Welcome to Part 2 of our ongoing series about getting married during a pandemic. This time, I’m chatting with Natick couple Shanna Zell and Josh Mondshein, who managed to find a silver lining in their love story despite a few hiccups. They initially planned a big bash at the InterContinental Boston but ended up at Newport’s Castle Hill Inn with a small group and a gorgeous sunset.

Tell us your love story!

Shanna: I think it’s a very cute story. I’m a cantor at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. I was in cantorial school until 2017, when I was ordained, and moved from Brooklyn to Brookline in May 2017. When I got here, I signed onto JSwipe and was eager to meet someone. Josh and I matched on JSwipe in May 2017, and we chatted a bunch but never met. In fact, we also spoke on the phone. The timing wasn’t right. I was a city girl who was missing Brooklyn. Josh was a homeowner in the suburbs with a dog, a little bit older than me.

We never met. We dated other people. Fast forward to March 2018, and I was co-officiating a bar mitzvah. I looked into the congregation and noticed this cute guy sitting there! I started singing up and down the aisles to get a closer look, and I thought, “I think that’s Josh from JSwipe!” I was basing this on a picture. He knew I was a cantor and that I was going to be there. I kept thinking, “Maybe he’ll say hi to me after the service,” but he didn’t. I ended up running after the bar mitzvah boy’s mom, literally running past a school bus of children, in my high heels!

Oh my.

Shanna: I said, “Your son was great! By the way, is there a guy named Josh here?” I’m going to spare all the other details, but she said, “Do you want me to have him call you?” And I said yes. He called me the next day. Josh ended up coming down with a really bad flu, so we ended up not going out until May 14, 2018, which was two months later. One of his text messages to me was, “Do you want to set the record for longest time between matching on a website and actually meeting?” I said, “Sure.” And so we met. Our first date was at Burro Bar in Brookline.

How was it?

Shanna: Both of us thought we were doing a favor to our mutual friend. We thought, “Eh, if it was meant to be, we would’ve gone out sooner.” So neither of us was that excited. But we went, and I remember when he walked in, I thought he was much cuter than I remembered, and within 10 minutes I thought he was really funny. Really, really funny. Josh, do you want to weigh in at all?

Josh: I think I’m funny too.

How long did you date before getting engaged?

Shanna: We dated for 13 months to the day.

When were you supposed to get married?

Shanna: We chose June 21, 2020, which was Father’s Day, because my parents were married on Father’s Day in 1978. We thought it would be a nice tie with my parents to share that date with them.

Josh Mondshein and Shanna Zell (Photo: Zev Fisher)

How did the pandemic affect your plan?

Shanna: This is where everything is so lovely and cheery and funny and cute, and then suddenly it just stinks. We set the date soon after we got engaged. I had my shower and bachelorette on the same day in Philadelphia, on Feb. 29.

Soon after, the pandemic was hitting and at work I was getting pressure to start shutting down lifecycle events and go virtual and reschedule. Josh works at Northeastern University, and his last day of work was March 22, and we kept seeing the signs. We started getting pressure in April to make a decision, and it was really hard.

In late April, early May, we made the decision to postpone to Dec. 20, thinking everything would be better. Our vendors were awesome. And then on a socially distanced trip to visit our friends on the Cape at the end of May, we saw that things were lightening a little bit. And, you know, we’re a little bit older. I was 36, Josh is 44, and I said, “I don’t want to put our life on hold forever.” We started calling places, and it looked like Newport’s regulations were a little bit more lax than in Massachusetts. We could have 15 guests plus clergy there, or just 10 guests including clergy somewhere in Massachusetts.

Were you impatient? Were you nervous? Were you calm? How were you doing psychologically?

Shanna: I mean, I was heartbroken—especially when you get married a little bit later, when you wait your whole life to meet somebody. I was envisioning my wedding day for my whole life, and I know Josh was, too. We had waited so long to find each other and to have to change course? He really wanted a summer wedding, and the idea of Boston in December was depressing. There was a lot of heartache. But from my perspective, I was advising people to move forward and that there must be joy even in our darkest times, and I felt like if I was telling people to do that, we also had to adhere to that advice.

And so, within three-and-a-half weeks, we basically threw together a micro-wedding in Newport. For Josh, it was a matter of having really specific people there, and it was heartbreaking to whittle down our list of over 400 to 15 people. We had to make very difficult choices.

How did you do that?

Shanna: It was not easy. It was basically immediate family. When we invited Josh’s best man, who’s like a brother to him, his wife wasn’t even included. I mean, it was heartbreaking.

How did you explain this to people?

Shanna: We just appealed to everybody’s sense of compassion. This was not an easy decision, and we had to make the decisions that made sense for us. Also, we based it on who was willing to quarantine before coming and who wasn’t. We took such precautions. Everybody who came received a welcome bag of masks and hand sanitizer. Our wedding favor was a special soap from Rhode Island that we love. Everything was focused on safety and hygiene. My cantorial predecessor officiated for us behind a plexiglass barrier.

Josh Mondshein and Shanna Zell Wedding 06-21-20
Josh Mondshein and Shanna Zell (Photo: Zev Fisher)

Do you still plan to do something in December?

Shanna: Neither Josh nor I see a time in the next year or two where it’s going to actually be safe to gather 400 guests indoors somewhere, and we’re married! We ended up Zooming in all of our guests. The wedding in June evolved; every day something changed, from our attire to the menu, to who was included, to who was Zooming in. It ended up becoming really beautiful.

If you had to offer some lessons to people in your situation, what did you learn? What advice do you have?

Shanna: As hard as it is, as difficult as it can be, it’s critical that we find ways to be joyful in the middle of a pandemic. And that with a little creativity and support from your friends and family, anything’s possible. We had a beautiful wedding day! It was joyful, it was celebratory, it was happy.

The other silver lining, especially in my role as cantor, is we’re seeing really creative ways to celebrate. I think there’s a good chance that if we’re able to, at our one-year anniversary, we’ll have a small party in our yard at our new house. Just to have people here, just to celebrate all the stuff that’s happened. Even caterers are finding really creative ways to do food differently now, and photographers are doing distanced photo shoots. People are figuring it out, and that to me is really exciting.

What about you, Josh?

Josh: I think we both needed a lot of patience and understanding, and to be flexible and remember what’s important. We kept saying, “Alright, well, we have each other. We don’t have a wedding, but we have each other.”

It was a big blow to us to lose a wedding of 400 people. We had friends we haven’t seen in ages, people coming from all over the world who we were looking forward to seeing and celebrating with. It feels like we had that robbed from us and taken away from us, and, as Shanna said, that really stings. The silver lining is that we had a really beautiful day. The temperature was perfect, and the setting was perfect. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life, and everybody ran out of the tent to go watch the sunset. There were fireworks, unexpectedly, on the other side of the river.

Despite the current landscape of our world, we are happy to still have found a meaningful way to ride off into the sunset.