On the very last day of March — a month that would prove very important to Mitchell Messinger and Deborah Kaplan Jacoby — the couple danced their first dance as newlyweds.
The song they chose was “I Lava You,” from Disney’s 2014 animated film “Lava,” a short played before theater screenings of “Inside Out.” The song tells the story of a patient kind of fairy tale, about a lonely volcano who sits isolated in the middle of the Pacific for thousands of years. Despite his desolation, he remains hopeful that one day he will find his love. What he can’t know is that another lonely volcano has been living just below him under the sea, listening to his song all these years.
Days after she and Mr. Messinger shared their first date, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby took her son, Josh, to see “Inside Out.” And there in the theater, tears streaming down her face at the sight of two volcanoes defying odds and geology to be together, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby recognized a version of her own love story.
But first, there was heartache.
Mr. Messinger, 48, the publicity director of ABC Entertainment, was born in Manhattan to Barry and Linda Messinger. Ms. Messinger disliked the city, and they quickly moved to New Jersey when Mr. Messinger was just 6. He attended Syracuse University, where he was for two years the school’s mascot, Otto the Orange. Soon after college, he married Michelle Levine.
Mr. Messinger and Ms. Levine had been married for 20 years when, in May of 2014, she died, at 42, of breast cancer. Their daughter, Jillian, was just 10 at the time. Suddenly a single father and grieving widower, Mr. Messinger found himself in the midst of the kind of tragedy people whisper about while knocking wood or tossing salt, in the hopes that this kind of loss will somehow swerve around them.
Slowly however, Mr. Messinger began to heal. After about a year, he decided it was time to give dating a try. But now with apps and social media to navigate, Mr. Messinger found the dating world completely transformed from the one he had first known. “I felt like, O.K., I’m not a millennial. I have a child.” Mr. Messinger said. “I just knew I wanted something more organic. I asked some close friends to start scanning their Rolodexes, which I don’t even think people use anymore.” Before he knew it, every friend, cousin, and mom at the elementary school his daughter attended was scanning their real or virtual Rolodexes.
Ms. Kaplan Jacoby, 46, was born to Dr. Howard and Georgia Kaplan. She grew up in Las Vegas, and later attended Emerson College in Boston. She is currently a senior client success manager at CareerArc.
By 2015, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby had also decided to give dating a second shot. She had left her marriage in 2010, and was officially divorced from her husband in 2012. Her daughter, Sarah, was 8, and her son Josh, almost 5. The separation had been difficult, and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby waited years before she was ready to date again. But when she was ready, she was ready. “I went on a lot of dates,” she said laughing, but nothing sparked. “I was ready to swear off dating all together. And then Sharon called to ask if I would be interested in a blind date with a widower.”
Sharon Rosenthal and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby met in the 1990s as co-workers who quickly became close friends. Ms. Rosenthal knew Ms. Kaplan Jacoby well, but she was hesitant to get involved in any kind of setup. “It made me nervous,” she said. “You don’t want to accept the responsibility if it doesn’t work out. I was just cautious.” But when Ira Sherak, a close friend of Mr. Messinger, told Ms. Rosenthal that he had an idea about two friends whom he thought might really hit it off, she paid attention. Mr. Sherak, after all, had introduced Ms. Rosenthal to her own husband. In fact, Mr. Sherak has quite the track record as a professional yenta. They couldn’t know it yet, but this would be his fourth setup to result in marriage.
Mr. Sherak had been close friends with the Messingers for years. He’d known Mr. Messinger’s first wife well, and he wanted to see his friend happy again. “The stories I’d heard about Deb through Sharon reminded me so much of Michelle,” Mr. Sherak said. “They were both sharp and funny. And they shared the same core values. All of these little things just added up.” Apparently that age-old adage applies to couples and matchmakers alike: When you know, you know.
Ms. Kaplan Jacoby and Mr. Messinger had their first date March 25, 2015. This is a date Ms. Kaplan Jacoby can confirm with certainty because she diligently kept a journal entry of each one of the dates she and Mr. Messinger shared. Their first date was sushi. Later, they hiked, saw movies, and took small weekend trips away. Both avid Broadway fans (their honeymoon is a Broadway-themed cruise to Alaska, hosted by Sirius XM’s Seth Rudetsky), they attended shows at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles.
One afternoon, Mr. Messinger took Ms. Kaplan Jacoby to a French restaurant. As she gamely admired the Parisian décor, she asked him if he knew how to say anything in French. “J’adore Deb,” he told her. She asked him what it meant, smiled, but said nothing in return. It wasn’t until several hours later that it dawned on her: he’d just told her he loved her for the first time. Finally, 77 entries later, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby decided it was time to stop journaling. She had found her future.
It was also around this time that she and Mr. Messinger decided they were ready to introduce their children to each other. Jillian, Sarah and Josh are close in age. Jillian and Sarah, now 15 and 14, even share a birthday. But so much of the close friendship they would eventually develop can be attributed to their grandparents. Mr. Messinger remains close with his in-laws, Stu and Helene Levine, as does Ms. Kaplan Jacoby with hers, Marc and Marci Jacoby. All four sets of grandparents attended the wedding. Ms. Kaplan Jacoby’s father-in-law even joined them for dinner the night the children met, facilitating new friendships and putting everyone at ease. If it was possible for these complicated relationships to blend together so effortlessly, perhaps they, the children, could as well.
On March 3 2018, Mr. Messinger asked Ms. Kaplan Jacoby to marry him. It was, by every definition of modern romance, a perfect proposal: at the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills, Calif., in a Japanese-style pagoda that was reminiscent of their first date. After she said yes, they went to the bar to celebrate and were shocked to find Chris Harrison, the longtime host of ABC’s reality show “The Bachelor,” there to congratulate them. Mr. Harrison is a longtime friend of Mr. Messinger, and he just happened to be there that night. But for the roughly five million Americans who watch “The Bachelor,” having the crowned head of professional engagements present seemed like some kind of cosmic Hollywood blessing.
By November 2018, the two families had been living together in Mr. Messinger’s house in Bell Canyon, Calif., for several months when disaster would strike. The Woolsey Fire, which ravaged Los Angeles and Ventura counties, tore through their neighborhood. Of the 10 houses on their street, only three would remain standing. Fortunately, the Messinger-Kaplan Jacoby home was spared. Still, the house was badly damaged, and the family evacuated. (They still have not been given the all clear to return to their home.)
For the first two weeks after the fire, they stayed together at Ms. Kaplan Jacoby’s father-in-law’s home. They then spent the next two months in a hotel, Josh bunking with Mr. Messinger and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby, while Sarah and Jillian shared their own room. What had initially been a shy and careful friendship between the girls, quickly became something much deeper. “It was a blessing in disguise because we all became really close,” Sarah said. The experience transformed the trio into siblings.
On Sunday, March 31, almost exactly a year to the day after their engagement, and four years after their first date, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby and Mr. Messinger wed before 80 friends and family members in a morning ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village. It was one of those beautiful Los Angeles mornings that no one, not even the jaded Californians accustomed to this kind of weather, can resist commenting on. Mr. Messinger and a handful of family members and close friends gathered in a small room where he and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby would sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage license, before the ceremony. With an endearing case of wedding morning jitters, Mr. Messinger happily hopped around playing the host, introducing those who didn’t already know each other. In his element as this natural hype man, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Otto the Orange in action.
The air was soft and smelled of jasmine as Ms. Kaplan Jacoby, wearing a fitted lace gown by DB Studio, strode into the lush courtyard where Mr. Messinger was waiting, with his back to her. Smiling, she playfully tapped him on the shoulder. Overwhelmed by the bittersweetness of the day, Mr. Messinger was in tears before he turned around. “All good?” she gently checked in with him. “All good,” he reassured her.
The family, including children and grandparents, stood together under the huppah. Jillian, Sarah and Josh stood to the left of Mr. Messinger, while Barry and Lynda Messinger, and Howard and Georgie Kaplan, stood proudly to the right of Ms. Kaplan Jacoby. This, Rabbi Stewart Vogel explained, is symbolic of how these two have chosen to walk into their future together: with family at their sides.
“The beauty and extended nature of this family,” Rabbi Vogel said, “is that they are committed to these extended relationships. It’s what makes them a truly modern family.”
As Mr. Messinger and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby exchanged their own vows, all three children — young teenagers, who only minutes before were making goofy faces to stave off some of the seriousness of the day — wept openly.
“How lucky am I to have a second chance at love?” Mr. Messinger asked his bride, friends and family. To which the rabbi quipped, “There’s not a dry eye in the house, Mitch.”
After the ceremony, friends and family filed into a sunlit room for a sumptuous brunch. “Just enjoy it,” said 11-year-old Josh, his feet dangling from a high-backed chair. “It’s a one-time opportunity. Nobody lives forever. You have to make it count.”
And just like that, the eggs Benedict had been consumed, the cake had been cut, and the couple had been toasted with champagne. Through tears, friends of the bride and groom repeated the same sentiment again and again: Despite everything, they have found love again.
Maybe it wasn’t thousands of years in the making, but they had found each other. And it was time for them to dance. As they swayed in each others arms, Ms. Kaplan Jacoby softly sang along to the lyrics of the song they had chosen together.
Oh they were so happy
To finally meet above the sea
All together now their lava grew and grew
No longer are they all alone.
She knew every word by heart.
Rosalie R. Radomsky contributed reporting from New York.
ON THIS DAY
When March 31, 2019
Where Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Los Angeles
The Brunch Wedding guests were invited to wander the four sprawling rooms where 10 different stations were laid out.
The Band The guitarist Dori Amarilio and the vocalist Gretje played during the ceremony and reception. The family walked down the aisle to a moving cover of Carly Simon’s “Love of My Life.” Mr. Messinger and Ms. Kaplan Jacoby entered the reception to a celebratory rendition of “I Love Being Here With You,” by Peggy Lee, a 1940s jazz singer.
For Good Cause To help raise money for the victims of the Woolsey Fire, members of the Bell Canyon community designed and sold T-shirts. All proceeds go directly to that community.
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