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An Engaging Opportunity

Jewish Nevada Encourages Folks to Connect with the Greater Community

By Jaq Greenspon

It’s said that you find something when you stop looking for it. This really only applies to the intangibles, but then, those are things it’s hardest to let go of. The big one, of course, is partnership. It’s finding that person to make the darkness a little less dark, it’s finding the one whose laugh is a beacon to guide you, or, at the very least, someone who knows how you like your coffee so you don’t have to stand next to them at the counter when it’s their turn to pay.

The problem is time. As we get older, it becomes more difficult to meet people. When we’re kids, we have school and sports and whatever else is around to let us interact with different people all the time and our responsibility list is shorter than a Brittany Spears marriage. But then we grow up. We get jobs and car payments. It becomes harder to meet people, make friends. Then, if we find ourselves at a certain age and romantically unattached, we sometimes get desperate. We find the most flattering pictures of ourselves and pray that whomever sees them swipes the right way or responds favorably to our green check box of “interested.”

But after a while, you realize that’s no way to find a life partner, a best friend. So you pause all your dating app accounts, you tell your friends you’ll be happy to go out for a drink as long as they’re not trying to set you up…again. And you stop looking.

Instead, you focus on what makes you happy. You hang out in bookstores and coffee shops, you improve yourself and you improve what you can do for others. You join a community and make yourself a part of something bigger than you. And while you’re doing that, the strangest thing happens. You find yourself meeting people. People who share your outlook on life. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll meet the person you’ve been looking for. The key is not to seek it out, but to let it find you.

One place to do that is within Jewish Nevada, an organization which includes “creating and building a thriving and connected Jewish community” as part of its two-pronged mission, according to Arielle Ventura, Director, Marketing and Leadership Development.

Through Jewish Nevada, Ventura explains, they try and connect the community. When you get involved, though, and you begin to go to their functions, you start to see the same people again and again. “Because we’re putting on these monthly events,” Ventura says, “they’re coming together and it’s amazing. They’re meeting their future husband or wife and that’s awesome.”

When Jennifer Specter moved to Las Vegas in 2011, she was looking for more of a social life. After spending three years in D.C., where she was putting in 15 hour days over 20 day stretches, she didn’t have time for much of anything and was determined to do something different. Since she had always been involved with the Jewish community, this was a good place to start. So she went to a Federation event in the summer of 2012, specifically to meet a friend of a friend from back in D.C. That friend, Jonathan Tuzman had a girlfriend, so when his buddy, Jonathan Smith, saw him talking to a pretty girl, he wandered over to be introduced. Within a week or two, Specter knew Smith was the right guy for her.

And yet it seems like fate had been intervening for some time. It seems that Jonathan’s father had gone to college with Jennifer’s cousin’s brother. “There may be a photo of us together as children because they used to have these elaborate parties,” Jennifer explains. Then there was the wedding of one of Jonathan’s college friends. “I had a roommate at that time,” Jennifer notes, “and my roommate and John walked down the aisle together at that wedding. They were both in that wedding.” Like fate itself.

That feeling of connectedness seems to be a running theme. Meredith Katz had landed herself a great gig at Zappos, which also meant moving from Indianapolis to Las Vegas straight out of university. When she arrived, she sought out her community from what was familiar - Judaism. Katz had grown up in BBYO, but she wasn’t prepared for how ingrained it had become. “I never realized how much of a comforting connection Judaism is for me until I came and started with the Federation of Las Vegas.”

She started going to the sponsored Happy Hours and at one of them, she met a guy named Chad but “didn’t think anything of it.” She wasn’t here to meet guys. She was here to work, get her career off the ground and do great things. Then she went to a Moishe House party with her friend Mia, whom she’d met through Federation as well. “I pointed out Chad to Mia and said ‘you see that guy over there? I’m gonna go over there and I’m gonna go talk to him.’ She was like ‘okay Meredith, have fun.’”

For Katz, that was it. “Game over,” as she says. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

“We’re so grateful for the Federation because without it, we wouldn’t have met each other. We also wouldn’t have our near and dear friends that we have today, so super for the Federation – it’s now been three years,” Katz says. “Some very wonderful years, done so much together.” She continues “I never realized how important [Judaism] was in a partner until I started dating Chad. Especially with the family part. Our families, had really similar upbringings, they instantly got along, that was so comforting and easy. It was something that I never realized until I had it.”

Then there’s the Bassewitz’s. Hugh and Lisa have been married now for almost six years and have two beautiful children – none of which was anticipated the first time they met. As Lisa remembers: “It was literally a handshake: ‘Hello, this is Hugh Bassewitz, he is chair of the board of National Young Leadership Cabinet.’ ‘Hello nice to meet you’ and that was it.”

Except it wasn’t.

A few years later, Lisa was the New Membership Orientation Chair and, with a pot of coffee and a laptop, was on the balcony of her hotel room, trying to get some work done when who should walk by…

“Hi, I’m Hugh Bassewitz, remember me?”

“Of course I remember you.”

And that was that. As the two started chatting, more and more common ground was uncovered. They both did yoga and were even reading the same book (Game of Thrones). “We started dating long distance for 10 months,” Lisa remembers. “Kinda flew back and forth between Chicago and Las Vegas and then he asked me to marry him. We got engaged with champagne and plastic sippy cups on [his] boat out in Lake Mead. It was lovely.”

For Hugh, meeting Lisa started even before that fateful handshake. “I got involved in Jewish Federation through…it was literally called ‘The Singles Mission,’ He jokes. While he didn’t make any romantic connections then, what it did do was open his eyes to the inherent community. “I was so inspired by what I learned about Israel, and Federation, and wanting to really participate in the Jewish community. The first call I made when I got to Las Vegas was to the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.” Federation connected him with the local Young Leadership group which started everything else, including meeting his wife.

Lisa’s course was a little different: She converted to Judaism when she married her first husband. “You know, when you convert to get married… when you’re no longer married you’re not sure what an important role that plays in your life or if it will continue. The funny thing is it never occurred to me to not be Jewish myself anymore.”

It wasn’t until she was questioned about it by members of the Women’s Council that she began to investigate her own feelings on the subject. “I was sort of shocked by the question because it never occurred to me not to be, but then I dated someone who wasn’t and found myself at all of these Jewish events, by myself, and I started to realize what an important part Judaism played in my life and it became important to me to be with someone who was Jewish.”

With Hugh, she found an even deeper connection. “That’s part of the interesting thing about Hugh and me is that we both have the same values. In addition to yoga and liking the same books, we also share a commitment to taking care of our own community and taking care of the community at large and making the world a better place.”

In the end, all these couples found someone they weren’t looking for who manages to complete them. Not in the sense that they weren’t whole, but, as Lisa Bassewitz explains: “It’s nice to have the support of the other person. We’ve never had to explain to the other person why [what we do is] important to us.”

And really, isn’t that the best any of us can ask for, no matter where we find it?

Dr. Hugh and Lisa Bassewitz with their children Max and Ava.

Jonathan Smith and Jen Specter.

Chad Silver and Meredith Katz.

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