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Couple find faith in each other, and something bigger

Janice and Jerry Nepon-Sixt, first married in 1984, walked down the aisle at Congregation Beth Am together on Aug. 12 to seal their union in the Jewish faith.

Courtesy of April Waldman-Slone

Janice and Jerry Nepon-Sixt, first married in 1984, walked down the aisle at Congregation Beth Am together on Aug. 12 to seal their union in the Jewish faith.

TAMPA

The first time Janice and Jerry got married, it happened it in their back yard. She sang him the song Time After Time. They picked a Unitarian minister.

Janice had always celebrated Jewish holidays, but she felt a little disconnected from her faith. Jerry was Catholic once, but he stopped believing when he was 13. Religion didn't factor into that wedding in 1984. What did factor was their connection, fiery and palpable from the start.

Janice was 30 when they met a few years earlier. She was twice-divorced with a young child, intent on shucking the disappointment and gloom of her failed marriages. She decided to go to a New Year's Eve party. She wore a white pantsuit and navy blouse. She was beautiful, with a young face and salt and pepper hair, elegance in a room of raggedy sweaters and jeans.

Jerry noticed her immediately and felt breathless. He was 24 with a broken pickup truck and one pair of gym shoes to his name. But he was undeniably cute. At midnight, every unattached woman in the place lined up to give Jerry a kiss.

Janice got in line.

"Couldn't I have one of those?" she asked.

They moved in together, got married and had a baby. Jerry stayed home with the kids while Janice visited Israel with her parents. She experienced the reverence there, the people of faith speaking Hebrew, the deference to the Sabbath so strong even city buses stopped running. It was hard to explain the shift she felt. But she wanted more.

"We have to check out the synagogue," she told Jerry back home.

Jerry was always a scholar, a history buff, a big reader. The idea of learning about the Jewish faith in a synagogue was interesting, and he wanted his wife to be happy. The family started going. They joined their last names and became Jerry Nepon-Sixt and Janice Nepon-Sixt.

They raised their kids in the Jewish faith. Jerry taught Jewish Sunday school for seven years. In 1990, the family moved from Iowa to Tampa and found a young, growing temple in Congregation Beth Am. They felt a click there, and they gave much of their time.

Jerry was so committed, some people at the temple didn't know he wasn't really Jewish. His rabbi did, though. He told Jerry that once he was truly Jewish, he would just know. He would feel it. He wouldn't have to think about it. Things happened as the rabbi said. Someone on an airplane asked Jerry if he was Jewish. He said yes.

He began the official process. He went through the required steps, the classes, the training, the dedications. This year, he converted.

"Now you can be married under the chuppah," he told his wife.

Janice started planning. She arranged the band, the caterer, the clothes. They took the required marriage counseling from their rabbi. How would they be different the day after their wedding, the rabbi asked. They were 60 and 55 now. How would they improve on the 28 years they had already had?

On Aug. 12, they signed the ketubah. They walked down the aisle at Congregation Beth Am together. She circled him three times, he circled her three times, and they circled once together. Janice and Jerry drank from the same cup of wine. They exchanged bands. They received seven blessings, and Jerry broke a glass under his foot.

After the ceremony, Jerry stared at Janice. They felt the same but different, and they gripped each other. When they emerged for the reception, the band leader introduced them by their Hebrew names.

Jerry and Janice danced to Time After Time.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8857.

Couple find faith in each other, and something bigger 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 4:31am]

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