Celebrations | Couple doesnt let distance or time get in the way of romance

Toby Frankenstein doesn’t believe in love at first sight. But when he noticed a stunning young woman having coffee with his colleague in a midtown New York cafe, he just had to stop by.

Though hesitant to interrupt “girl time,” Frankenstein felt compelled to walk over and introduce himself, but kept it brief. That was in December 2009 and Frankenstein, 29, was working as a speechwriter for Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Inbal Shmueli, 31, a flight attendant for El Al, was not even supposed to be in the States that day. She’d been scheduled to fly to Toronto, but got called to the New York flight at the last minute.

Inbal Shmueli and Toby Frankenstein silvana di franco photography

When Frankenstein and his Israeli colleague returned to their office, he asked for her friend’s email address, saying he wanted to meet her again. His co-worker told him that her friend was great, so yes, she’d act as a go-between. But in typical Israeli fashion, she didn’t mince words: Using salty language not appropriate for this newspaper, she warned him that he’d better not mess things up.

The two begain emailing and Shmueli agreed to meet Frankenstein for a drink on her next visit. But given that they came from two totally different worlds — he was born and raised in San Francisco; she’s a kibbutznik with Moroccan and Tunisian family roots on her mother’s side and Iraqi Kurdish roots on her father’s side — and they had nothing in common, not to mention that her English wasn’t great and neither was his Hebrew, she told her friend that it wasn’t going anywhere.

One can almost hear the Greek chorus saying: Famous last words.

Shmueli returned to New York two weeks later. On their date, one glass of wine turned into two, which turned into dinner, until seven hours had gone by. By the end of the evening, Frankenstein wondered whether he’d ever see her again. They continued corresponding and she returned six weeks later. By that time, in February 2010, they were a couple.

While Frankenstein always had a strong connection to Israel, he hadn’t really considered making aliyah. But with a girlfriend in Israel, he had more of a reason. He moved to Tel Aviv for about a year, working for the Israeli government, while she continued to fly with El Al.

From there, they planned their next steps: He would attend a one-year MBA program in Fontainebleu, France, then go back to work as soon as he got his degree. They would travel in Asia before going to France.

In Israel, the couple would usually have Shabbat dinner with Shmueli’s parents on Kibbutz Sde Yoav. Before they left for their Asia trip, however, while she was abroad for work, he asked her parents if he could come for dinner alone one night. Asking parents for their blessing or for their daughter’s hand in marriage isn’t typically done in Israel; though surprised, they agreed to keep the secret.

He proposed in Nepal, near the end of a particularly difficult trek; they were exhausted, freezing and hadn’t showered for 10 days. The timing was carefully thought out by Frankenstein, who liked the idea of turning an absolute low point of their trip into a highlight. Awaiting them when they finished their trek was a one-night stay in a luxury hotel in Kathmandu, which they fully enjoyed before returning to a backpacker’s budget for the rest of their journey.

Afterward, they returned to Israel and then to San Francisco to celebrate before heading to France, where Frankenstein earned his MBA and Shmueli took courses at the Open University, an Israeli program that can be accessed from anywhere with an Israeli consulate or embassy.

The couple recently moved to San Francisco. Their wedding took place Oct. 4 at the home of his parents, George and Diane Frankenstein, in the Inner Sunset. Only immediate family and a few childhood friends of Frankenstein’s were present. Since the wedding took place during Sukkot, the couple’s families built the groom’s childhood sukkah under which the two would be married. (Within the sukkah, they used a chuppah made by their mothers, with family heirlooms sewn in.)

Rabbi Micah Hyman of Congregation Beth Sholom (who remembered Frankenstein as a very homesick camper at Camp Ramah) married them.

After the ceremony, the celebrants had dinner at Perbacco in the Financial District. They chose the restaurant not only for its excellent food, but because it has a private room overlooking the kitchen. Both bride and groom are passionate foodies — he cooks, she bakes — and their kitchen is a favorite place to spend time together.

Frankenstein recently started working at Google as an executive communications manager. Shmueli, who just got her green card, continues to take classes at the Open University.

While one could say the couple had an extended pre-wedding honeymoon — with their travels in Thailand, Nepal, Burma, Laos and India, as well their year in France —  they hope to at least go for a long weekend to New York soon.

And while they’re in San Francisco for the time being, where they’ll end up is anyone’s guess.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."