In 2002, Alea Gage asked Joel Abramovitz to the prom. Abramovitz was her best male friend, but he was in a play that night, and without much thought, he suggested she ask David Cushman.
The three teens knew each other through the Jewish youth group BBYO, though Gage didn’t know Cushman well.
“None of us had any idea that this was going to be a ‘thing,’ ” said Abramovitz. But later, when Gage told Abramovitz about the evening, he instantly realized “that their personalities and interests and ways of seeing the world were so beautifully complementary to each other.
“They spent a lot of time in the first years trying to tell themselves this wasn’t their beshert, as there’s a degree of uncertainty when it happens at 17,” Abramovitz said, “but I remember after a certain point feeling more certain than they did.”
Gage grew up in Hillsborough and Millbrae. Now 31, she’s a city planner for the city of Vallejo, and serves on the regional council of Bend the Arc. Cushman grew up mostly in Irvine, but moved to San Rafael when he was 14. (His father, Ed Cushman, retired last year as executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association.) Cushman, now 32, is a therapist at the Community Mental Health Clinic in San Francisco. Both Gage and Cushman are members of The Kitchen, an independent Jewish congregation in San Francisco.
After the prom, the couple dated through the summer until they left for college, when they had a teary break-up. By October, they were missing each other, and dated long distance. But it was difficult. When she went to London for her junior year, and he to Israel, they decided they should date other people. But when Cushman visited Gage in London, they made a decision. “We could be in the same place in a year,” said Cushman, “so there was enough certainty that we could do the long-distance thing one more time.”
While they’ve been together ever since, for most of their 20s, marriage was not on their radar. “It seemed way too mature and organized and adult, and we were still figuring ourselves out,” said Cushman.
By 2008, they began considering it — kind of.
“We had achieved a level of partnership in living together and doing finances together, but we still didn’t understand what it had to offer,” said Gage. “I didn’t want to do it because we were suddenly of the age where other people were doing it.”
Then, two years ago, they returned from a trip to Cuba, to find Cushman’s grandmother on her deathbed. While they got to say goodbye, it began to change their outlook. “She loved us so much as a couple, and we weren’t able to give her that joy,” said Gage.
Both considered traditional proposals outdated, so after a conversation in which they determined they would begin planning their wedding, they surprised each other at different times by proposing.
They married Sept. 20 at Camp Navarro in the Anderson Valley. Calling their weekend “Camp Shmage” (combining letters of their last names) it had a summer camp theme. While the couple came up with a logo, they left it to Abramovitz and another friend to emcee the weekend by planning activities. The camp directors surprised the couple by having “Camp Shmage” T-shirts made; all the “campers” showed up the day before the wedding in their matching T-shirts, for activities like arts and crafts and a songwriting contest. (The winning song, chosen by the couple, was sung to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” A sample line: “Feed me some tacos and lots of booze; I like to party with tons of Jews.”)
They were married by Rabbi Adam Greenwald, a college friend of Gage’s.
The couple wrote the original text of their ketubah, in which they pledged to “work together to cultivate a loving and peaceful home, a refuge that energizes us in the pursuit of a compassionate and equitable society. Together we will strive to appreciate beauty in our surroundings and through our travels, drawing inspiration from the kind and determined way we each carry ourselves in the world.”
In Cushman’s vows, he said, “There have been many different stages, different ‘mes’, different ‘yous’, and somehow we managed to stay attached as we have morphed and changed. There’s tremendous freedom I feel in our relationship. I do not worry about feeling judged or dismissed by you. You’ve loved me as a shy geeky high school senior, you’ve loved me as a rowdy college student, as a moody 20-something, a stressed-out graduate student, and now as an adult.”
And Gage said in hers, “This chuppah, this house we dwell within, is not as flimsy and ethereal as it looks. It was built brick by brick. This chuppah is not our first home. In fact, depending on how you count, it’s somewhere between our third and our 11th. Its foundation is built on our inability to stamp out a beautiful, young and seemingly fleeting connection 13 years ago.”
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