First Date: February 1996
Wedding Date: Jan. 27, 2002
Venue: Uitsig, a wine estate in Cape Town, South Africa
Residence: Owings Mills
Favorite Activity: Traveling, spending time together and with their kids, going to concerts
Lara and Roger enjoyed a sunset picnic on one of the many beaches in Durban, a city in their native South Africa. They’d brought takeout Chinese food. After they ate, Lara cracked open her fortune cookie. The tiny strip of paper inside contained a fortune she wasn’t expecting: a marriage proposal. With Lara’s assent, Roger claims his future became “a lot more interesting.” The events of the past 15 years have taken the couple across three continents and even resulted in a change in nationality, from South African to American.
“Most of the excitement over the years has been Lara challenging us to do something different together,” Roger said. Lara claims her husband is just as adventurous, taking jobs in London, Brussels and finally, Baltimore, where they’ve lived for 12 years.
When the two met at a party in college, 19-year-old Lara thought 19-year-old Roger was “cute. He had really long hair.” Lara can list the attributes that appealed to her in their early dating days: “He had an MG, and he had a motorbike.” And, because their school, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, was in Roger’s hometown, “his mom and three sisters took me in. I could go to his family home for home-cooked meals. That was the attraction for me!” joked Lara.
Roger thought she was cute as well. Lara was tanned, having spent time in Israel. The pair recall Lara sported a nose ring at the time. “She wasn’t like every other girl,” Roger said.
They said they didn’t officially go on a first date; they spent time together on campus and at Roger’s family’s home. The pair dated all through college. Lara, who graduated the year before Roger, moved to “the big city,” which in their area was Durban, for work. “We were apart for a year,” Lara recalled. After his graduation, Roger was recruited in a different city. But they hated being apart. “He was bought out of his contract” so he could move to Durban. “He did it for us, for me,” Lara said.
After six years of dating, the couple now waited only six months to marry. They held their wedding “in the gardens, under the trees” at Uitsig, a wine estate in Cape Town with views of Table Mountain.
Their wedding included aspects from all the families’ traditions, including Roger’s Episcopalian family: They married under a chuppah, unity prayers were said, Roger broke the glass, and Tzili Reisenberger, a Jewish officiant, presided. “It was really hard to find someone who would do an interfaith wedding,” Lara remembered. They had to write the ceremony themselves. “Nobody in our families had seen a ceremony like ours before and since.”
As they had agreed before they married, Roger and Lara are raising their children in Lara’s Jewish tradition. Lara says both sets of parents were accepting of their interfaith relationship and that her family “had known [Roger] for six years, so it wasn’t a surprise. We shared the same values, and we’d discussed what we wanted from a family and how we’d raise our kids.”
Their marriage and move to Baltimore’s tight-knit Jewish community inform Lara’s work at the Jewish Community Center as its program director at the Center for Jewish Life. She said: “I welcome newcomers to the area.” She also works in “interfaith engagement, referring interfaith couples to wedding officiants.”
Roger said Lara is “a good complement to me and challenges us to do more. We are where we are [because of] her role in the relationship.” And, he joked: “She’s good at making friends, so I don’t have to!” Lara said: “Wherever we go, Roger can make a home.”
Lara and Roger have found their marriage works because they talked about what they wanted for their family before they married. “It’s important to be self-aware, to talk about what you want,” Lara said. Roger added: “We had to go out and find resources beforehand and research. We did ourselves what would be the equivalent of pre-marriage counseling.”
The rest of their family has also moved from South Africa and are now scattered around the globe from Europe to New Zealand to Canada. The lack of extended family in their time zone can sometimes make raising a family tough. Fortunately, Roger and Lara enjoy the close relationships they’ve forged in Baltimore.
“Our family is so far away,” Lara said. “Our friends are our family here.”
Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.