Morning services, then a proposal in God’s country

Fourteen years ago, when then–Camp Tawonga director Deborah Newbrun created Keshet LGBTQ Family Camp for families like hers, she had no idea that it would be responsible for introducing her to her new beshert.

“When I started [it], I thought it was so that my kids could see themselves reflected back in other gay-headed Jewish families,” said Newbrun, who was happily married at the time.

“Turns out, I started [the weekend] so I could meet Sue, or at least that is one of the stories I can now tell.”

Sue Reinhold (left) and Deborah Newbrun photo/koby einstein

Newbrun is referring to Sue Reinhold, whom she met at a Keshet weekend in 2003. Reinhold was at the camp with her partner and two daughters, Charlotte and Serena. Newbrun was there with her partner and sons, Eli and Gabe.

And then, in 2006, the unthinkable happened: Both Reinhold and Newbrun saw their long-term relationships fall apart, in the same week.

After the breakups, a mutual friend suggested they might be a good match, but at the time both were still deeply hurting and neither was ready to contemplate a date. So they exchanged messages, acknowledging the difficulty they were both going through.

Then came a chance meeting in 2007 at Israel in the Gardens in San Francisco, when Reinhold saw Newbrun — but didn’t recognize her as someone she knew — standing near a fountain in Yerba Buena Gardens. In the Book of Genesis, Rebecca is so overcome with feelings at seeing her future husband, Isaac, that she falls off her camel at the very sight of him. Reinhold likes to say that when she saw Newbrun she, too, fell off her camel. Then she realized she knew Newbrun from Keshet and went over to her, said hello and gave her a hug.

Even then, neither was ready for a proper date. Reinhold suggested she come over and hang out with Newbrun’s family one evening, and a friendship began that slowly deepened into romance and love.

On Erev Yom Kippur in 2010, while eating dinner before services, the two had a serious talk. After a moving service the next morning, they stopped at the Marin Headlands, where Reinhold wrapped Newbrun in her tallit and proposed.

“I said ‘yes,’ but I definitely wondered if it was an appropriate day to propose,” Newbrun recalled. Unsure herself, Reinhold did the research later and confirmed that “Yes, it is actually a custom to propose on Yom Kippur. It’s in the rabbinic writings that it’s a time for couples to become betrothed,” Reinhold said. “The fact that you stand naked before God resonated with me.”

Newbrun, 54, is the Bay Area director of Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental organization in the U.S. Reinhold, 48, is a founding partner of North Berkeley Investment Partners, serves on the board of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay and is treasurer of The Kitchen, a Jewish community in San Francisco.

With four teenagers and their busy lives, custody schedules and summer camp, the couple realized they had just two weekends this past summer when a wedding could happen. They set the date for Aug. 11, not knowing that by the time their marriage occurred it would be legal in California.

The wedding was held in the backyard of Newbrun’s parents’ home in Sebastopol. The Kitchen’s Rabbi Noa Kushner officiated. Kushner gave them the option of “drashing” to each other — something she learned from her father, San Francisco Rabbi Lawrence Kushner — in which both people find a bit of Torah to explain what they love about the other.

Newbrun came up with a mishnaic teaching from Pirke Avot, which discusses 10 things that were created on the eve of the first Shabbat at twilight, and referred to Reinhold as one of the 10.

Reinhold quoted from Exodus 17, using a tent that houses the Ark of the Covenant as a metaphor for their relationship.

The couple wrote the text for their ketubah — making it specific for a second marriage and inspired by friends who did the same — in which they pledged to love not only each other, but each other’s children.

Their children walked them down the aisle.

Marsha Attie sang the seven blessings, replacing the line of the seventh that usually celebrates the groom and bride, kol chatan v’kol kallah, with kol kallah v’kol kallah, bride and bride.

Another custom touch: The cake was topped by a figurine of two women, one in a suit and one in a dress. Newbrun took grey nail polish and a silver marker to the figurines’ hair, to make them resemble the bride and bride.

“For my generation, as adults, we’ve watched our LGBT tribe be severely limited in marriage, and that’s changed slowly with time,” said Reinhold. “But as we’ve come into this flowering of marriage equality, this kind of iconography is fun, so we decided ‘let’s do that.’ ”

Reinhold admitted that after her CPA warned her that given their two households, filing a joint tax return for the first time would be more expensive, both she and Newbrun had considered not getting married. But they discarded that thought after a few hours.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to file joint tax returns, since my first marriage wasn’t legal,” reflected Newbrun with a laugh. “It’s worth it to get married just for that.”

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."