For Zach Wasserman and Anna Franzini, 2020 was an opportunity to put their relationship into perspective.
“A pandemic will definitely help you make a decision one way or the other, whether you want to be together for the rest of your life,” Wasserman said.
The couple got engaged on July 11, as they were getting ready to leave New York City to be closer to family in Philadelphia. They had already designed a ring together, so he planned a ruse to maintain the element of surprise when he finally popped the question.
Wasserman convinced Franzini to accompany him on a hike in the Hudson Valley with some of their friends, who pretended to back out at the last minute so they could go alone. They hiked to the top of a mountain, and when Franzini asked Wasserman to get the snacks out of his backpack, he pulled out the ring.
In a year of seemingly endless cancellations, they’re one of many Jewish couples who have decided to commit to each other despite the uncertainties of a global pandemic.
Rebekah Thomas said yes to Devin Schecter on Dec. 22.
It had been a horrible year for everybody. I only know a few examples of people who have thrived. But there was something about the year and having it all be so crappy from the end of March that I wanted to kind of go out with a bang, end the year on a good note,” Schecter said.
He took Thomas to Manayunk, where they went for their first date. He told her it was just dinner, but his friends and family members were there to put out flowers and take pictures. Thomas had hoped he would propose soon, and she got the confirmation she was waiting for before they left.
“This silly, silly guy here left his text message conversation open with his buddy from college, his old roommate, saying that he was going to ask my dad for permission to marry me,” she said.
Adam Stepansky proposed to Pamela Mahler on June 13 during a day trip to New Hope. Mahler sensed something was afoot when Stepansky, who is not particularly outdoorsy, suggested they take a hike down a path by the river, where he recited a speech about their love and got down on one knee.
The couple had been dating long distance before February 2020, when Mahler moved from New York City to join Stepansky in Wayne. Six weeks after they moved in together, pandemic shutdowns began.
Stepansky knew there was no one else he would rather be stuck in quarantine with.
“I found the pandemic oddly comforting,” he said. “I kind of was starting to feel in my heart, but this helped make it really clear to me that Pam was the right person for me to spend my life with.”
Thomas, Schecter, Wasserman and Franzini agreed that the pandemic made them realize they had made the right choice.
Thomas said that even though there were points when she and Schecter wanted to strangle each other in the early days of the crisis, they ultimately grew closer.
“We’re still getting along and we just love each other’s company, and thankfully it did not tear us apart,” she said.
Franzini said the new normal has highlighted the importance of partners being a support system for each other and the value of giving each other space when they need it. Being able to make each other laugh has helped them through the difficulties of the past year.
“We continue to have fun with each other, even through the challenges of what’s going on in the outside world,” she said.
Even in the midst of overwhelming uncertainty, conversations about the future, including planning a Jewish life, are still taking place. Thomas and Schecter have decided to have a Jewish wedding, and they want their future children to attend synagogue and Hebrew school. They’re still thinking about whether they want to pursue Jewish day school.
When Mahler first moved to the area, she and Stepansky were excited to shop around for a synagogue that felt like a good fit. That didn’t pan out due to social distancing limiting services, but they explored how to create a Jewish life in other ways. Mahler made a full Rosh Hashanah dinner for the first time in the fall and started learning how to bake challah.
Stepansky said being with Mahler refreshed his connection to Judaism.
“She prioritizes some of the customs and rituals in a way that makes it feel very approachable and inviting and loving, and the idea of sharing my Judaism with a partner is really appealing to me,” he said.
They originally scheduled their wedding for August 2021, but decided to push it back until May 2022.
“You know, we’re going to be together forever. What’s another however many months to have the celebration be what we want it to be?” Mahler said.
The other couples are also eyeing a wedding date in May 2022.
Wasserman and Franzini hope the pandemic will be over by then so they can have a dance party with their loved ones sans social distancing.
Schecter still feels hesitant about the date because he can’t be sure whether safety restrictions will remain, but wanted to commit to a time frame anyway.
“We’ve heard a lot of stories about people who are going through these events, you know, trying to plan a wedding during this pandemic, and it seems like it’s all turning into an issue,” he said. “But somebody told me, ‘You know what, we’re not getting any younger here.’ So, at a certain point, we have to be OK with some of these restrictions.”