual friends, Sergei’s cousin, Alex, and his wife, Sara. During Michelle’s third year of college, she came home for a weekend and Sergey took her to a movie. Michelle returned the next weekend, then the next. They spent all of Thanksgiving and winter break getting to know each other.

Sergey and Michelle Barskiy prove that opposites really do attract.

Michelle fills in the details:

Early in our dating, I jokingly explained to Sergey that we had to get married because he was the only Jewish guy I had dated. He said OK! Sergey lived with four generations of his family in one house, and he was working full time while going to Georgia State in the evenings. (He worked his way to the top tier in his company). I saw him six times during Thanksgiving break, and he brought flowers each time, decorating my room with six bouquets in six vases. Nowadays he buys me new flooring and house paint. Sergey proposed to me the night before I graduated college, and I spent every second of graduation focused on my ring! We got married one year later, and the next year started our family. Our marriage is strong because Sergey is peace-loving and I am designated as the one who is always right. He’s excellent at, “Yes, dear,” with a miniscule snicker. We’ve been married 22 years, and we don’t waste time fighting.

I am the taxi mom, the room mom, the PTA mom, the get-it or make-it mom. Sergey works full time, yet, if there are dishes or other chores, he just does them. He loves to cook. We often cook together and our three kids join in. I know Sergey’s a gem, and he knows that I know it! I think of our life in “Barskiy Land” as an amusement park, with steep ups and drastic downs, but we just take things one day at a time.

Rachael and Jan Siegelman

Rachael: Communication and laughter coach, author
Jan: Life coach, dog trainer, tree surgeon

Jan and Rachael met on North Highland Avenue. Jan was with a friend who knew Rachael, and introductions were made. Rachael wanted to know more about tall, handsome, bearded Jan. A few days later Rachael visited Congregation Beth Jacob for the first time, as Jan walked past. Was he meeting a woman? Was he wearing a wedding ring?

Rachael recalls the encounter.

Rachael: Hi, remember me?
Jan: Yes. (I wasn’t sure if I believed him.)
R: Do you come here often? (I wanted to learn about the singles’ scene in this new place.)
J: Yes, I come here every day. This is where I pray.
R: Do you live around here?
J: I live a mile up the road, behind the A&P.
R: You live behind the A& P?
J: Yes, There’s a street behind the A&P with houses on it. I live in a house.
R: And how far did you say it was?
J: Are you fishing for an invitation?
R: Are you offering one?

“Jan was full of adventure and fun. On our second date, I joined Jan in his six-seater plane, during his flying lesson. Our courtship included martial arts lessons, dance lessons, hiking, whitewater rafting, biking, reading to each other, and lively discussions. Jan was into communication and personal growth. He was divorced with three children, so I had two questions. Did he want more children, and could he make me a priority?”

Jan got his marriage proposal to Rachael right the second time.

Jan’s story:

“I wanted to marry Rachael when we were whitewater rafting with her twin sister Sarah, and Sarah’s husband. Sarah jumped off a rock but wasn’t able to maneuver to a certain point to avoid being pulled downstream by the current. I was about to dive in, when I saw Rachael already in the air, jumping in to save her sister. I said, ‘That’s the woman for me!’”

Rachael hoped to move the relationship forward, but Jan thought she wanted the opposite. The issue resolved via a therapist-coach. Jan sent a dozen roses to Rachael’s office with a card that he forgot to sign, asking, “Will you marry me?” Rachael preferred a “proper” proposal, and Jan obliged by re-proposing in the therapist’s office. Rachael was a lawyer, but they both wanted their children to be raised by a stay-at-home mom. She left her position when their first child was born. They had two more children (all three born at home), resulting in six Siegelman brothers and sisters.

“We are committed to healthful food, personal growth, children, grandchildren. We play guitar, sing, read to each other, take walks, toss a football, love guests for Shabbat meals, and meeting new people.” The Siegelmans practice what they preach: “Hold your commitment to each other above your feelings; dare to be vulnerable; laugh together.”

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