A face in the crowd

A face in the crowd

Even if two people are eager to meet on a blind date, they’d better make sure to get their signals straight or they might pass each other by — as Lisa Kotler and Howard Shafer discovered.

Lisa grew up in Holmdel and attended Princeton and then Yale, where she received her medical degree. Howard was raised just down the road in East Brunswick; he went to Rutgers and got his law degree from Brooklyn Law.

Dr. Lisa Kotler Shafer and Howard Shafer at their wedding and in a recent photograph.

"We grew up a few miles apart," Lisa says, "and both took our undergraduate degrees in New Jersey. But we had more in common than that — we’d both been active in United Synagogue Youth in our area and both attended Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. We’d also been from Conservative families and got more involved in religion while in college." But in spite of being in the same youth group and going to the same camp, Lisa and Howard had never met.

In August of 1994, while Lisa was doing her residency at Mount Sinai, her friend Danny Perla offered to set her up with a guy he knew named Howard Shafer. Lisa told him she couldn’t possibly meet his friend until after the holidays.

"Rosh HaShanah and Labor Day overlapped that year," Lisa recalls, "I was so busy at the hospital, plus I’d made plans to attend a reunion at Camp Ramah that weekend."

But as luck would have it, Howard was also planning to be at the reunion in the Berkshires.

"I called her and we agreed to get together at the camp," Howard says, "but unfortunately we didn’t establish a specific place to meet or describe ourselves."

Lisa laughs. "I got to the reunion and there were hundreds of people. It seemed hopeless. Then at dinner Friday night, I asked a couple I was friends with if they possibly knew Howard. They said they did, but added that he was definitely not right for me." They told Lisa they had someone else in mind for her, but she was determined to find the elusive Howard. Finally, the couple pointed him out to her.

"He was sitting at a table surrounded by six women," Lisa recalls. "I wondered to myself, ‘How many women did he arrange to meet?’"

Lisa decided it was not a good time to step forward. But the next day at Shabbat luncheon, a young man came up to her table and asked if anyone knew a Lisa Kotler. After someone pointed to her, Howard introduced himself. They ended up sharing lunch, and the next afternoon they went sailing on the lake. "Memorable," Lisa says. Yet when she left early to get back to Mount Sinai, Howard was back talking to all the new friends he’d made.

Lisa wasn’t overly encouraged — until Howard called her the following night and asked her out.

"I wanted some private phone time with her," he explains. "Things were pretty hectic at the reunion."

He invited her to dinner at Va Bene, an Italian restaurant in the city, but just before he got to her place, Lisa had a clothing crisis. She finally opted for a casual suit, a fine choice — until Howard showed up at her door in jeans. "I ran right back to my room and changed," she says.

That first dinner went very well, and the two quickly settled into a regular dating routine. Late that winter, after they’d each gone on separate vacations — Lisa to the kosher Club Med, and Howard on a ski trip — Howard took her back to Va Bene — and proposed.

"I’d just finished telling my parents that Howard and I were taking our time because we didn’t want to rush the relationship," Lisa relates with a smile. "So then I had to call them and tell them we were engaged."

In November of 1995 the couple were married in the East Brunswick Hilton and then settled in Manhattan. After the birth of their first son, Ethan, the couple realized they needed a place to spread out. "We moved to a house in Englewood," she says. "And that’s where our second son, Andrew, was born. Right now, both boys are at the Moriah School."

Lisa is a child psychiatrist at the Columbia University Medical Center’s New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Howard has his own law firm in Manhattan, Shafer-Glazer. The family attends East Hill Synagogue, where Howard is on the board. Lisa volunteers with a number of programs that support youth.

Howard believes that the foundation of their marriage is a feeling of mutual respect and trust. For her part, Lisa insists that Howard was worth finding in a crowd. "He’s an incredible person," she says. "Every day he helps me to be a better person — a better wife and mother, a better doctor, and a better Jew."

read more: