To say that Judy Penso and Marc Manason were feeling hopeful during their second date was an understatement.
On their first date, in early November 2016 at Berkeley’s Rivoli, conversation flowed easily. Unsurprisingly, politics were very much on both of their minds right before the presidential election.
“Among progressives there can be disagreements,” said Manason. “But we don’t have that. We pretty much agree on everything.”
“It was great that we really see eye to eye,” said Penso, who over that first dinner spoke of her plans to fly to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration of Hillary Rodham Clinton and celebrate the first woman president.
A few days later, they spent their second date on election night at Manason’s Berkeley home, expecting to watch Clinton’s victory. He ordered Thai takeout.
Manason was doing the math of the electoral votes in his head as the evening progressed. He predicted the outcome before it was announced.
“Marc said, ‘We lost,’ and I said, ‘No, all these states have to come in,’ but he knew before I did,” recalled Penso, who instead of attending the historic inauguration participated in the first Women’s March in Washington.
At least the hope they felt about their budding relationship wasn’t dashed.
From the moment I met him, I felt I could totally be myself and be understood, which is rare.
Manason, 61, is an attorney who had been married before. Penso, who turned 62 this month, had never married. She appeared in a 2001 cover story in J., then called the Jewish Bulletin, about single moms by choice, written by this reporter.
Penso is retired from her job providing adult protective services for the city of San Francisco. From 1988 to 2006, she served as regional director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Marin and Sonoma counties.
She had dated people on and off over the years, but also spent many years single as she raised her daughter. For her daughter’s last year at home before college, Penso decided she was not going to put any energy into dating. After that year, however, she felt it was finally time to take care of herself, and that meant dating again.
Within a month of signing up on the website OKCupid, she met Manason.
She could tell right away he was looking for a relationship, which wasn’t always clear with the men she met online. After a few months of dating, they spent their first weekend together in Monterey.
“It was a wonderful weekend for me, and I hadn’t experienced anything like it in a long time,” she said.
Penso was 57 when they met and said she had long ago accepted she might never marry. But meeting Manason made her hopeful that she would.
“It was wonderful to meet someone that I loved hanging out with,” she said. “Not only do we have so much fun together, but there were the practical reasons, like that I wanted to grow old with this person.”
For Manason, there was no one moment that “flipped the switch,” it just happened over time.
“Coming off an unsuccessful marriage, I was not looking to dive right back in,” he said. “But I did want a relationship, and it was so good that over time, I thought, yes, let’s get married.”
There was no formal proposal, more of a conversation, and in August 2020 they went ring shopping in San Francisco, both wearing masks amid the pandemic. In one store, the Israeli salesman helping them said he’d leave the room so Manason could properly propose.
“From the moment I met him, I felt I could totally be myself and be understood, which is rare,” said Penso. “He’s also just such a solid person with a lot of integrity whom I can depend on.”
“Judy has a great sense of humor and abundant, positive energy,” said Manason. “She’s deep and complex and warm and caring, and balances me when I can be too serious, as she’s more sociable and irreverent.”
They were married this year on April 30, Lag B’Omer, in their Berkeley backyard. The event was officiated by Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Netivot Shalom, where Penso has been a longtime member. At the time they set the date, they didn’t know they would be fully vaccinated, and happily were able to have the ceremony without masks.
Only a few people were present, with family members watching via Zoom. Penso’s 23-year-old daughter Amalya, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2020 and will pursue a master’s degree in public health at Cal starting next month, helped with the technical side of things. Levy was thrilled, both to officiate her first in-person wedding since Covid and to have an occasion to put on a dress.
In 2001, Penso had told the Jewish Bulletin: “You have your whole life to find the right relationship, but you have a limited time to have a child.”
Even she didn’t know how prescient those words would turn out to be.
“I feel very blessed to have found him. He really is my person,” she said. “It can happen at any age.”