On Love

On Love: ‘We feel really blessed in a lot of ways’

(Evy Mages/ FTWP ) - Wedding ceremony and reception of Baht Weiss and Todd Cohen, at the Hotel Monaco, 700 F Street NW, Washington, DC, June 23, 2013. The bride is a Rabbi at the Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD and the groom is Director at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney. The newlyweds dance the traditional horah.

(Evy Mages/ FTWP ) - Wedding ceremony and reception of Baht Weiss and Todd Cohen, at the Hotel Monaco, 700 F Street NW, Washington, DC, June 23, 2013. The bride is a Rabbi at the Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD and the groom is Director at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney. The newlyweds dance the traditional horah.

There’s a cute new rabbi at temple, Todd Cohen’s brother told him.

Todd wasn’t interested. The 34-year-old was single, but a clergy member wasn’t high on his list of potential dates.

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It was a sentiment familiar to Rabbi Baht Weiss, who had recently taken a position at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville. Her previous congregation had felt like a family, but in Naples, Fla., there were few young, single, eligible Jewish men. In 2010, the 31-year-old migrated north, hoping to move forward in both her career and her dating life. She was finding that “rabbi” was often a dealbreaker for potential partners. “Before people meet you they have a preconception of what you’re going to be like,” she says. “That I would judge people’s religious practice. That I didn’t do the normal things people did for fun.”

She had been on JDate for years but at a friend’s suggestion signed up for Match.com, keeping her eyes out for usernames with a semitic twist. Not knowing she was the rabbi his brother had mentioned (her profile listed her profession more discreetly, as “Jewish educator”), Todd sent a message to the pretty brunette with the glowing smile. She noticed his last name, and the two began casually e-mailing and texting. He had tickets to a Washington Kastles tennis match and invited her to join him. “Don’t you want to meet me first? What if I smell bad?” Baht joked. Todd was already certain they’d at least be friends but agreed to a get-to-know-you dinner.

Having a second date already in the works took the pressure off that first meeting. By then, she had clarified her job title, and Todd had made the connection between Baht and his brother’s matchmaking suggestion. The conversation was easy and fluid, and Todd found himself falling for her charm, letting her status as a religious leader fade into the background. By the time he walked her home that warm July evening, a glimmer of romance seemed possible.

Over the next few weeks, the two bonded amid the simple joys of summer, sipping wine and swimming in her apartment building’s pool. As the warm weather started to fade, she warned him that “Summer Baht” might disappear soon; the rest of the year was heavy with High Holidays, bar and bat mitzvahs and other official duties. But Todd was already coming to grips with the idiosyncracies of dating a rabbi. “We’re both sort of Type-A people. I found myself intrigued by the fact that I was with someone who was very public [and] intrigued by the fact that I could be a partner to that,” he says.

In September, the two jointly hosted a dinner for Rosh Hashanah; their guests playfully raised their eyebrows when Todd slipped and called her “honey,” revealing how close they’d become in just two months. Baht was still learning to allow the lines between her private and professional lives to blur and found that having Todd at the holiday services was a milestone. “I have friends today who know me as ‘their friend the rabbi’ but don’t ever really see me being a rabbi. I don’t reveal that side of myself to everyone,” she says. “When [Todd] came and saw me give a sermon . . . it was like I had exposed something very private, and I felt much closer after that.”

Until then, Todd’s approach to his faith was casual; his time with Baht, however, inspired him to be a more active part of temple activities. He signed up for a refresher course in Judaism, a four-month, intensive experience for which he had to keep a regular journal. I’m dating this rabbi and I know I’m gonna marry her, he wrote in one entry, which he e-mailed to his instructor. It was soon buried in a long chain of e-mails — a fact Todd forgot when he forwarded Baht a message about something unrelated. Scrolling through the thread, she discovered his admission.

“I was a little freaked out,” she admits. She was in love, but it was scary to have one of her colleagues know how deeply she and Todd cared for one another. Long-term relationships were the norm for Todd, but not for Baht, who still found herself hesitating when he would suggest plans months or a year in advance. He urged her to open up, and in him she found someone she could trust. “I think Todd is one of the most considerate people I’ve ever met. He’s always thinking about other people,” she says.

They vacationed with friends, met each other’s families, and took a trip to Florida to introduce Todd to Baht’s former congregation. The way the community embraced her personally and professionally touched him. “I’ve always focused on her being a woman and my partner, and secondarily her service to others,” Todd says. “Seeing these people adore her . . . [She was] a strong leader through some difficult times down there, and she’d thrived. And I liked that.”

When they returned home, he began searching for just the right ring, hoping to find one made in Israel. And in March 2012, he invited her to La Ferme in Chevy Chase. He’d told her it was a big work event, but when she arrived, she found him at a private table adorned with flowers and champagne. The ring was presented on a silver tray of rose petals, and he got down on one knee, asking her to be his wife.

They scheduled the wedding 15 months in advance, to accommodate Baht’s rabbinical responsibilities. Todd, who works long hours of his own in health-care administration, compares it to dating a busy surgeon — plans will be abandoned at the last minute as obligations arise, and the needs of others often take priority. “He jokingly calls himself the rebbitzin,” Baht says, referring to the Hebrew word for a rabbi’s wife. “It’s a public life. Todd’s not just marrying me, he’s marrying my congregation and my lifestyle. It’s a lot to ask of someone.”

On June 23, they were married at Hotel Monaco in Chinatown. As favors, guests received tins of cookies made by students in a training program at DC Central Kitchen, where Todd is a board member. Baht, so used to wearing black and officiating, wore a white gown and found herself unexpectedly overwhelmed as the center of attention while her brother, Rabbi Joshua Caruso, conducted the ceremony.

They exchanged vows under a chuppah below a sun-filled dome and surrounded on all sides by 200 friends and family members. The arrangement of guests in an intimate circle, rather than observant rows, was no accident. “It’s stronger in a circle. It’s not exclusive. You’re two people and you expand that together,” Todd, now 37, says. “I think we feel really blessed in a lot of ways, that we found each other. But we also feel a great deal of safety and satisfaction in all these new people around us.”

Adds Baht: “Those are the people who are your future, the people that you want to build your lives with. It’s a pretty profound moment to look at all those people and say, ‘Yes, this is our life.’ ”

 
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