Two long and winding roads lead to one golden pairing

In the summer of 2014, just as she was turning the corner into her 70s, SerachBracha Richards got what turned out to be a very good piece of advice from her friend, Jody Feld.

“I think you should give Paul Albert a look,” Feld told Richards, referring to a non-Orthodox member of Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley.

Richards had gotten married in her 20s and then divorced. She had raised two daughters as a single mom, and had been single for more than four decades. “I was skittish about relationships,” the Berkeley resident admitted.

Thus, she was quick to dismiss her friend’s suggestion, telling her, “You’re crazy. How would that work? I’m Orthodox and he’s not.”

But Feld was persistent. And she attacked it from both sides, as well. One day while visiting Albert, Feld suggested he consider Richards. His response was similar. “No way. She’s Orthodox. It can’t happen,” he said.

But it could. And it did. Albert and Richards married on Feb. 21.

Richards was finally able to get over her skittishness about relationships, in part because Albert, 68, had come so highly recommended — not only by Feld, but by others, too.

They both say their differing religious practices have not been an issue, as each has made accommodations for the other. For example, Albert would drive to Berkeley to walk to shul with her on Shabbat. (He has since moved into her Berkeley apartment and lives a mostly Orthodox life, though he does sometimes go to the office on Shabbat, especially during tax season since he’s still active as a CPA.)

SerachBracha Richards and Paul Albert invited the entire Congregation Beth El community to their wedding. photo/rudi halbright/halbright photography

“Paul is kind, generous and has a sense of humor,” Richards said. “And he’s spiritual. He may not be Orthodox in the way I was expecting my partner to be, but he’s very committed in his way.”

The two became engaged in November, just as Richards was about to go to Israel to attend two weddings.

“I made the decision that SerachBracha should be going to Israel as a kallah [bride],” Albert said.

So before walking to shul on a Friday evening last November, Albert turned to Richards and said, “I’m going to ask you to marry me.”

“When?” she replied.

“Now,” he said. “I’m asking.”

She went to Israel engaged.

For their wedding three months later, the entire Beth Israel community was invited, and numerous congregants participated in various ways. For example, at a special women’s study session, participants offered drashes (interpretations) on that week’s Torah portion, relating it to marriage and offering blessings to the bride.

Albert is an Oakland native who was living in Alameda when he and Richards started dating. They already knew each other and often talked about shul business (in person, on the phone and via emails) as both were involved behind the scenes at Beth Israel.

After Feld intervened, things heated up.

Last summer, Richards invited Albert on a retreat, which would require camping in a tent. Because he doesn’t camp, Albert declined, but he said he wanted to hear all the details after she got back.

So they met for lunch in Alameda, which turned into a long walk. Both introverts by nature, they began saving each other a seat at shul events and studying the Torah portion of the week together on Skype.

To get to that point, it was a long and winding road for both of them.

Richards, who was raised as a Congregational Christian in North Dakota, converted to Judaism in 1993, marking the culmination of a lengthy spiritual journey.

“I kept struggling with the inconsistencies I found, as I explored other traditions,” she said. During her investigation into Judaism, a teacher told her, “If you’re serious about looking into Judaism, find yourself an Orthodox synagogue within walking distance, start going and get yourself invited, because Judaism is caught, not taught.”

Albert, meanwhile, wasn’t raised Orthodox, but in 1990, he and his then-wife joined Beth Israel “because I wanted to be able to grow Jewishly.” He got divorced, and then married and divorced again. But he stayed active at Beth Israel, coming on the board as treasurer in 2012.

Meeting and marrying Richards opens a new chapter in his life.

“I like really bright people,” Albert said. “I like people that like doing things, and who are willing to do things differently. I love the fact that she’s Orthodox, and she’ll bring me up. I also love people that have a sense of humor, which she does. I’m the straight man, so I need someone to laugh at my stuff.”

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."