Love in the Time of COVID
STYLE MagazineWeddings

Love in the Time of COVID

Adira Kessler and Jonathan Roytenberg sure picked an interesting time to get to know one another.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Bride and groom strike a winsome pose.
Bride and groom strike a winsome pose.

A long-distance Zoom friendship turned into long-distance love, amid COVID restrictions that limited travel and forced isolating at home.

Owing to a chance act of kindness in Atlanta, Adira Kessler and Jonathan Roytenberg got to know one another remotely. They explored and soon enjoyed their unexpectedly similar tastes in science fiction movies, love of all kinds of music (“we sing together a lot!,” says Kessler) , mutually-appreciated senses of humor, and shared Jewish values and practices.

Their January wedding at Congregation Beth Jacob united families from Atlanta and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who unanimously claim that the union was clearly bashert (destined) for these two, who had not met before they became online friends, and who subsequently discovered that they were destined to be together.

Jonathan and Adira share a movie joke

The couple would never have met if not for Kessler’s natural generosity, which impressed Chabad teacher, Rebbetzin Nomi Freeman, in 2020. After class one day, Mrs. Freeman asked if anyone was driving to her destination in Sandy Springs. Class attendee Kessler, who lived in the Toco Hills neighborhood, had not initially planned to drive to Sandy Springs, but she immediately offered to give Mrs. Freeman a ride, going well out of her way to help.

Destiny stepped in. Another member of the class, Arielle Lasary, after another of the Rebbetzin’s classes, asked the teacher if she could recommend someone her cousin, Jonathan Roytenberg, in Ottawa, Toronto, Canada, might want to meet, and the teacher, having been impressed with Kessler’s kindness and upbeat personality, immediately responded, “How about Adira Kessler?”

Her suggestion, despite the obvious geographical distance between Jonathan and Adira, didn’t faze Lasary, who became an incidental matchmaker, and the two soon met online.

A Zoom friendship between Kessler and Roytenberg developed, and even before they met in person, they were already compatibly talking to each other every day. Sometimes, they watched movies together and ate dinner together, albeit from their homes far apart. They were physically sharing their lives, but remotely! After only a few meetings in person, when Jonathan came to Atlanta and stayed with his cousin, Arielle, they announced their engagement. It was October of 2021, more than a year from their first Zoom conversation in July of 2020.

Kessler was adopted at the age of 2 ½ by Judy and Jay Kessler (a story in the Atlanta Jewish times in 1992 documented the foreign adoption). She works at Best Buy, creates and edits videos (she graduated with honors from The Art Institute of Atlanta), has composed a few songs, and she has written two books of original poetry. She is a graduate of the Temima High School for Girls and Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., where she became close with Chabad Rebbitzen Shifra Liberow and her family.

Adira Kessler and Jonathan Roytenberg in a quiet moment // Photos Courtesy of Leora Siegelman of Moments of Now Photography

Roytenberg, who is a music therapist and cantor, following meaningful experiences at Jewish summer camp, decided to explore Judaism more deeply by spending a year at an Israeli yeshiva. He subsequently graduated from Yeshiva University in New York. Both Kessler and Roytenberg follow the practices of Orthodox Judaism, which helped to strengthen their connection to each other, and clearly boded well for their eventual marriage.

Because the couple’s courtship was carried out remotely and somewhat clandestinely, the announcement of their engagement came as a joyous surprise to many friends and relatives of both families; however, at a vort (pre-wedding celebration) held in Atlanta, where Roytenberg made a live appearance, and, during which, Jay Kessler and both Adira and Jonathan spoke candidly and emotionally (his parents watched remotely from Canada), it was clear that the couple were meant to be together.

A fire eater entertains at the reception

Kessler and Roytenberg now live in the Toco Hills neighborhood and enjoy attending services in area synagogues, where Jonathan occasionally is called upon to serve as cantor.

This is part of the poem Kessler wrote for Roytenberg, which she read in its entirety at the Vort:

There’s a moment when you find a song
That fits perfectly and fills the moment.
And when you find that song,
You know that it’s the right song…
Jonno, you are my song…”

Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, of Intown Chabad, officiated at the ceremony, and Rabbi Ilan Feldman read the ketuba at the Beth Jacob wedding, under a live flower chuppah by Jim White. White arranged all wedding flowers and stunning décor for the event, happily acceding to the bride’s request for “fire, lots of fairy lights, and fireworks” during the evening’s exuberant simcha dancing. A lavish smorgasbord and multi-course meal by E.B. Catering served the guests. Wedding planner, Martine Gershon, supervised the celebration, assuring that every detail was executed to perfection.

The wedding took place on a rainy day in January. A popular traditional claim of Judaism calls rain a “good sign,” and predicts that a wedding on a rainy day foretells much happiness for the couple. Who would ever doubt such a wonderful omen?

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