Jewish Journal


January 29, 2010

Finding Love in the Canyons


Rabbi Steve and Marian Cohen

Rabbi Steve and Marian Cohen

May 1986. I had moved to Santa Barbara from New York City the previous summer to take the job as Hillel rabbi at UC Santa Barbara. After 10 months in town, I lay awake in bed one night wondering how I would ever find a wife in this small Jewish community. I thought to myself, “It seems as though Santa Barbara is the problem. But is there any woman I have known anywhere in the world who I think might be right for me?” Surprisingly, the answer came to me clearly: my old friend Marian, from England, who was living for two years in New Jersey. 

I got out of bed and wrote to Marian: We are both at the stage of life in which we would like to get married, if we could just find the right person. I have always felt, deep down, that you and I were compatible. Would you like to meet and spend some time together and see what happens?

I went back to bed, and in the morning I read the letter through once more, in the cold light of day. I knew it was unusually direct, but it felt honest, so I sent it off. Four or five days later, Marian called to say she was interested, and to suggest a weekend in Quebec City, where we would have plenty of distractions in case the whole idea bombed. After two days in Quebec, we got engaged. We married five months later, and last month celebrated 23 years of marriage.

I often tell our story to single Jews who are considering moving to Santa Barbara. And I point out, further, that after 10 years of dating in Boston, Israel, Los Angeles and New York, it was while living in Santa Barbara that I finally got engaged…. And it’s not only Marian and me. Our Jewish community includes many happily married couples who met and fell in love as students at UC Santa Barbara. Or through Santa Barbara Jewish Singles. Or at Congregation B’nai B’rith. Or Israeli dancing. Or walking their dogs. Or (more and more) on JDate. Or who were set up by friends or family. Or at Torah study. Or at a bar, or a party. Or at a Buddhist retreat.

Are there single Jews in Santa Barbara who are wondering how and when and where they will meet their husband or wife? Yes, there are. Would their chances be better if they were living in Los Angeles or New York? Maybe. Maybe not. Three-thousand years ago, the author of Song of Songs wrote: akuma va’asoveva va’ir, bashvakim uvirchovot avaksha et she’ahava nafshi; bikashtihu v’lo m’tzativ. “I arose and went about the city, in the markets and in the streets, I sought the one my soul loves. I sought him but I did not find him.” Finding him (or her) has never been simple, and will always require considerable help from heaven.

Now our own children, Rachel and Ari, are in college and not far from the age at which they will be ready to settle down and marry, if they are lucky enough to find the one their soul loves. They know the story of how Marian and I got engaged, and we have warned them many times: “We were rash and impetuous. We were very lucky. It helped that our families knew each other.” I also quote my own mother’s advice when I asked her, “How will I know that I have found the right woman to marry?” To which my wise mother replied, “When you are wondering if a woman is right for you, ask yourself if you would be happy if your child turned out exactly like her.”

And I will say this as well: I needed to be in Santa Barbara to be ready for marriage. After 10 years of big-city dating, I needed to be in a quieter place, a place where I could be still, a place where I could pray ... and become clear.  Many people I know have found the one their soul loves walking through the markets and streets of the city. But in my own case, I found her walking in the canyons of Santa Barbara.

Steve Cohen is senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara.


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