Celebrations | Eye-catching outfit, shared values bring couple together

Chalk it up to the rainbow-plaid shirt and black bow tie. That’s what first caught Hannah Ellenson’s eye.

New to San Francisco in June 2012, Ellenson signed up for the online dating site OKCupid. A photo of Becca Israel in said shirt and tie caught her attention. They exchanged a few messages and decided to meet.

At around the same time and before their first date, Ellenson applied for Bend the Arc’s Jeremiah Fellowship, a social justice program for Jewish young adults, and was seeking more information about the fellowship. On Bend the Arc’s website, again she noticed the same photo of Israel in the rainbow-plaid shirt and black bow tie. Turns out, Israel was a participant in the then-current cohort of Jeremiah Fellows.

“I hadn’t dated anyone who was Jewish since high school, and it was always a sticking point with my parents,” said Ellenson, the daughter of two rabbis. (David Ellenson is the recently retired chancellor of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Jackie Ellenson is executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.)

“In addition to the Jewish thing,” Ellenson said, “I knew she was into social justice and had similar values, so I was super-nervous before meeting her.”

Hannah Ellenson (left) and Becca Israel photo/diane rothery

Ellenson even had her younger sister Skype with her the morning of the date, for a wardrobe consultation.

“I felt this additional pressure, because I already knew we had a lot in common,” Ellenson said. “It was the first time I felt that way before going on a date with someone.”

Israel had no such anxieties. While she hadn’t had a relationship with a Jewish woman, either, she said, “My parents always vocalized that’s what they wanted, and I guessed she might be Jewish, but I wasn’t thinking much of it.”

Their first date, at Mission Cheese, lasted for hours. Given Ellenson had been in the Bay Area for just two months and knew very few people, it was surprising when a mutual friend of both women walked by.

“She saw us sitting together and had no idea we were on a date,” Israel said. “She plops herself down and says to Hannah, ‘How do you know Becca?’ ”

Both felt awkward, so when Ellenson went to the restroom, Israel politely asked the friend to leave, explaining they were on a date.

As Ellenson began meeting Israel’s friends, she realized that many of them were the same people she had met since moving to the area.

Ellenson, 28, is the associate director for leadership development for the New Israel Fund. Israel, 29, is community curator in San Francisco for Nextspace Coworking and Innovation.

Their second date happened to fall on Pride Weekend, and they attended Congregation Sha’ar Zahav together.

By the time Rosh Hashanah rolled around a few months later, they decided to spend it together. When Israel voiced her disappointment that she’d be missing out on her mother’s kugel, Ellenson made her kugel.

When Ellenson took a work trip to the Jewish state, Israel realized she missed her in a way that felt completely new to her. “We both inspire each other to be consistently better people in this world,” she said, adding that they share a similar sense of humor.

“From the beginning, there was a sense of feeling like family when I was with her,” added Ellenson, who has four siblings — whom Israel met and impressed with flying colors.

“She thinks I’m better than I think I am myself, and that’s really inspiring.”

The couple moved in together in Oakland a year later, but whenever the topic of marriage came up, they wouldn’t reach any definitive conclusions. Israel strongly felt that she didn’t want to be part of an institution that wasn’t accessible to everyone.

But then the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned.

They went to the Castro that night to join the throng of celebrants, and it dawned on them that marriage was no longer abstract.

With Ellenson’s father’s retirement dinner in Los Angeles looming, she wanted to introduce Israel as her fiancée to everyone present. Israel knew this, but wanted to have her moment. She called Ellenson’s parents first (“I’m not that traditional,” but wanted “to tell them that I was going to do it”). She proposed at a favorite spot in Point Reyes.

They were married Oct. 26 at Barndiva in Healdsburg. Rabbi Noa Kushner of the Kitchen, where they are members, officiated. (Ellenson wanted her parents to be there just as mom and dad, not officiants.)

As Ellenson and Israel, flanked by their parents, entered a room for the ketubah-signing before the ceremony, all of their guests were singing a niggun.

And, in addition to Israel, about 40 guests wore bow ties in her honor.

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."