This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 13, 2013.
The moment a groom first sees his bride walking toward him down the aisle is a moving part of any wedding, but for Doug Chermak and Rachel Kaplan of Oakland, “it was the most love-filled moment of our entire lives.”
In accordance with Jewish Orthodox traditions, the pair didn’t see each other for a full week before the ceremony, including at the rehearsal dinner. It was an undertaking that required costumes, dedicated friends with walkie-talkies and even a Japanese dressing screen to divide the dining room. But Doug, a 33-year-old lawyer, and Rachel, a 32-year-old therapist, agree that their union was worth waiting for – in more ways than one.
The two first met at a concert in San Francisco in 2006 where Doug was on a date with one of Rachel’s friends. Their paths crossed many times over the next three years as both were in and out of relationships. In 2009, Doug casually asked Rachel on a date.
She accepted, but recalls, “He never seemed that into me. I felt like I was his second choice.”
Before Doug could prove her wrong, a mysterious foreign friend-of-a-friend swept Rachel off her feet. Like Rachel, this suitor was a therapist. Living in Colorado, he was originally from the United Kingdom, and the pair started a long-distance romance. “I told Doug that he was so great but that this man was my husband,” Rachel said.
“I was sad for a little bit,” Doug said, but before long, he, too, began a new relationship, even asking Rachel for dating advice.
By the end of 2010, both relationships had ended, but Doug and Rachel’s friendship endured. Doug wondered, if he asked Rachel out again, could the outcome be different? After picking her up from the airport one day in early 2011, he confessed his feelings.
Rachel was skeptical but agreed to another date. “I think she thought we could just kiss and get it out of our systems,” Doug said.
Kiss they did, and as Rachel put it, “It got very, very deep, very quick. I realized how much I trusted him. I didn’t know what kind of depth we would have between us.”
They already shared the same friends and knew each other’s families, so the relationship moved quickly. On their one-month anniversary, they agreed to move in together. In December, on the fifth night of Hanukkah, Doug took Rachel camping at Point Reyes National Seashore. After an 11-mile sunset hike, he suggested they play a game in which they each reveal the moment they first knew they were in love.
“My best friend said I’d better think of something good” for a marriage proposal, Doug later said. “We’ll be telling this story for the rest of our lives.”
Rachel said the game was a “very un-Doug-like” suggestion, but she went along with it and mentioned the first weekend she spent with Doug’s family at his cousin’s bat mitzvah.
Doug shared a memory of time with Rachel’s family. Then he dropped to one knee, presented a ring bearing his great-grandmother’s diamond and said, “Rachie, will you marry me?”
Their wedding, which took place at a camp in Saratoga, became an elaborate mix of religious traditions and nontraditional fun. Per Jewish custom, the men and women participated in separate morning ceremonies. They also had activities like yoga and swimming in a lake. The reception lasted a whole weekend, complete with a pool party and a talent show. A few friends put on a puppet show re-enacting Doug and Rachel’s love story.
But the most difficult – and meaningful – wedding tradition was Rachel and Doug’s decision not to see each other for a week before the big day. To accomplish this, Doug temporarily moved in with a friend and ate all his meals out. The only contact the couple had was a brief e-mail about paying bills.
When both showed up at the same concert with different groups of friends, Rachel stayed in the back while Doug was up front. When they arrived at the campsite before the wedding, friends with walkie-talkies served as “guards,” ensuring that they didn’t run into each other by accident.
At the rehearsal dinner, they were separated by a Japanese screen, so guests could see both of them, but they couldn’t see each other. Doug and his groomsmen even traded shoes and entered the dining room hidden under sheets like ghosts, so Rachel wouldn’t know who was who.
“It was such a Doug move,” Rachel said. “He’s such a jokester.”
Jokes aside, Rachel and Doug both said the time apart gave them a chance to reflect and mentally prepare for their commitment to each other.
The big moment finally came when the 90 men at the wedding led Doug on a seven-minute parade to Rachel and the women. Some played musical instruments, and Doug walked arm-in-arm with his father and Rachel’s.
“It was an incredibly powerful moment,” Doug said. “I felt really present. I was crying a lot, and guests were crying a lot.”
“I’m so grateful for that moment,” Rachel said. “I had the experience of looking into his eyes and knowing with every part of me that this is my partner. No doubt.”