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They Have Lifetimes to Share

Relationships: Volunteer activities brought them together. Now, they're getting married, devoting their tomorrows to each other and to their communities.

August 24, 1997|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is, as Jacqueline Shelton says, a classic case of "doing well by doing good."

This morning, Nancy Sokoler and Neal Steiner, who met as volunteers for the Access young adult program, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, will be married at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. This evening, Eileen Sandberg and Jeremy Sunderland--who also met as Access volunteers--will be married at the Calabasas Inn.

At the federation, romance is not only in the air, it's epidemic.

Beth Comsky and Uzzi Raanan will marry Sept. 6 at the California Club. On Sept. 7, at Temple Emanuel in San Francisco, Shelton will marry Craig Miller. Yes, they all met as Access volunteers.

Pure chance? Not really, these couples agree. If you're open to meeting Mr. or Ms. Right, what better place to look than among those who share your values and beliefs?

"I didn't go there with that purpose," Miller says, but "it was in the back of my mind. It was the best byproduct. If you're out there getting involved, that's where you're going to meet someone great."

In this couple's case, fate also intervened. It was May 1995, and Miller was subbing for a friend who'd been scheduled as an Access speaker. Shelton thought he was "incredibly handsome" and--not solely in her role as co-chairwoman of programs--thanked him for helping out.

There's a touch of good-natured "he said, she said" as Miller, 28, an attorney with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in West L.A., and Shelton, 33, clearance administrator for the Walt Disney Co., tell what happened thereafter.

They do agree that they met for the second time a week later at a Shabbat dinner at Valley Beth Shalom. Shelton asked Miller to join her in an Israeli dance. A reluctant dancer, Miller figured anyone who could get him out on the floor "must have a real power over me." After the dance, he recalls, "Jackie left to talk to another gentleman."

True, she says, but she had a plan. "I liked Craig, but I didn't feel forward enough to say, 'Let's go out,' " so she mentioned that people often went out as a group for coffee after these events.

He took the hint and suggested instead latte a deux at the Urth Caffe on Melrose. He saw Shelton home, promising to call.

"Promptly at 10:30 the next morning, I called," he says. "It was 10:45," she says. They made a date for dinner two days later at the Authentic Cafe on Beverly Boulevard. He brought her flowers.

Soon, both knew this was something special. "I had so much fun with him, and I enjoyed being with him as a friend," Shelton says. "That was different from the other guys I was dating." She found Miller funny, smart, thoughtful, sensitive--and a great listener.

Says Miller: "I loved her passion for everything she does." Her outgoing nature appealed to him, as did "her commitments to her family and her friends and her sensitivity."

They shopped flea markets, shared Sunday brunches, studied Jewish history--and continued their work with Access, which Shelton now chairs.

On Dec. 25, 1996, when volunteers traditionally observe Tikkun L.A., a day of community outreach in lieu of celebrating Christmas, Miller and Shelton worked at an East L.A. men's shelter. They'd planned dinner later at her West Hollywood apartment.

Miller had gone to a paint-your-own ceramics place and decorated two plates with images of Shelton's favorite things. Taking food from one, she saw the words, "Will you marry me?" That night, at the beach, he gave her an antique engagement ring. (She later made a plate for him. It says, "Yes.")

Shelton and Miller come to their commitment to Judaism from different places. He grew up in a Conservative Westside family with parents who "set the example" for involvement in the Jewish community.

She grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of German-born Reform Jews. Her mother had been a kindertransport child sent to safety in England during World War II; her father had gone underground and escaped from Germany in 1938.

Under the Nazis, "they couldn't practice Judaism," says Shelton, one reason doing so is "very precious" to her.

*

Neal Steiner and Nancy Sokoler met at an Access retreat in January 1996. He was intrigued by her style, creativity and optimism. "I thought I'd like to go out with her--not knowing it would lead to this."

Through fate and faith, their paths kept crossing--while planting trees in Encino for Access, at a Shabbat dinner, at an Israeli independence day celebration.

Four months later, Steiner asked Sokoler out to dinner at Vito's in Ocean Park. "There was that normal dating nervousness, but I thought, 'Something's clicking,' " Steiner recalls.

By the fourth date, Sokoler says, "I think we both knew this was something different." Six months later, after a Saturday dinner date at Chez Helene in Beverly Hills, Steiner gave Sokoler a tin of Hershey's Kisses. Inside was a diamond ring.

"Jewelry and chocolates," she says, "two of my favorite things." She said yes.

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