“I had to make sure that she was converting for herself, and not for me,” says John Newmark. Jen says: “I fell in love with both the man and his faith.”
John, a St. Louis grant writer by day, spends much of his free time on penning science fiction and poetry. He performs at poetry slams under the stage name Gavroche. For the constructive criticism and the friendship, he has belonged for more than a decade to WUTA (Writers Under the Arch).
Jen Wallace, an animal caretaker at Washington University, was becoming interested in poetry, when she saw a newspaper ad about WUTA and decided to attend. “Until today, it isn’t clear how the ad came to be placed in the newspaper,” says John. “But I’m glad it was there,” says Jen. Was it meant to be? Jen, who was brought up in the Lutheran Church and studied Buddhism, says: “It was definitely bashert (predestined).”
Meetings of WUTA are very relaxed with the group adjourning to Steak 'n Shake. John noticed Jen, but there were no sparks. “We were both introverted geeks,” says Jen, who was 33 when they met. John was then 41.
Jen, who writes under the name Rimona, took notice when John made a point about Queen Vashti in the Book of Esther Purim story which impressed her. “I looked at him with new eyes,” she recalls.
They began sitting next to each other at Steak 'n Shake. “Then I began stalking him with messages on Facebook and Twitter,” says Jen. The first WUTA meeting for them had been in January 2010. In May, she asked him to a movie. He answered with a resounding “yes.”
“But I wasn’t sure he knew it was a date,” says Jen, “so I asked him out again.” This time there was no doubt about what was happening. For John, it presented a concern. “I always wanted to marry a Jewish girl,” he says.
“At the time, I wasn’t practicing any religion,” says Jen. “I defined myself as spiritual.” After meeting John, she bought the book “Judaism for Dummies.” As she learned, she found Judaism spoke to her “more than any other religion.”
In January, 2011, they moved in together and were confronted with their first crisis – what to do with their cats who didn’t get along. The couple worked it out.
They started classes at their Reform synagogue, and by the time of her conversion, Jen was a knowledgeable and committed Jew by choice.
How did their families take it? “My mom supported me 100 percent,” says Jen, “and John’s parents welcomed me as a daughter.” John’s friends were a bit more cautious. “They’re very protective of John,” she says. “It took a little more time to win them over.”
“We go together like rama llama mama kadinsky daslinksy dog,” wrote John in December 2011, parodying the lyrics from the musical “Grease.” He's a poet all right. John proposed on March 22, 2011, one year after their first date.
Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, one of the two rabbis officiating at their wedding, comments how the bride and groom are “true to themselves.” Though the ceremony was somewhat formal, Jen was still herself with a vintage wedding gown, blue toe nail polish, and white Birkenstock sandals. To note her Scottish background, she wore a tartan of the Wallace clan.
When John put a tallis over Jen’s shoulders, he officially welcomed her to the Newmark family and to the people of Israel.
John and Jen were married on April 22, 2012. Mazal tov!