They liked the food but loved the company

Looking for love late in life? Hey, it happens. Something as simple as sitting next to a stranger for a meal can kick off a deep and lasting relationship.

Bee and Manny Cherkas met in late 2007 at a “meet and greet” luncheon for prospective residents of the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto, which was under construction at the time.

Bernice “Bunny” Rosenberg met Milton Matz six months ago in the dining room at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. Wanting to change her server, Rosenberg spoke to the dining-room manager about moving to a different table.

“Looking around, I saw a man and I liked his face, so I asked to move to that table,“ Rosenberg said. “That first day, we didn’t speak. The next day, we started talking — and we haven’t stopped.”

Manny and Bee Cherkas

Both couples say their love matches were beshert.

Marcia Naomi Berger, a marriage and family therapist in San Rafael, doesn’t doubt it. Love, she says, is not just for the young.

“Everybody who really wants to, can find love if they put their energy into it and get past the obstacles,” Berger said. “It’s a wonderful thing to find love again, to connect with someone in a physical and emotional relationship that makes you feel fully human.”

Berger is the author of “Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.” She noted that most older people who build new relationships have been married before and gone through a divorce or lost a spouse to illness. “People have to grieve that loss,” she said, “and then they have to build themselves back up again, move forward.”

Moving to Moldaw is what Bee and Manny Cherkas both had in mind when they first met. “We just happened to attend a meeting where they were taking applications,” Manny said. “When we chatted, Bee mentioned she hiked with a group on Sunday mornings, so the next Sunday, I joined the group. Bee wasn’t there.”

The following Sunday, Manny gathered with the hikers. Again, Bee did not attend. That was it for him.

“Then Bee called me to say her sister had been visiting, and to ask whether she would see me the following Sunday,” he recalled. “On that hike, we talked the whole time, and I fell in love.”

On their first date, the couple drove to San Francisco to see the Jewish Home, because of Moldaw’s connection to the facility, and the S.F. Jewish Community Center, because Manny was on the Palo Alto JCC’s board of directors. Seven months later, in July 2008, they married.

“My husband had passed away two years earlier, after a long illness, and I was open to the idea of marriage,” Bee said. “I believe it is never too late for new beginnings.”

Bernice “Bunny” Rosenberg and Milton Matz

Manny, who had been divorced for a long time, agreed. “It’s so nice when you find someone wonderful and you can look forward to spending the rest of your days together,” he said.

Bee, 78, is a retired dental hygienist originally from New York. Manny, 84, is a retired electrical engineer. They are members of Congregation Kol Emeth and between them, have four grown daughters and 10 grandchildren.

They enjoy traveling, still go hiking together, and are physically active. Bee works out at the gym and Manny plays tennis. Also, Bee is active in Hadassah and Manny is a docent at the Filoli gardens in Woodside.

Both said they enjoy the many social activities at Moldaw. “Here, you’re with friends all the time.” Bee said.

Rosenberg, 91, and Matz, 89, started out as friends and quickly became almost constant companions. Early on, they discovered they have a great deal in common. Both have endured the deaths of two spouses and two close companions. Both are from New York City. They enjoy movies, bingo and sharing meals. And they share a sense of humor and enjoy spirited conversations on a wide range of topics.

“Also, we are both very open-minded about sex,” Rosenberg said. “We have talked often about how difficult it is for a lot of people to accept older people enjoying romance and sexual involvement, and being caring and loving companions.”

Matz, a retired Reform rabbi who worked 32 years as a clinical psychologist, is also a playwright, currently working on a play about love and sex among older adults.

Rosenberg studied retailing and began working at age 46 in an employment agency in New York City. At 60, she opened her own agency and “did very well.” She retired at 72.

Between them, Rosenberg and Matz have three grown children and five grandchildren. Their families get along well, Rosenberg said.

Still, they have no plans to marry. “We feel married emotionally and Jewishly,” Rosenberg said. “There are different ways to do this, and we are very comfortable the way things are.”

Matz, who attends Shabbat services regularly at the Reutlinger, described Rosenberg as “an unusual lady living an unusual life, who enriches the community in which she lives.”

Asked what he likes best about her, Matz laughed and said, “That she likes me.”

Berger, a licensed clinical social worker, offered some tips for older couples that plan to spend the rest of their lives together. She identified three topics that must be addressed early in the relationship: money, sex and unfinished business.

Challenges in all three areas can be resolved, Berger said, but they must be discussed.

“Don’t give up because an issue arises — there is always an issue,” she said. “Just take the attitude that both of you will do whatever it takes to succeed.”

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.