9 years after meeting on Israel trip, pair gets engaged

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When Jessica Holman and Michael Berg first met nine years ago, "it was definitely one of those teenage things," she says.

"I told some of my friends I thought he was cute, and I found out through a mutual friend he thought I was cute. We said `OK, we both like each other,' and we started going out.'"

That was the summer of 1987. Holman and Berg were 16-year-old participants in the East Bay Summer Youth Experience in Israel, an annual six-week trip sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Little did the young couple know as they strolled hand-in-hand along the beach in Eilat that they would stand under the chuppah one day. Recently, however, Holman and Berg, now 25, got engaged, promising to become the first-known married couple to emerge from the 11-year-old East Bay summer program.

"I shouldn't be surprised because those first few groups of kids are now of marrying age," says Ami Nahshon, executive director of the East Bay federation. "I was delighted to hear about this wonderful simchah."

Though they are now busy planning their May 1997 wedding, it hasn't been all wine and roses for the happy couple. On returning from Israel, they dated for a year and half — until Berg decided he wasn't ready for true love.

"I was young and foolish," he says with a sheepish laugh, "but it worked out really well. We both got to go to college and learn and grow and become individuals."

Holman, who grew up in Piedmont, and Berg, raised in Moraga, weren't in touch most of their college years. They did, however get the goods on each other via Berg's sister Andra, who happened to be in the same sorority as Holman at UCLA. Berg attended UC Davis.

Then, during Thanksgiving vacation of their senior year in college, while both were back in the Bay Area, Holman and Berg ran into each other at a bar. They began to write detailed letters and speak on the phone regularly, and the next year, when they graduated college and found themselves in Washington, D.C., sparks flew.

"It was pretty instant because we had gotten to be such good friends again through writing and phone calls," Holman says. "We totally felt comfortable with each other."

Berg agreed: "We had such a great foundation of friendship," he says.

Newly attached, the couple lived in Washington for two years before moving back to the Bay Area. They now live in San Francisco's Noe Valley. She works as an account executive at a public relations firm downtown; he works as an information specialist in the department of environmental health and safety at Chiron, a biotechnology firm in Emeryville.

The couples' parents, Herb and Lori Holman and Ken and Eva Berg, couldn't be happier — both to have their kids back in the area and to help them plan their wedding, which will take place at the Holmans' synagogue, Temple Sinai in Oakland.

Nine years ago, "no matter how silly it seems, I actually said I thought [Berg] was ideal for her and I wouldn't mind her marrying him some day," Lori Holman says. "We're just thrilled."

A bonus, she adds, is the closeness that has developed between the two families. "We're crazy about his parents."

Berg popped the question after sweeping Holman away to a romantic rustic getaway under the guise of a work commitment. On a bridge amid the Mount Tamalpais redwoods, he surprised his girlfriend with an engagement ring and told her "how much I love her and how special she is to me and my life.

"I love her energy," he says. "I love her enthusiasm. I love her intelligence. She's my best friend."

Holman speaks of her husband-to-be with an equal number of superlatives. "He is really the nicest person I have ever known," she says. "He's really, really sweet, extremely outgoing and friendly, and very intelligent."

She pauses for a moment: "He's very cute, too."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.