Love on the playa: Couple meets at Burning Man in 2009, weds there two years later

The setting was Burning Man 2009 right before dawn. After a night of partying, Greg Lawrence wanted some quiet, so he made his way to the temple, a structure that is burned on Sunday night as a final ritual before the annual arts festival in the Nevada desert closes.

He noticed a little girl there, who couldn’t have been more than 2, playing with some blocks, and became quite taken with observing her. But then he found himself noticing a woman with curly red hair who also was entranced with the child.

That woman was Rachel Kaplan, who came to the temple to mourn the recent death of a friend. She and Lawrence spoke a bit, and then found each other the next night at Shabbat services at Sukkat Shalom, the Jewish-themed camp where Kaplan was staying.

When the dancing began to welcome the Sabbath, Kaplan was the first to rise, and Lawrence immediately joined her.

Greg Lawrence and Rachel Kaplan during their Sept. 1 wedding ceremony at Burning Man in the Nevada desert.

A photograph of them talking at the temple was later posted on Facebook, and the pair reconnected through that. But Lawrence was very much settled in the Bay Area, and Kaplan, living in Florida with her parents at the time, was unsure of whether her next move was to California or New York.

Jump ahead about eight months to April 2010. Unbeknownst to each other, Lawrence and Kaplan both signed up to attend Passover in the Desert, a festival in Southern California put on by the East Bay–based group Wilderness Torah. After everyone had arrived, the group stood around a campfire, telling stories about their ancestors.

“Someone across the fire was talking about his grandfather and I thought, ‘Is that him?’” said Kaplan. She crossed to the other side of the fire to find out.

Meanwhile, Lawrence noticed her coming, and thought to himself, “Is that the woman from Burning Man?” When she approached, he said “It is you.” By that point, Kaplan had moved to Montara, near Pacifica. Lawrence was living in San Francisco. They became a couple from that moment on.

Both Lawrence and Kaplan have worked in the Jewish community. Though Lawrence recently finished a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology, and Kaplan describes herself as a performer and healer, they both are Jewish educators, as well.

Lawrence worked for a time at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, and both worked as educators at the Contra Costa Midrasha. Kaplan has also worked in the aftercare program JCC of the East Bay’s Oakland branch.

After a year of dating, Lawrence was ready to propose. The couple made plans to attend Passover in the Desert in 2011, and he brought the ring with him. On a group hike, Lawrence fell to the back with a friend, and revealed his plans. Soon, the entire group knew what was about to happen, except for Kaplan, who was at the front.

At a lush canyon with flowing water, where the group decided to have an impromptu mikvah, Lawrence sprung his surprise. But when Kaplan noticed someone filming, and the group looking at them so lovingly it was a bit “creepy,” she was so thrown for a loop that she fell backwards.

“I don’t even think I said yes,” she said. “I think I just nodded.”

The couple knew that Burning Man 2011 would be the place for them to wed, and not only that, but at the temple, at sunrise on a Thursday, the exact time and location of their meeting two years earlier. While some couples married at Burning Man obtain a Nevada marriage license, Kaplan and Lawrence decided against it, since their families weren’t there for the Sept. 1 ceremony.  The couple, now traveling indefinitely, are planning a legal wedding on Jan. 15 in Florida for their families.

Legal paperwork aside, Lawrence said their union “was real in every other sense of the word,” and both consider it their “real” wedding.

The bride, 28, wore a multi-colored lace outfit and a headband with green lace and feathers. The groom, now 30, wore a pink cowboy hat with a baby blue headband around it.  Their officiant, Day Schildkret, was bare-chested under red overalls and wore a feathered headpiece.

Something old: During the ceremony, without the prior knowledge of the couple, Schildkret recited the priestly blessing.

“This was unexpected and like a bullet in my soul,” Lawrence said. “To hear something so old and traditional was one of the most powerful moments of the ceremony and caused me to burst into tears.”

Something new: Since the couples’ parents were not there to walk them down the aisle, they walked from the temple onto the playa (the lakebed of the desert) — a walk that quickly morphed into a dance. Those who had come to witness the wedding gathered around them and circled them, rather than the bride circling the groom, or them circling each other.

Something borrowed: For a vehicle to be allowed on the playa, it has to be an “art car” — and at the end of the ceremony when it came time to lift the bride and groom in chairs, an art car outfitted as a front porch happened to drive by. They flagged it down, and borrowed an overstuffed chair for hoisting purposes.

Something Jew(ish): One of the couple’s friends, Tamuz Shiran, sang beautiful nigguns as their friends gathered around them.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."