Love at First Biennial
by Eric Chafetz
My life changed with one simple statement: “I have too much homework. I’m not going to go.” That’s how the conversation began with my friend and colleague, Brett, when I told him I’d changed my mind about attending the 2011 URJ Biennial in Washington, D.C.
Luckily for me, he was very convincing and managed to persuade me to get ahead with my work and stick with my plans to head to the Biennial. I grew up in NFTY and had attended countless NFTY conventions, both as a participant and an advisor, but this was to be my first Biennial. I really had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to reconnect with friends from around the country. I knew I would be able to spend time with a number of my friends from URJ Camp Eisner while I was there; what I did not know was that I would meet my future wife, the love of my life.
Like me, Ashley had also contemplated whether to attend Biennial. A joint rabbinical-education student at Hebrew Union College, she was worried about the amount of schoolwork she had to complete before a fast-approaching finals week. Like me, it was a friend who convinced her to attend.
On the first day of Biennial, mutual friends introduced us. We said hello, shook hands, and walked away from each other; Ashley says she left this conversation without a second thought. Not me. From that first moment, I knew she was special – and I kept thinking about her. The next evening, during Shabbat celebration, we reconnected at a joint concert of Jewish musicians Rick Recht and Noam Katz when I went up to Ashley and asked, “So, how did you like living in Israel?” That was it. We stayed in the hotel lobby until the wee hours of the night getting to know each other, and that night, I realized that this woman was going to change my life forever.
We spent the rest of Biennial together – which was, unfortunately, just one more day. As the event came to a close, we faced one problem, and it was a big one: I lived in Boston, and Ashley lived in Los Angeles. Still, somehow I knew this relationship could survive a 3,000-mile divide. Five months after we met at Biennial and began a long-distance relationship, I hopped a plane to Los Angeles with all of my belongings to start my life with my besheret. Last May, I dressed in a tuxedo and surprised Ashley at the front door of her apartment as I asked for her hand in marriage. Next August, when we stand together under the chuppah, the many mutual friends who introduced us at Biennial will join us to celebrate.
We feel blessed and are thankful to have found love through the Union for Reform Judaism, whose Biennial provided us with a platform to bond over our mutual love of Reform Judaism and Israel. I will be eternally grateful that our friends convinced us to attend and for the stars that aligned and brought us together at Biennial. While NFTY will always hold a special place in my heart, it was Biennial that provided me the opportunity to meet someone who shared my love and passion for Reform Judaism.
I cannot reiterate enough how thankful both Ashley and I are for our friends who convinced us that we did not know what we would be missing by not attending Biennial. And this December, we will be joining the rest of the Reform Jewish community at the URJ Biennial in San Diego, celebrating Shabbat together, this time as a couple!
Eric Chafetz grew up in New York City and is currently enrolled at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where he is studying for his Masters in Jewish Education. He currently works as an educator at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. He spent 13 wonderful summers at URJ Camp Eisner.