“If Dan doesn’t text me by 5 PM, then I’ll text him,” decided Claudia. He didn’t; so she did. Dan explains: “In 2011 I was 21 and didn’t think I was ready to date.”
Dan Hopkins, a native of London, came to Israel a year earlier for a gap year before starting university at the suggestion of his rabbi. He went for three months but stayed for almost three years. He lived in the Old City of Jerusalem while studying at Aish Hatorah and working as a counselor at the Heritage House, which provides lodging and programming for young Jewish travelers and lone soldiers.
Claudia Namdar, from Great Neck, New York, is two years younger than Dan. Before starting college, she spent a year at Bar Ilan University and frequently stayed at the Heritage House when visiting Jerusalem.
Claudia returned to Israel during Chanukah of 2011 to attend her cousin’s wedding. Friends insisted that she stay with them for her first Shabbat, and they all went to the Heritage House, where the rabbi invited them and some lone soldiers for seuda shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).
“That’s where I saw Dan for the first time,” says Claudia. “He was the cutest guy I had ever seen. I couldn’t stop staring at him. I noticed how he treated everyone around him with kindness and respect. I wanted to meet him, but didn’t know what to do.” Her friends advised her: Just go up and start a conversation.
She followed their advice. When she told Dan that her family had lived in London for a few years, they realized that they both had attended the Sinai Jewish Primary School. They now had a connection.
The lone soldiers from the seuda shlishit also played a role in this match. That evening, they invited Dan and the girls to a Chanukah party. Claudia didn’t want to go because she had come straight from the airport to the Heritage House and hadn’t showered since leaving New York. “I looked terrible,” she admits.
Still, both Dan and Claudia came to the party. “When we started talking that night, we became like best friends and I was thrilled when he asked for my Blackberry pin number,” Claudia said. The next day at 5:01 p.m., Claudia texted Dan.
“I was happy I had the strength to text him,” notes Claudia. “It was easier because I wasn’t in my hometown. I thought, if he rejects me, I never have to see him again.” But he didn’t reject her. He was attracted to her.
They met on a Saturday evening, their first date was on Tuesday and they continued to date nonstop whenever they were in the same city at the same time. For the next four years, they had a long-distance relationship, skyping 24/6 and meeting up whenever possible – in London, New York, or Jerusalem. During those years, Claudia received her bachelors of science from Queens College in psychology and business and began working as an assistant teacher. Dan returned to London to work as a recruiter.
Claudia is a Mashadi Jew who traces her family’s roots back to Mashad, Iran. Though Mashadis tend to marry within their own community, Claudia’s parents were totally supportive of Dan. It turned out that Dan’s family was also Sephardic, of Spanish-Portuguese descent, and their original name was Mendoza. “At least I could keep eating kitniyot (legumes) during Pesach,” smiles Claudia.
Dan proposed to Claudia in the spring of 2015 on the rooftop of the Aish Hatorah building in the Old City of Jerusalem. “It’s one of our favorite places in the world,” says Dan.
Dan and Claudia are to be married on March 31, 2016. 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.