Yoni Bock took a year off college to backpack around the world. But when he got to India, he decided to stay. There was something about the duality of the culture that felt right to him— it was both wealthy and impoverished, spiritual and materialistic. During the few months he was there, he realized how he wanted to live: in shades of gray that deny the certainty of black and white.
Which is fine, unless you’re trying to date him.
In March 2005, a decade after his India adventure, Bock moved to Washington, where he met Ron Kaplan at a happy hour hosted by mutual friends. Bock, who’d recently finished grad school, was living with his grandmother and unsure of his next move. Kaplan approached Bock after hearing his Hebrew first name. They quickly discovered they’d both lived in Israel for a time and gone to the same Jewish summer camp, in different years.
They saw each other the following month and realized they’d each attended Tufts University — Kaplan for undergrad, Bock for grad school — and both had master’s degrees in international relations.
“Well, I’d love to stay in touch,” Bock said at the end of their conversation. “But just as friends, because I’m dating someone.”
They e-mailed occasionally and went out to dinner once. Kaplan even met Bock’s boyfriend that summer at the beach. But by July, Bock’s long-distance relationship was fraying, and he found himself talking more about Kaplan.
He knew Kaplan was interested in being more than friends, but Bock was hesitant, thinking he’d like to find international work and wasn’t ready for another serious relationship. He agreed to a baseball game and a kayaking excursion, but reiterated: “I’m not interested in dating.”
But Kaplan continued to invite him out. “We just had a great time. We had tons to talk about,” he says. “It was just so cool to have someone that had so many experiences and reference points in common. It was very easy.”
But it was also slightly more ambiguous than Kaplan would have liked. He felt certain the romantic interest was mutual but didn’t want to push too hard.
Bock found a job with USAID that would anchor him in Washington. He told friends he liked Kaplan but was worried he was “too nice.” Then Kaplan showed up to help move a heavy television, and it dawned on Bock that maybe nice wasn’t such a bad thing in a partner.
“He was just a very calm presence,” says Bock. “He had an ability to engage in a conversation in whatever mood or whatever space and just sort of be present there.”
Kaplan invited Bock to a black-tie gala for the Human Rights Campaign. As they walked through the ballroom, Kaplan introduced Bock as his friend. Halfway through, Bock whispered, “You can just introduce me as your boyfriend — it’s fine.”
“I had a sense very early on that I wasn’t going anywhere and that Ron was ‘the one,’ for lack of a better term,” says Bock. “But I didn’t particularly need to formulate that into words. It was something I intuited.”
Kaplan, meanwhile, was elated and grateful for the clarity.
They quickly became serious and learned that, for all the similarities in their backgrounds, they are in many ways opposites. Bock is an extroverted wanderlust who would be happy to move to a new city every two years. Kaplan, a market research manager, is quiet, smiley and thrives on familiarity. Bock likes to fly by the seat of his pants; Kaplan is a planner.
“So we’re very different,” says Kaplan. “But we have our strengths, and we each contribute those strengths.”
“In my mind I have this picture of Yoni becoming grounded when he met Ron. Before, he was always asking questions, always stressed out,” says Misha Kazhdan, a high school friend of Bock’s. Many of the questions were an attempt to reconcile his sexuality with his upbringing in Orthodox Judaism. “He’s still asking questions, but he’s more comfortable exploring answers.”
The following year, they moved in together; by 2007, they were discussing marriage. Bock was unsure. “What will it change?” he asked. Still, in the summer of 2008, he gave Kaplan a ring, and they privately declared themselves engaged.
When gay marriage became legal in the District in 2010, Bock, now 37, had the answer to his question, knowing it would significantly change their status.
On Nov. 10, the two were married at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Rabbi Steve Greenberg, an openly gay Orthodox rabbi who was the subject of a documentary called “Trembling before G-d ,” officiated the ceremony. The couple decided the theme of their wedding was integration — bringing together their families and friends, celebrating the support they’ve received from all sides.
“A Jewish world and a gay world 10 years ago had much more tension,” says Kaplan, now 40. “Today, they meld seamlessly.”
After the ceremony, a parade of friends danced the newly married couple down the aisle of the synagogue. At the Hotel Monaco reception, the pair was greeted by their 200 guests who danced exuberantly in a tradition called a schtick. For more than 30 minutes, friends and relatives enveloped and entertained them, donning hula skirts, neon wigs and masks. One man chugged an entire bottle of wine in their honor.
“There’s a life of adventures I’m looking forward to,” Bock said before the wedding. “And I think he is, too.”