Josepha Gayer and Bernard Beitch
Nov. 10, 2019, in Philadelphia
Josepha’s favorite childhood memories often include her aunts, Sarah and Toby Wolfberg.
Aunt Sarah and Aunt Toby loved treating their nieces and nephews to the rides and games at the former Willow Grove Park. They even took Josepha to Radio City Music Hall. And their Southwest Philly home on Warrington Avenue was where Josepha’s family celebrated most Jewish holidays.
On one such holiday when Josepha was about 8, she saw Berny, a neighbor boy, in his Boy Scout uniform.
“I thought he was just adorable,” she remembers.
He was six years older and more interested in camping trips than girls in party dresses. He and Josepha never spoke, but her aunts also played a huge role in Berny’s childhood.
“They were like my big sisters,” he said. “They did so much for so many people in my neighborhood, especially the kids — they would treat us to water ice and pizza, or take us to ball games.”
Berny earned a law degree from Penn and founded Bernard D. Beitch and Associates, a boutique Center City law firm serving professionals and small business owners in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida.
When he wasn’t working, Berny, who is now 82, was having a lot of fun. He and his many friends had plenty of adventures, and he had quite a few girlfriends, too. “I was a playboy,” he said. “I enjoyed life too much to settle down.”
Josepha had adventures of a different kind. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in vocal performance, she became an opera singer and sang roles from Figaro’s mother to the old woman in Candide at venues including the Metropolitan Opera House, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, most other U.S. opera houses, and many international ones. Now 76, she has three adult children, Beth, Robin, and Oscar; three grandchildren, Alexis, Evan, and Sequoia; and two ex-husbands, the last of whom she divorced in 1992.
In September 2008, Josepha ran into Aunt Sarah and Aunt Toby at a birthday party. “I want you to meet our lawyer,” Toby said, and gave her Berny’s phone number.
Josepha, who had just moved from Lafayette Hill to Center City, assumed her aunts wanted to help her make new friends in town and left a message on his voice mail.
She didn’t know the aunts had also given her number to Berny. “Is she pretty?” he asked. They assured him he’d like her. Taking that as a no, he never called. But Josepha’s initiative captured his attention.
After an easy half hour of phone conversation, he invited her to drinks at the Bellevue. When Josepha agreed to dinner, he took her to a table on the balcony, overlooking the whole city.
“It was kind of fun, and sexy, too,” Josepha said. “That’s when I realized this was not just a friend thing.”
She suggested their second date: She’d get them tickets to Candide, which was playing at the Arden Theatre, and he could pick up dinner. That dinner, both say, is where Berny really goofed.
“I said a couple of stupid things: ‘Don’t fall in love with me,’ and ‘I’m not your savior,’ ” he remembers. Berny meant this as a warning: I like you, but don’t get too close.
Josepha shot back: “First of all, I’m not in love with you, I just met you. And second, I don’t need anybody to save me.” For the first time ever, she couldn’t wait for Candide to end.
A few weeks later, Berny invited her to watch the Eagles game at his friends’ house. Josepha opted to give him a second chance, and they had a blast. On their way home, he apologized, unprompted, for saying such awkward things on date No. 2.
Twice-weekly dates led to trips to the Jersey Shore and to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Berny began traveling to see Josepha sing. “I love going to different cities and watching her on stage, going to her dressing room and to cast parties,” he said. “She would text me from her dressing room between acts, and that was a big kick.”
Josepha loved it, too. “I did have a great career, I sang with big artists in big places. But at night, you go home alone. It was lovely to have him there.”
Josepha is very pretty, Berny said, but he fell in love with the closeness between them, and how easy it was to be with her. Josepha said she fell for his humor, his integrity, and “the twinkle in his eye that can be dangerous.”
In 2013 — the year her one-woman show, Renaissance: Notes From Italy, debuted — Josepha moved to Berny’s house in Washington Square West. Their travels often included trips to Florida, where many of Berny’s family members live. In May 2018, after some health issues made those Philly staircases more difficult, the two reversed course. They got an apartment in Miami Beach, but make frequent trips to Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore — often on “gambling junkets,” Berny says.
Josepha released a solo album in 2016. Berny retired from his Center City law practice in November 2019, but continues to do arbitration and mediation.
On Valentine’s Day 2019, over dinner at a South Beach steak house, Josepha lifted her cocktail to her boyfriend.
“Honey, I love you so much!” she said.
“Then why don’t you marry me?” he retorted.
Gobsmacked, Josepha had questions of her own:
“Are you kidding me?”
“Are you really proposing to me?”
“Well,” she replied, “OK!”
A week later, they chose a ring.
Berny wanted their 95 guests to experience a Philadelphia icon, so, on an Eagles bye week, the couple exchanged vows in the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute. They chose a chuppah that would not impede their view of the stars.
The institute equipped Rabbi Saul Grife, with a flashlight. “It’s so dark in here!” he quipped to the guests. “I hope you’re all out there, because I can’t see a damn thing!” That was just one of the times the couple broke into laughter.
The bride eschewed a typical wedding dress for a simple black one and fabulous shoes. She curated the music for the ceremony, Train Factory cocktail hour, and Franklin Hall reception — a mix including Pavarotti, Streisand, Queen, and the Grateful Dead.
There was one live performance: Josepha serenaded Berny with “Till There Was You,” from The Music Man.
Josepha and her children took a surreal selfie, then the planetarium doors opened. “I saw Berny standing there, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening. I’m going to marry this man who I love!' ”
Berny’s favorite part of the wedding and reception was the bride’s happiness. “I knew what a turn-on it was for her, and that was a turn-on for me.” He tends to deliver mood-lightening one-liners when emotions get heavy, but Berny choked up saying his vows. Josepha thought,“You really do love me, don’tcha?”
The bargain: Granddaughter Alexis taught Josepha how to download music, which Josepha provided to the Franklin Institute, eliminating the need for a DJ.
The splurge: A wedding cake plus double the desserts the number of guests required.
The week of their wedding, the couple visited the graves of their parents, Ethel and Max Beitch and Helen and Oscar Wolfberg. “We always keep them in the loop,” said Josepha. “My parents would have loved her,” said Berny.
They also visited the graves of Aunt Toby and Aunt Sarah, who died less than three months apart a little more than a year after Berny and Josepha started dating. Josepha told them: “This never would have happened without you.”
Behind the scenes:
Officiant: Rabbi Saul Grife of Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun, Erdenheim, Pa.
Venue: Fels Planetarium and Franklin Hall at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia.
Food: Frog Commissary, Philadelphia.
Music: Selected and downloaded by the bride.
Photography: Luria Visuals Custom Productions.
Flowers: Carl Alan Floral Designs, Philadelphia.
Bride’s attire: Design by Verda, purchased at Paragon Boutique, Philadelphia.
Groom’s attire: Design by Tommy Hilfiger, purchased with the help of Donna Helman at Macy’s, King of Prussia.
Hair/Makeup: Diane Heller, makeup artist and friend of the bride.