|Randi Weingarten and Rabbi Sharon Anne Kleinbaum|
Ms. Weingarten (left), 60, is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has headquarters in Washington. She graduated from Cornell and received a law degree from Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.
She is the daughter of Gabriel Weingarten of Suffern, N.Y., and the late Edith Appelbaum Weingarten.
Rabbi Kleinbaum, 58, is the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Simhat Torah in New York, a synagogue with a significant number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregants. She graduated from Barnard College and from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncott, Pa.
She is the daughter of Josephine Leve Kleinbaum of Teaneck, N.J., and the late Max M. Kleinbaum.
In the mid-1990s, Rabbi Kleinbaum and Ms. Weingarten knew each other peripherally.
“We were two lesbians in New York fighting for different things,” Ms. Weingarten said. “We liked each other. We had good banter. It wasn’t as if there were a lot of high-profile gay women who were active in leadership roles. I thought she was fun, witty and smart.”
“I’d just turned 50, I’d never publicly come out and said, ‘I’m a lesbian,’” Ms. Weingarten said. “Sharon allowed me to see myself as who I was. It shifted my thinking that it wasn’t simply about having a gay pride speaker. It was about shifting me. I was very moved by it.”
Rabbi Kleinbaum recalls the “ask” a little differently.
“She’s one of the most significant labor leaders in America,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said. “I didn’t get how dramatic it would be for her. I just thought it would be an amazing coup if she said yes.”
Years went by. They continued to see into each other sporadically until 2012. While Ms. Weingarten was working in Washington and dating, Rabbi Kleinbaum was in New York getting divorced after an 18-year relationship.
“I’d heard Sharon was single, so I emailed her asking if she wanted to have lunch,” Ms. Weingarten said.
Rabbi Kleinbaum wrote back the following day. But it was not an easy time in her life.
“My whole world was falling apart,” she said. “It was such a difficult time for me. I was carrying the load of a full-time position. I had two daughters. I wasn’t thinking about anyone in that way.”
Eight or nine email exchanges later, lunch got parlayed into dinner and a friendly request grew into an actual date.
It was a plus-one invitation. “I asked Sharon if she would be willing to have our date at the White House rather than in New York,” Ms. Weingarten said.
Rabbi Kleinbaum immediately declined.
“I would never go to the state dinner as a first date,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said. “I’m interested in intimacy. Everyone would think we were on a date. I started wondering if I was ready for that. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be in a relationship again. I wanted to take things slow.”
So they did. Ms. Weingarten attended the dinner with a colleague. The next day she and Rabbi Kleinbaum went for Indian food in the West Village. They talked all night.
“There was no political-speak,” Ms. Weingarten said. “We talked about our lives and things that were important to us. It was a fantastic first date. I didn’t want the night to end.”
That same year, Rabbi Kleinbaum moved into an apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan. Ms. Weingarten commuted back and forth from Washington, spending two nights there, two nights in New York and other days traveling for work.
“My life had been turned upside down,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said. “Here I was in my 50s with my dogs, and all I had was a mattress on the floor. But Randi never seemed uncomfortable. I thought, this is an incredibly kind person. I value kindness. Slowly I got furniture.”
As her apartment grew, so did their relationship.
In 2014, they began looking for an apartment together. Three years later they found one. Their proposal and engagement almost took as long. When Obergefell v. Hodges was decided in 2015, an excited Ms. Weingarten asked if the decision meant they could get married. Rabbi Kleinbaum wanted to wait.
“We’re not spring chickens,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said. “We didn’t believe we would get this kind of love this late in our lives.”
In June 2017, they both agreed it was time.
“We have a deepening relationship,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said. “We’re both astounded we found each other and both astounded we’re making it work. If you live long enough, life is full of surprises.”