Couple rubbed elbows in Israel 20 years before wedding

Allison Gans was planning a slideshow for her wedding, so she headed over to her future father-in-law’s house to look through some old photographs of her fiance, Brian Fischer — and found one picture she never expected.

In a photo taken two decades earlier at Yad Vashem in Israel, ranks of children in white are lined up for a ceremony. In the middle, Brian’s father frames his son’s young, cherubic face. Behind him stands a brown-haired, middle school-age girl.

“I think that’s me!” Gans yelped.

It was.

Brian Fischer (left, foreground) and Allison Gans (right) at 1997 candlelighting ceremony

She and Fischer had always felt they had a lot in common. While Gans, 32, was from San Diego and Fischer, also 32, was from the Bay Area, they both had happy families and a Jewish identity. They had both taken similar trips to Israel for their bar and bat mitzvahs in 1997. But what they hadn’t known was that the trips weren’t just similar — they were the same.

“It’s so crazy,” Gans said.

The trip was an organized tour around the sites of Israel, a combination of meaningful ceremonies and fun excursions for families. The couple had talked about their experiences, but never figured out they had the same one.

“We just never really put it together,” Fischer admitted.

Probing further into their mementos, to their delight the couple found more — a video of a candlelighting ceremony where, once again, the kids are close enough to touch.

“The rabbi literally handed the candle from her to me,” Fischer said.

Gans was particularly shocked because she had already looked at her own family’s pictures of the 1997 tour.

“He wasn’t in any of them,” she said.

Fischer and Gans today

That wasn’t really a surprise. There were more than 150 kids on the tour, and Gans and Fischer weren’t on the same tour bus. Yet they both celebrated their b’nai mitzvah at Masada, with the same rabbi, nearly 20 years before their wedding day.

“Everyone feels like it’s fate — meant to be,” Gans said.

Fischer said you can even hear his father on the video talking to Gans’ father, trying to find some room to make his own recording.

“You can hear him going, ‘Excuse me, excuse me,’ ” Fischer said.

Bob Gans said he and his wife, Donna, were astonished to hear about the photos and video.

“Especially because this was all learned just a few weeks before their marriage! It’s a remarkable coincidence,” he said, adding that the fact the two had crossed paths in Israel at such a unique time made it even more special.

Gans and Fischer pretty much always felt their relationship was “meant to be.” They met on JDate, the Jewish online dating site. Gans was living in San Francisco, while Fischer, who grew up in Alamo, was living in Oakland  — and for a moment that seemed like it was going to be a problem.

“I was like, am I really going to date a guy outside the city?” Gans said she asked herself.

But it only took one date for her to change her mind.

“When we first met, it was an automatic click,” she said.

Fischer agrees. He remembers texting her with lots of exclamation points after the first date, and even flying to San Diego a couple of weeks later to meet her parents.

“It was pretty risky,” he admitted.

But it was an instant connection there, too.

“The values her parents had made me feel so welcome,” Fischer said.

Both of them previously had been in long-term relationships, and both were looking for the kind of person they’d want to settle down with — someone with similar values and background. Someone Jewish.

“It’s such an important cultural bond,” Fischer said.

Gans, a crisis counselor at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, and Fischer, national sales director at the IT company Cantaloupe, are getting married Saturday, Sept. 24, in Santa Cruz. They live in Montclair, Fischer having convinced Gans to leave San Francisco.

Gans sees the coincidence of their first meeting as more than just a connection between the two of them. She also sees it as a bond between their families. That’s especially important, the couple feels, because Fischer’s mother recently passed away. But Fischer is glad his future wife got to meet and love his mom first.

“She was so supportive during those hard times,” Fischer said. “It meant so much to me.”

With their family and friends buzzing about the way Gans and Fischer “met” so long before they started dating, their wedding ceremony is sure to be even more meaningful, and the two are looking forward to linking their lives.

Fischer said they definitely plan to raise their children in the Jewish tradition. They aren’t yet sure what exactly that will mean, but one thing is certain.

“We’re obviously going to take our kids on that trip. We kind of have to!” Gans said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a journalist based in Oakland, CA, and Budapest, Hungary.