Ben first got involved with the JLE when studying at Bristol University nine years ago and spent the summer of 2013 enjoying the JLE Genesis Israel trip. Upon graduating, he discovered that the pressures of work as a lawyer in the City meant that he was unable to devote proper time to developing his spiritual growth. It was during the second lockdown, in November 2020, that Ben’s friend, Avi, suggested that they both go for a Covid-friendly garden meet up and chat with Rabbi Dov Cowan, whom Avi had been learning with for a couple of years. That garden conversation, which turned into a deep discussion on life, the cosmos and everything, was the start of weekly learning sessions and a strong bond of connection with Rabbi Dov. Eventually, once the programmes started again in January 2021, Ben became a regular attendee at the JLE’s Wednesday night classes.
Ben’s post-lockdown JLE journey culminated in an incredible “Soul Journey” countryside Shabbaton a few months later, where, surrounded by a group of like-minded and open-hearted participants, and inspired and invigorated by the Torah classes, Ben felt that he had finally found the community of young Jews that he had always searched for. Profoundly impacted by that Shabbaton, Ben continued to attend the Soul Fitness weekly sessions and it was after one of the Jewish meditation classes in June, that Rabbi Dov approached Ben about a potential marriage partner to build a Jewish Home
“I knew whom he was referring to because there are not many people called Stella,” he recalls. I thought to myself - with the Rabbi's blessing - why not give it a shot!
For her part, Stella had similarly first discovered the JLE through a Genesis trip during university, where she made friends she is still in touch with years later. She, too, returned to attend JLE programming during the second lockdown. “Like so many other people, it helped me through a time that I was finding very difficult,” she says. The classes helped her connect with both other young Jews and, more importantly, with her own self. A keen devotee of yoga, Stella found that Rabbi Dov’s classes allowed her to now appreciate meditation from a Jewish perspective. “I was given a spiritual framework for those practices which I had thought needed to be separated from my Jewish identity. It allowed me to find a perfect synthesis between the different paths of my life and allowed me to really develop my spirituality.”
One Wednesday night in June 2021, Stella was absolutely exhausted and wasn’t sure she could attend the Soul Fitness class. But something inside forced her to make her way to the JLE that night and as she made her way up the stairs she was met by Rabbi Dov who asked if she was open to meeting someone.
It turned out that Rabbi Dov wasn’t the only one at JLE hoping the two would meet. Shoshi King, who had known Stella for many years, also approached her about Ben and their first date was Sunday, the 20th of June. “We just hit it off,” Stella says. “It was very obvious very, very quickly that we had a lot in common. We had very similar values and attitudes toward quite important subjects. It was an unexplainable chemistry.”
Over the next few months, the relationship blossomed. They enjoyed Shabbat dinners at Rabbi Dov’s and both continued attending JLE programs. At one meditation class in November of last year, Rabbi Dov discussed Jacob’s ladder, and the lesson of how Judaism emphasises living a spiritual life in a physical world; a lesson that resonated with both of them.
On the 6th of December, Ben and Stella were hiking in Scotland. “I’m usually perceptive, but even though Ben had been planning this for a few weeks, I did not have the slightest suspicion that it would happen,” Stella says. There, at the top of a hill overlooking beautiful historic Edinburgh, Ben proposed. As they descended down the hill, calling family and friends, they noticed the name of the pathway they had chosen to make their ascent - its name - “Jacob’s Ladder.”
A few weeks later they returned to the JLE for a L’Chayim in the very same place that they had first met.
Ben and Stella are now busy planning their wedding, 19th June, with no doubt in their mind as to who should be the Rabbi to marry them. Says Ben; “We both credit the JLE for not only meeting each other but allowing them to do so in a meaningful context. It will be so special to have Rabbi Dov with us under the chuppah running the ceremony.”
This Pesach Ben and Stella will be celebrating their first Seder Night together with their families – a cornerstone of building their future Jewish home. “We have both chosen to embrace our Judaism to the full. We met while learning about Judaism and we can’t wait, please G-d, to see this enrich the home we will build together,” says Stella. Ben adds, “In the process of finding ourselves we found each other.”