Mixing romance and religion RONNEY FELDMAN AND NEIL BRAUNSTEIN


After Ronney Feldman decided to get more serious about the romantic relationships in her life, she realized one thing about all of the men she had dated: None of them was Jewish, as she was. Maybe that was why none of the relationships worked out, she says.

And so the then-26-year-old Pikesville native began seeking men with similar religious beliefs. One of the places she turned was a Jewish singles chat room on America Online. In November 1996, Ronney found herself bantering with a California man. Soon she and Neil Braunstein were sending electronic mail outside the confines of the group.

Two months later, Neil teasingly dared Ronney to call him. She did. After that initial conversation, a late-night pattern developed with Neil calling at 11 p.m. California time and Ronney waking up at 2 a.m. here in Maryland to talk to him for an hour or so. The couple also kept up their e-mail.

In March 1997, Ronney and Neil decided to meet, so Ronney flew to California. When she returned home four days later: "I told everyone I had met the man I was going to marry," she recalls laughing.

Her friends were not so sure. Dan Moldover and his wife, Denise, met Ronney when they all attended Towson University together. While they applauded Ronney's efforts to find a Jewish mate - "Being the same religion makes it easier on the couple and on their families," says Dan - the Moldovers had doubts about this romance that blossomed online.

Neil, too, was in love. But gun-shy from a divorce and a veteran of long-distance relationships that had also failed, he worried that their bicoastal romance would not work out. So in June 1997, when he came to visit his parents, who live in Lancaster, Pa., Neil broke off the relationship.

"I was totally devastated," Ronney says. However, she mustered up the courage to continue e-mailing Neil - though the missives weren't as long or as frequent.

About six months later, Neil decided he'd had his fill of California. With the possibility of getting back together with Ronney lurking in the back of his mind, Neil came east.

It was then that his family realized the depth of his feelings. "Neil's dated other girls and some of them he's been really close to," explains his sister-in-law, Terri Braunstein. "But he never moved for anybody else."

Neil stopped at Ronney's apartment in Timonium on his way to Lancaster. She was working for a photo-finishing business in Timonium, and he was on his way to a position as the senior community planner for the city of Lancaster.

"As soon as he said he was moving back, my heart soared," Ronney recalls. "I was like, 'Yes! I'll take you, I'll take you, I'll take you!' "

On Sept. 6, Ronney, now 28, and Neil, 35, were married at Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore. The ceremony combined Reform and Conservative Jewish traditions as well as Ronney and Neil's own ideas.

Their brothers (Neil has three, Ronney has one), sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, Ronney's grandparents and matron of honor Denise Moldover preceded them down the aisle in place of the traditional wedding party. As their parents, Marge and Bob Feldman of Pikesville and Katie and Arthur Braunstein of Lancaster, stood by, Ronney and Neil said their vows under a huppah (canopy) festooned with flowers.

According to custom, Neil and Ronney shared some time alone together immediately after the ceremony, sequestering themselves in the rabbi's study as friends brought them something to nibble on.

Soon the newlyweds found their way to the party in the temple's reception room. At the first few notes of "Hava Negala," nearly all of the guests headed for the dance floor. Ronney and Neil were hoisted onto chairs and carried around the dance floor as family and friends - singing and with arms clasped - snaked beneath them, dancing the hora.

Her veil waving behind her and shoeless on her impromptu throne, Ronney reached in vain for Neil each time he passed by. Their brothers rocked and shook Ronney's chair, bobbing and weaving precariously through the crowd. As the chairs were brought back to the floor, someone missed a step and Ronney tumbled - with a surprised giggle - right into Neil's lap.

It was a fun and romantic beginning, and Ronney and Neil firmly believe the fun and romance will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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