Note: This article introduces a new column that will feature a different couple’s story each month.
She thought she might not be able to overcome her fear of marriage after her parents’ divorce. He feared he wouldn’t meet someone who could understand his “old-world soul” — especially in New York City.
But two years ago, at The Jewish Week’s Grand Wine Tasting, Rebecca Kaplan and Leon Zinger met, and within a year, they were married.
“I came with friends who dragged me, and he came because he likes wine,” Rebecca, 32, a social worker for DOROT, told Blueprint. “He started telling me the history behind the wine he was drinking. He was very eloquent and charming and adorable.”
“That one glass of wine changed everything,” said Leon, 29, a software developer for About.com.
But the road from Merlot to marriage had a few twists and turns, which the happy couple made time to share with Blueprint after toasting their anniversary at this year’s event.
Two years ago, following the same event, they rode home together on the subway, and Leon suggested they get together.
Rebecca gave him her card, and he asked her to meet him for a tango dancing session — an activity she wasn’t that into, so Leon wound up dancing with a woman in her 60s.
“We tried and Rebecca wouldn’t, so I learned to dance with this older lady instead,” Leon recalled.
“I was hot and sweaty,” recalled Rebecca, adding she didn’t want Leon to notice. “But I got to see what an amazing and kind person he is.”
Because some time elapsed between their second and third dates, Rebecca wasn’t sure if he was “into” her — so she called him.
“Between the second and third dates there was a week and a half and I heard from him only once,” Rebecca recalled. “I was assuming he wasn’t that into me … so I pursued him a little harder.”
Turned out Leon, who had assumed financial responsibility for his family after his mother developed Lou Gehrig’s disease and his father stopped working to care for her, was just busy.
“I was working a lot and arranging to place my grandmother in a nursing home,” he recalled.
After their third date, Rebecca was a tad freaked out when Leon called his mother.
“I told my friend the next day, ‘This is a Mama’s boy. What should I do?’ And she was like, ‘OK. It happened. Maybe he’s not as wonderful as he seems.’”
But Leon, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, was just checking in as part of what he calls the “Russian” mindset — something he says Rebecca came to understand.
They didn’t kiss until the fourth date.
“I waited and finally it happened,” said Rebecca.
With Leon, Rebecca was able to overcome doubts and fears about marriage — a process she had begun before meeting him.
“My parents divorced after 29 years of marriage; I was in a headspace of … was I capable of getting married?” Rebecca said.
“I had done a lot of hard work, being very honest with myself, to understand what was good and bad about my parents’ relationship and what confused me.”
She added, “When I met Leon I had a sense of safety and security I never had before, so I went with it.”
Asked in what way Leon was different from the man she had pictured marrying, Rebecca said she imagined herself with someone more overtly “macho” — but soon learned that Leon, who has helped take care of his family since he was 21, is “as strong as they come.”
To the same question, Leon said, “I didn’t expect to find someone so wonderful living in the city. It has a tendency to change people. I consider myself to be an old world soul. … This has always been a question, ‘Who would be able to understand me in this way?’”
The two planned their wedding in two-and-a-half months. A priority they shared was ensuring that Leon’s mother was comfortable.
“I told Leon’s mother we could have the wedding at her house,” said Rebecca. “It wasn’t about a huge party and a big ring, though fortunately Leon does have very good taste in jewelry.”
They were married in December 2011 at The Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side, where Rebecca was working at the time. Both their families were there, including Leon’s mother.
As far as wine for the wedding, Rebecca wanted to use Recanati Petite Sirah-Zinfandel Reserve Kosher for Passover — the wine they had met over. But Leon thought Baron Herzog White Bordeaux Chateauneuf would be more practical in case any of it spilled on her dress.
Leon won the point — a decision Rebecca disagreed with at the time but now concedes was the right one.
“Marriage is all about compromise, right?” she says.
In the year and a half since, Leon’s mother has passed away. The couple has moved, and Rebecca has changed jobs. But they are thankful to have each other.
“It’s not about someone sweeping in on a horse and rescuing you,” Rebecca said. “But someone standing by your side and making life better.”