AUGUST 24, 2003
Back in June 2002, just minutes before Naomi Stark was to graduate from the University of Oregon in the Judaic studies department, Scot Leavitt was asking the big question that boyfriends ask the fathers of their girlfriends.
Scot, then a 25-year old graduate student, wanted to marry his 22-year-old girlfriend, but before getting engaged he wanted her father's blessing.
The two men stood waiting on a street corner on their way to the ceremony, and Naomi's dad paused for a long moment. "He tortured me," Scot recalls. "And then he gave me a hug and said, 'Of course.'"
Just two years before, Naomi's father wasn't so approving.
In the fall of 2000, Naomi and Scot left for a study-abroad program at the University of Haifa in northern Israel. Naomi's parents were worried that their daughter, who'd never been in a long-term serious relationship, was running off with a guy she'd met only six months before--not to mention that he wasn't even Jewish.
The couple went anyway. "It was an awkward year," Naomi says of her relationship with her disapproving parents.
It was also an extremely important year. While they were living in Israel, Scot made a decision about his long-held desire to convert to Judaism.
He wasn't interested in the religion just because of his relationship with Naomi. In fact, he makes a point of separating their love story from those Hollywood love stories--like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where a guy falls in with his girlfriend's religion only after he's fallen in love with her.
"I was interested [in Judaism] before I met Naomi," Scot says. What prompted his curiosity was a long history of connection with Jewish people and beliefs, thanks to his attendance at frequent bar mitzvah parties, a stint in a kosher bakery and time spent with friends in a Jewish dormitory. He even bears a Jewish-sounding name, though he says he's not exactly sure of the origins of his family's surname.
The couple stuck together in Haifa, making the same friends, taking the same classes and touring the country together. When they returned to Oregon, Naomi says she knew they'd end up getting married. "I came out of [that experience] realizing, 'This is it,'" she says.
Naomi's family--including her father--was pleased when the couple returned still very much together. "He saw that we were still committed to each other," Naomi says.
During the next year, the couple moved into a Eugene apartment while Naomi completed her last year of college, and Scot began a master's program in mathematics. In March, he also enrolled in a six-month course of religion classes leading to conversion to Judaism.
The couple started talking about getting married. Things started heating up right before graduation when Naomi's stepmother presented the couple with a hand-me-down gift, an antique engagement ring.
On that graduation day, when the men arrived on campus with wide smiles, Naomi knew that her dad had just given Scot the thumbs-up. But she couldn't exactly predict what would happen next.
Amid a crowd of anxious families and begowned, soon-to-be-graduates, Scot pulled the engagement ring from his pocket and asked Naomi to marry him. After she said yes, word spread quickly. That's when her classmates and professors in the Judaic studies department, as well as scores of Jewish families, erupted in shouts of "Mazel tov!"
This August--a year after Scot's conversion was complete--the couple heard goodwill wishes once again, this time after Rabbi Shoshana Dworsky pronounced them husband and wife in their wholly Jewish ceremony.