They were stuck in his car for 20 minutes behind a garbage truck. That’s when Katie blurted out: “I have these feelings for you. I think you have these feelings for me. I’m looking to date someone for marriage. If you’re not interested in me, stop flirting with me because I want to find someone to date.” Three days later, on August 23, 2018, Matthew Brown and Katie Altman had their first date. He was 32 and she, 37.
They both agree on the takeaway from their story: It’s important to take risks. “If I hadn’t spoken up that evening, I’m not sure where we’d be now,” Katie says in an interview with The Jewish Week.
Matthew is a labor and employment attorney in New Hyde Park, New York. He graduated from the University of Michigan and has a JD from Hofstra University. Katie is an assistant principal in a Manhattan public school. She graduated from the University of Delaware and has an MsEd in Counseling from Hunter College.
Their first encounter was a matchup on a dating app. They texted but never met. Several years later, in the fall of 2017, Katie and Matthew were both accepted into the Lamm Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE). The group engaged in Torah study three hours a week and bonded together over significant Jewish experiences. They both concur: “That’s when we became friends.” Matthew: “Katie especially liked the burgers and fries I’d bring to each meeting.”
“We both joke that our love for each other started the first night of fellowship when I asked him for a french fry,” Katie adds. The hashtag #loveatfirstfrenchfry thus became the tag later used by themselves and friends on social media when they got engaged.
Matthew wanted to go with the group on the MJE Israel summer program, but he also wanted to be home when his sister gave birth. Fortunately, he managed to do both. They’re both family oriented. “Mathew and I are extremely close to our nieces and nephews,” Katie says.
While in Israel, their friendship deepened. Katie: “Still, we didn’t sit together on the bus. But we spent most of the trip together. I totally enjoyed Matthew’s sense of humor. He always makes me smile and laugh.”
After Israel, Katie flew to Thailand and the couple texted every day. During this time, Matt received a phone call from Rabbi Mark Wildes, the founder and director of MJE, asking about Katie. Rabbi Wildes encouraged Matthew to move forward and transition their relationship beyond friendship. Did Rabbi Wildes’s phone call make a difference? Matthew: “Definitely. “
Rabbi Wildes notes that in the last five years, approximately 75 couples have met and married through MJE. “I think it’s super important for clergy and their wives to be involved in helping singles meet and even more importantly, to serve as a coach once a relationship has begun. Courtship and relationship building today have become extremely complicated, and therefore having a trusted guide who has seen and dealt with the issues before is key.”
Katie’s friend Lerone also played a role. When Katie expressed her feelings for Matthew, Lerone told Katie what Matthew had told her: “If I start dating Katie, I’m going to marry her.” Katie: “That’s how I got the nerve to bring up the question to Mathew when we were stuck in his car together behind the garbage truck.”
For their first official date, the couple went to a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden. Seven months later, on March 31, 2019, his mom’s birthday, Matt proposed to Katie next to Billy Joel’s piano in the atrium of Madison Square Garden.
Katie and Matthew were married on August 18, 2019 at the Mansion at Lawrence in Lawrence, New York. Rabbi Wildes officiated. Mazal tov.
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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.