S.F. newlyweds say no to gifts, yes to terror relief fund

When Maren Pyenson and Bruce Abramson of San Francisco decided to marry, they realized they already had all of the material possessions they needed — so they decided to do something different, something to help others.

“We wanted to think of a way that would allow people who wanted to give us gifts to do that in a way that was meaningful to us,” Pyenson said. “We did a lot of research and discovered that the Jewish Agency had a fund for victims of terror. We figured it was a great way to support a cause.”

Pyenson and Abramson were ecstatic with results. “We intertwined [the fund] into our wedding and created a unique way for people to celebrate with us.”

 

Maren Pyenson and Bruce Abramson cut the cake at their January wedding at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. (photo by and courtesy of Jenna Isaacson Pfueller)

In lieu of crystal bowls, silver candlesticks and other gifts, the couple requested that guests send donations to the Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror, which provides Israeli victims of terror with financial assistance (complementing the monetary relief they receive from government agencies and offices).

 

On their wedding website, they wrote a letter that began: “Dear Family and Friends, As we celebrate our wedding and the beginning of our life together, we welcome the opportunity to give back to those whose fortunes are not as great as ours.”

As of last week, their request had raised more than $5,000.

According to the Jewish Agency, the fund has assisted some 3,200 families — a total of 18,000 individuals — with total support reaching $20.5 million. The fund was first established in 2002, then closed at the end of 2005, then reopened again in 2006 due to increased violence and terror attacks in Israel.

Pyenson and Abramson chose the fund because, as they wrote on their website, Jews “who live on the front lines in Israel [are] squarely on the border between civilization and barbarism.”

Said Abramson: “We decided if people want to do something with their money to help us celebrate our wedding, [it should be] to put it toward the biggest challenge in the world today: helping people who are [terror’s] frontline victims. The biggest problem in the world today is clearly this onslaught [of terror] on civilization. The frontlines of that happen to run through the heart of Israel.

“It was a matter of saying, ‘This is the world’s biggest problem and the Jewish community’s biggest problem.’ ”

 

Maren Pyenson and Bruce Abramson (photo by and courtesy of Jenna Isaacson Pfueller)

The couple was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for their decision.

 

“There were no negative responses,” Abramson said. “People gave money; some gave more because they particularly liked the charity that we chose. Our parents found it touching.”

Pyenson, 39, wed Abramson, 46, in Washington, D.C., in January in front of 150 friends and family members. The ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Edward Davis from Young Israel of Hollywood–Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a synagogue affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Congregations.

Pyenson works as a consultant specializing in Internet product management, and Abramson is a lawyer with a niche practice that involves advising other lawyers about technical and economic issues for litigation. They live in San Francisco, but also have a residence in Las Vegas where they spend a lot of time. Both have been active in many Jewish organizations throughout their lives — from Hillel to Orthodox synagogues to Israel advocacy groups.

Some seven months after their Jan. 17 wedding, they still haven’t had their honeymoon yet — but it’s coming soon and it’s going to take place in Israel. That, they said, gives their wedding gesture added resonance.

Looking back on their wedding, Abramson said, “Inspiring others hadn’t been our plan.”

But, added Pyenson, “This was something that felt good to us and was the right thing to do. … I hope it inspires other people to think creatively when they think of any kind of celebration. It’s a great opportunity to help other people or an organization.”