A Ramah Chuppah Awaits
Alex Kress and his fiancée, Michal Kogen, both 26, met during their study abroad program in Israel while they were still in college. They are now weeks away from their September 6 wedding at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California, the summer camp Kogen grew up attending. Kress, a native of Philadelphia, is a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Kogen, originally from Los Angeles, is a corporate recruiter at Gainor Staffing. The two have been living together for one year in L.A.’s Studio City. How did you meet and come to live together? ALEX: We met while studying abroad through a Masa Israel Journey program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I got invited to a pickup basketball game, and Michal was also playing. We were on the sidelines, and she was having a little asthma flare-up; she swore she was okay. A couple days later we were set up by a mutual friend and had our first date at Rimon on Ben Yehuda on Valentine’s Day (Cue: Awwwww). Who takes out the garbage? ALEX: Both of us stuff our normalsized garbage bags into the absurdly tiny square door to the trash chute. Describe your typical week. MICHAL: Typically I am up around 5 a.m. during the week, since I work New York hours. Alex has started to adopt that schedule and gets up early to drive to school and avoid traffic. I work all day until he gets home, around 3:30. Typically our nights consist of making dinner or ordering sushi, and working out. We like doing Shabbat dinner with my parents and spending time with friends over the weekend.
What’s the most unusual thing we’d see on your household budget? ALEX: Lots of books — I’m a little obsessed with building my rabbinic library. Michal is very ready for me to have an office so I have a place to put them all. MICHAL: We budget out frozen yogurt because I typically make him go too many times a week.
What’s the one story that gets told and retold in your home? ALEX: I’ve got the proposal story down to a science. MICHAL: New Years Day, Alex and I went for a morning walk. As we approached the Philadelphia Art Museum, we walked around back and stood in a beautiful gazebo overlooking Boathouse Row — my favorite view in Philly. After a few minutes, Alex took a step back and got down on one knee. I didn’t even notice at first and when I turned around, he asked me to marry him and I said “duh!” Do you have an ideal Sabbath dinner? MICHAL: I think my ideal Shabbat dinner will take place the weekend of our wedding. We’ll be at Camp Ramah surrounded by our family and friends, eating food and singing. Describe your home life in three words. ALEX: Laughing, cooking and Netflix. MICHAL: Humor, coffee and “Friends,” the show. Is there an active Jewish community near you? If not, how do you create your own? ALEX: Yes, very much so. I don’t think I have ever lived in a community with as many options as Los Angeles. You could easily celebrate Shabbat in a different shul every week for a year. MICHAL: There is a very active Jewish community. During my Masa Israel program my appreciation for staying active in the Jewish community was taken to a new height. It is really nice for me to be back in the L.A. Jewish community that I grew up in.
What one moment stands out in your mind when you felt most connected to Judaism? ALEX: When the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality was handed down this summer, I was at URJ Kutz Camp surrounded by 200 Jewish teen leaders and another 100 amazing staff and faculty. We gathered together in close quarters around the only TV in camp to hear President Barack Obama address the nation and celebrate a long-overdue victory. There was a sense that so much of what we believe as progressive Jews came to fruition in that moment. The crying, the cheering, the smiles, the love, all reflected the purest of what Judaism has to offer. MICHAL: The first weekend Alex and I were living together, right before we ate dinner on Friday night, I lit candles and Alex said Kiddush. That was the first time we got to feel connected to Judaism together in a home we had built together.