Janice Brenner and Stephen Farber at their wedding on Jan. 20, 2019
Janice Brenner and Stephen Farber at their wedding on Jan. 20, 2019

While caring for others, they learned to care for each other

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Janice Brenner’s mother was nearing the end of her life when she made one thing clear to her caretaker daughter: She should return to the Bay Area and focus on finding a mate. She was in her late 40s and had been single for over 10 years.

Brenner took her mother’s dying wish seriously. In 2007, she came back to San Francisco from Israel and signed up for JDate. The self-described “extreme extrovert” saw online dating as a new frontier.

“I looked at it as an adventure,” she said. But she didn’t want it to be open-ended. “I was giving myself five years.”

Brenner, originally from Johannesburg, was told that her South African accent would work in her favor on the dating front. But that promise didn’t seem to hold up. Over the next couple of years, she took her mission so seriously that she went out on dates with 89 men. The accent didn’t seem to help or hinder her — at least, until her future husband (aka No. 90) came along in 2009.

Before Stephen Farber went online, “I had never dated anyone but my late wife, so to go on a date and have someone speaking in a different accent was intriguing,” he said.

Farber, 69, is a retired CPA originally from New Jersey. He had a long, happy marriage and two sons. His wife passed away of breast cancer in 2008.

Brenner, 57, came to San Francisco from South Africa in 1986 with her then-husband, whom she divorced in 1997. From 1986 to 2001, Brenner worked as an assistant to the consul general of Israel at the San Francisco consulate.

Farber noticed Brenner’s profile on JDate, but he was new to the online dating world and held back on writing to her. Brenner by then was used to making the first contact, and she reached out. She was charmed by how Farber spoke so lovingly about his late wife, and by how he felt compelled to state that the boat that served as the backdrop in his profile photo wasn’t actually his.

Their first date was on Oct. 3, 2009. They met for dinner and then attended the reading of a play in development by foolsFURY Theater, for which Brenner serves on the board.

“My theater experience was Broadway musicals,” said Farber. “I was clueless. They had a talkback afterward, and I couldn’t ask any questions because I had no idea what I saw.”

They went for coffee after the reading and Brenner recalls thinking that “for an older bloke, he’s got a lot of energy.”

She had been taking notes to keep track of all of her dates so as not to confuse them. About Farber, she wrote: “He’s a very lovely man. I’d like to get to know him better.”

Janice Brenner and Stephen Farber at the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel, in 2017
Janice Brenner and Stephen Farber at the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel, in 2017

That would eventually happen, but not in the way she could have envisioned.

By coincidence, each had to deal with a family emergency in the weeks before and after their date. Farber’s son, who served in the Marines, had been injured in an explosion in Afghanistan, nearly losing a leg. He was in a naval hospital in San Diego, and Farber was commuting regularly to see him. Brenner’s brother-in-law suffered a traumatic brain injury from a bike accident and was in a coma for several months, and Brenner was consumed with helping her sister.

Brenner had been staying at her sister’s place in Cupertino after the accident. But when her brother-in-law finally came home from the hospital, space became an issue. Farber, who also lived in Cupertino, proposed that Brenner move into his house so she could still be nearby to help.

Though she normally has trouble deciding which shoes to wear or which salad dressing to order, Brenner said she didn’t think twice. She never left.

Both say that watching how the other handled their respective family tragedies brought them closer together.

“Janice shows such kindness and compassion for others,” said Farber. “It was just easy and has been, right from the start.”

“Steve is a happy person and we have such complimentary skills,” said Brenner.

They got engaged in 2011, but life events got in the way of wedding planning. Between Farber’s son’s recovery and his mother’s declining health and eventual death (Brenner stepped in to be her caregiver), they were content to focus their energies on others for the time being.

Finally, “my mother had passed, Janice’s brother-in-law had come a long way, and my son was doing much better, and we were able to go ahead,” said Farber.

They planned their wedding on short notice and were married Jan. 20, 2019, at Congregation Sinai in San Jose, with Rabbi Laurie Matzkin officiating and 60 guests present to share the day.

“When you find happiness later in life, everyone is thrilled for you,” said Brenner. “People changed their trips and put off things just so they could be there.”

Unions features a recently married couple with an interesting story. To share your tale or 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."