They had been friends for about six years. Lauren Karmely thought she would marry someone like Michel – his name is pronounced the French way. Then she began thinking of marrying him.
Lauren had invited Michel to a Sukkot party, along with other guys, family and lots of girlfriends. They dropped off a friend and were left alone in the car. He suggested a cup of tea at Dunkin Donuts. “It wasn’t a date,” says Lauren. “It was just tea among friends.”
Three months later, Michel’s parents went away for a week. He had lots of friends over. “It was like a revolving door,” says Michel. Lauren was there every night.
The next week, they both felt withdrawal symptoms. They were breaking out of the “just friends” zone and they missed each other. Lauren notes: “I could always be myself with Michel. And now I was comfortable to share my true feelings. We started confiding in each other and even asked each other for advice.” Their relationship was transitioning.
Lauren Karmely and Michel Nematnejad are Mashadi Jews, who trace their roots to the city of Mashad, Iran. Lauren grew up in an epicenter of the community, in Great Neck, New York. Michel moved there from London when he was 19.
“When I was in my early 20s, my family mentioned Michel’s name as a possible match,” says Lauren. His family made the same suggestion. She and Michel were known to be the best of friends. As for romance, “it wouldn’t have worked then,” says Lauren. He adds: “We both needed to mature a bit.” They have a way of supporting or finishing each other’s sentences.
By 2012, Michel, an alum of New York University, was the assistant vice president at a local bank. At age 30, he was more than ready to settle down. Lauren, then 25, was working towards a Master’s in Special Ed.
They could no longer ignore their feelings. Michel says he will never forget the day. It was a Shabbat. January 19, 2013. They spent the day apart, but each was thinking of the other. “I couldn’t get her out of my head,” says Michel. Lauren felt the same way and she texted him right after sundown. They agreed to meet at 2 A.M. Both sensed a significant moment.
“That’s when our relationship moved to another level,” says Michel. They had their first date the next evening. They rarely went to movies. “We prefer talking to each other,” says Lauren. “After all, we’re still best friends.”
Dating a friend is taking a risk. But Michel and Lauren started dating for the purpose of marriage. Within five months of their first date, Michel proposed to Lauren at the Queens Botanical Garden.
A report this year noted there are 630 singles in the Mashadi community among women age 21 to 35 and men age 25 to 40. Now there will be two singles less.
Lauren and Michel are to be married on November 14. Mazal tov!
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.