Celebrations | A rabbi and a nanny walk into a Torah study class

Shoshana Anderson married young, had a son and then divorced. In her early 30s, she was working as a nanny and had grown accustomed to life as a single mother. “That was part of who I was,” she said. “I didn’t think I would get married again.”

Certainly she did not expect to find love at a Torah study class she took at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom four years ago. Neither, it is safe to say, did the teacher.

Rabbi Shalom Bochner (who co-taught the series with Rabbi Menachem Creditor) got Anderson’s attention right away. “I found his style of teaching really worked for me,” she said. “The way he taught was very interactive, and he was more of a facilitator than an instructor.”

Rabbi Shalom Bochner and Shoshana Anderson

After one class that included a spirited discussion of angels, Anderson approached Bochner to continue the conversation — and from there a meaningful friendship began to develop.

From the start it was “just a very comfortable, easy friendship,” said Anderson, now 35. “I assumed it would stay that way.”

For his part, Bochner, now 45, said, “We met at the beginning of a really difficult time for me. I was heading toward divorce, and at the same time, I learned that my mother had Lou Gehrig’s disease. On some level, that awfulness made the friendship that much more rich and more important.”

When Bochner’s mother died, Anderson asked if she could travel across the country with him. “I was pretty clear that I didn’t want him to be sitting shiva alone in New York, and I said, ‘Would it be OK if I came with you?’ and went a few days later. I realized that I couldn’t not go, and we had a long talk” about what it meant, said Anderson.

Then, shortly after Bochner marked his mother’s first yahrzeit, Anderson’s father died unexpectedly.

“Here I am, coming out of this difficult place, and now I find myself put into the role of providing comfort to Shoshana,” said Bochner. “That definitely, in some way, moved us even closer together. It was a very strange conjunction of different forces.”

Strange or not, these bonding episodes helped to strengthen their relationship, and after more than a year of dating, in the fall of 2012, they started thinking about marriage.

Anderson guessed Bochner might propose sometime around their favorite fall holidays — his are Sukkot and Hoshanah Rabbah; hers is Simchat Torah.

Although Bochner was indeed planning a Sukkot proposal, he wanted to wait for the right timing. It came when the couple attended an event at Urban Adamah in Berkeley. Though it was crowded, they managed to find a quiet moment in the sukkah as Bochner’s two sons and the children’s band Octo-pretzel played outside.

“The only thing I wanted was for someone to take photos,” Bochner recalled of the big moment. Fortunately, he spotted his friends Rabbi Chai Levy and her husband, Roger Studley, nearby with their son Ezra. “Could you do me a small favor and come into the sukkah for a moment?” Bochner asked. “And if something happens that you should take a picture of, I’m handing you my camera.”

Bochner, who will start teaching Judaic studies at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco in the fall and also runs Alma Retreats for Jewish community groups, was glad he and Anderson were able to find an intimate moment in the midst of a large community event.

“And then, on the way out, we got to tell everyone as we walked home,” he said.

They married at the Magnes Museum six months later, on March 10, 2013, with Rabbi Eli Cohen from Santa Cruz officiating (Bochner was Hillel director at U.C. Santa Cruz before moving to Berkeley). Theirs was the first wedding to take place at the new Magnes in downtown Berkeley.

Although the wedding was held during the day, they drew the shades and went for an “outdoor at night” atmosphere, illuminating their chuppah with Moroccan lanterns and lights from their own sukkah, so that “we could have our home at our wedding and have our wedding at our home afterward,” Bochner said.

Anderson’s 14-year-old son, Ethan, walked his mother down the aisle, and Bochner was accompanied by his younger son, Yuval, 7, while his older son, Nitzan, 11, was ring-bearer. All three boys stood supporting the chuppah poles during the ceremony. Shortly after Bochner placed the ring on Anderson’s finger, Nitzan held up a sign saying, “Hi, Bro” to new stepbrother Ethan. (Later on, the new family of five had a special dance together.)

After lunch, the party moved to Netivot Shalom, where members of the Berkeley and Santa Cruz Jewish communities were invited to celebrate.

One of the witnesses told Bochner, “Your party felt like a wedding in the shtetl, where somebody’s son is getting married and everyone goes and everyone gets to be there to celebrate.” Said the groom, “I hadn’t thought about it in that way … we wanted [the wedding] to be all-inclusive. It was really great having that party and not knowing who would be there. It was our wedding party, but people would walk in, and we’d say, ‘Wow, look who’s here.’ ”

The couple hinted on their wedding website that while their reception would not look like the one portrayed in “Fiddler on the Roof,” guests were invited to dance with wine bottles on their heads. Apparently, some tried it during the “shtick,” when guests performed silly tricks to entertain the bride and groom.


Unions features a recently married couple with an interesting story. If you want to share your tale, or want to nominate a couple married within the last year, contact [email protected].

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."