A Ramah Chup­pah Awaits

Forward Magazine - - News -

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.

COUR­TESY OF MICHAL KO­GEN

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