Ellen Spiro (left) and Rabbi Sydney Mintz at their wedding in San Francisco on July 26. (Marc Estoque)
Ellen Spiro (left) and Rabbi Sydney Mintz at their wedding in San Francisco on July 26. (Marc Estoque)

Kumquats, Trump, a van and a Vespa: building blocks for everlasting love

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The election of Donald Trump was responsible for at least one good thing, Rabbi Sydney Mintz and Ellen Spiro agree: It brought them together.

Both women experienced the election like a death in the family. Feeling bereft, they both showed up at a resistance meeting organized by filmmaker Tiffany Shlain in December 2016. Yes, they noticed each other, but Mintz assumed Spiro was partnered with the woman she had arrived with.

Mintz, 53, has spent most of her rabbinate serving Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. The mother of two adult sons, she divorced in 2006 and wasn’t sure another life partner was in the cards for her.

Spiro, 50, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and a professor of radio, TV, film and media, for many years at the University of Texas and currently as a visiting professor at UC Berkeley. The mother of a young son, she had realized, in her post-election soul-searching, that she felt ready to break her pattern of dating people she knew were wrong for her.

Flash-forward two months: Spiro was on her way to Monterey Market in Berkeley with the woman who had accompanied her to the Shlain gathering, Ahri Golden, who was not her partner but rather her neighbor and friend — and a happily married one, at that. Spiro told Golden she was on a mission to find herself such a partner.

At about the same time, Mintz was at Monterey Market on her own mission: to find kumquats.

In the parking lot, a voice called out to Mintz: “Are you the lesbian rabbi from Tiffany Shlain’s? Are you single?”

It was Golden’s voice.

“Yes, and yes,” Mintz replied. Then she was asked to hop into Spiro’s van. Mintz remembered the two women, and did as she was told. In retelling the story to J., she jokingly said her thoughts at the time were, “Wow, is this going to be a polyamorous lesbian abduction? That’s exciting.”

It certainly wasn’t that — and not only because Golden has a husband. But Mintz did leave the van with Spiro’s phone number.

Just from that brief interaction, Spiro said she knew Mintz was the one.

“I couldn’t even shift the van into park, she had me laughing so hard,” Spiro said. “And I thought she was adorable.”

Mintz waited the “requisite 24 hours” before calling, which was tortuous for Spiro.

“I went through Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grieving,” Spiro said. “I was about to let go of my relationship with Sydney before it began.”

And then the phone rang.

Their first date consisted of browsing in a bookstore, a walk with Mintz’s dog and dinner. It lasted more than six hours, and neither woman saw any red flags.

But Mintz falls in love easily, she said, so she knew that this time she needed to take things slowly.

The most important thing we’re all doing is raising boys into men in this world of Trump and #MeToo.

“One of my sons was leaving for college and the other had already graduated college,” she said. “Ellen was the mother of a 7-year-old son. I wanted to slow it down for him, and for me.”

Early on, Mintz saw that Spiro was an incredible mother, a quality as important to her as the centrality of Judaism in her life.

Likewise, “Meeting Sydney’s sons told me all I needed to know about Sydney and Deborah [Newbrun, Sydney’s ex-wife] as mothers,” Spiro said. “In spite of all the things on their resumes, the most important thing we’re all doing is raising boys into men in this world of Trump and #MeToo. I look at her boys as these incredible role models for my son, and to Sydney and Deborah as role models for being great moms.”

They jokingly proposed to each other throughout 2018, and even kidded about getting secretly married in Florence, Italy, when Mintz was there to officiate a wedding. Spiro had accompanied her, and though they didn’t tie the knot, they did take a memorable photo together on a red Vespa.

In April of this year, Mintz’s father died suddenly. That made them realize they shouldn’t wait any longer.

So they put the Vespa photo on a postcard and used it as their wedding invitation, and the clothes they were wearing in that photo became their wedding attire.

They married on July 26 in San Francisco with Rabbi Jack Spiro (Ellen’s father) co-officiating with Mintz’s Emanu-El colleagues Cantor Marsha Attie and Rabbi Jason Rodich. Also participating were numerous rabbis — from rabbinical school to professional colleagues — including Rabbi Stephen Pearce, who had hired Mintz at Emanu-El in 1997.

Annie Sprinkle, the famous feminist sexologist (and also a Jew), served as their wedding coordinator, and rather than flower girls, the “flower elders” were Spiro’s mother and Mintz’s mother and stepmother (escorted down the aisle by their grandsons).

Since they were going out for a celebratory family-only dinner afterward, the guests at the service hoisted them in chairs and danced the hora around them in the sanctuary after Mintz, wearing heels for “the first time since my bat mitzvah,” stomped on the glass. “I always tell brides not to wear heels if they intend to break the glass, but I forgot to tell myself,” she cracked. “And it’s true. It’s not a good idea to try to break a glass wearing high heels.”

With a rabbi as her father, Spiro never expected to be a rabbi’s wife — a rebbetzin. In fact, she said she still looks around for her mother when anyone calls her that.

Mintz said their wedding was “a great tikkun [healing]” for the Trump era, while Spiro concluded, “Our wedding was about spreading the love. The answer to that election was more love.”

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."