Megan Helzner & Jason Flamendorf
Not only was she born, raised, and bat mitzvahed in Greater Philadelphia, but Megan had also launched the young professionals networking group at the National Museum of American Jewish History, where she was associate director of development.
“I had this misguided idea that I would have already met any local, single Jewish man looking for somebody,” she said. But somehow, she had never met Jason — even though they lived just a few blocks apart.
Jason, who grew up in Manalapan, N.J., had moved to Philadelphia in 2016 to do his residency at Wills Eye Hospital. Their large friend groups did not overlap. They worked opposite schedules. They shopped at different Acmes. But based on her Coffee Meets Bagel profile, Megan seemed fun, smart, and interesting, so in fall 2017, he sent her a message.
“He had a lot of diverse interests,” said Megan. “His profile said he loves opera, and I was going to a lot of events at the Curtis then, so I thought it would be fun for us to do that together.”
On her cab ride to meet him at Hop Sing Laundromat, Megan got a call from her mother: Her father was in the hospital. If it was what they thought, he would be fine. He emphatically did not want her to come.
“I’m excited to meet you,” Megan told Jason at the Hop Sing door. “I’m sorry in advance that this is going to be weird.”
Jason did not find it weird when Megan stepped outside in the middle of drinks to talk to her father. “It said to me that her family is important to her.”
About six weeks later, the morning of Megan’s birthday, Jason asked her to meet him for coffee after his overnight shift. “I was blown away,” she said. “I’m a zombie when I don’t sleep, but he did this just so he could see me, and he brought me a card.”
From early on, each saw the other as a potential life partner. A few months in, Megan asked some big questions to be sure:
“I would like to know, are you interested, in your life path, in getting married to someone — not necessarily me? And are you interested, in your life path, to having kids with someone — not necessarily me?”
“I am,” said Jason, who was glad she asked. “Good,” said Megan. “Those are things I would like, too.”
“When people asked me, ‘Who is this guy you are seeing?’ the thing I would always say first is that Jason is really kind,” said Megan. “He is a really good son, a really good friend. He is really smart, and while he is focused on his career, he is not monocular in his focus; he knows about the world.”
“I love how caring and supportive Megan is, not just to me, but to all of the people around her,” said Jason. “She is very open-minded. And I never thought I would fall in love with someone who is as optimistic as Megan is — she brings this hopefulness and opens my eyes to things I never appreciated before.”
In October 2018, Megan left the museum — where she remains a proud member. She is now a consultant with the Center for Applied Research.
Jason, who is now an ophthalmologist with Keystone Eye Associates and an attending physician at Wills, knew where he wanted to do his glaucoma fellowship, but Megan encouraged him to explore his options to be certain. He interviewed in Miami, St. Louis, North Carolina, and New York, then concluded that Wills was the best program for him. “I was so excited to stay here, at Wills and with Megan,” he said.
In May 2019 they moved into their apartment in Washington Square.
How does forever sound?
That October, Jason told his mother, Janice, and Megan’s parents, Paula and Steve, that he and Megan had been talking about marriage, and that he intended to propose. Megan’s mother showed him a photo of her mother’s engagement ring, and Jason, knowing Megan would love wearing a ring her grandmother had once worn, accepted.
He wrapped up his glaucoma fellowship in July 2020, which gave him the needed brain space to plan. Then he waited for the perfect weather and opportunity, which came on an August Saturday.
Jason, who is now 32, told Megan, now 35, that he really wanted to try La Calaca Feliz in Fairmount. Megan was surprised — they were very cautious pre-vaccine — but the place had outdoor seating, so she was game. Using his photography hobby as cover, Jason added that he wanted to get photos of the two of them in a nearby spot, which is why he would be wearing a button-down shirt and dress pants. As he hoped, Megan followed suit and got a little dressed up.
Jason seemed nervous. While parking, he ran over the curb. They walked about 20 minutes along the Schuylkill to the spot Jason had scouted between two boathouses. Megan’s attention shifted from the view to Jason when he knelt, told her he loved her very much, and asked if she would marry him, presenting her with her Bubbe Rose’s ring. A few moments after she said yes, Jason’s friend Liana — another photography buff — emerged from her hiding spot, camera in hand.
It was so them
The couple married at the Powel House, which appealed to their history-geek side and desire for an outdoor ceremony that was easily accessible for all. When they were planning, the COVID-19 situation was very uncertain, so they kept the in-person guest list to 17 people: their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and Jason’s grandmother, Ethel. About 175 others watched via Zoom.
The couple’s parents and rabbi watched as Megan and Jason signed their ketubah — purchased at the museum — in an upstairs room. Then Jason walked with his mother and Megan with her parents downstairs and outside to the chuppah.
Rabbi Nathan Kamesar wove the couple’s story into their ceremony. Jason walked around Megan three times, she walked around him three times, and they walked around each other once for a total of seven circles to symbolize carving out the home and world they want to make together.
Beneath a tent, the couple and their family shared brunch as speeches were made and dancing was done to music from the 1940s to the current day — something for everyone. “We had a giant hora that went on forever,” said Megan. “That was really fun!”
But the fun had just begun.
About 30 friends — the people who in normal times would have been their bridal party, plus their significant others — had gathered in Washington Square Park. Among them were Stephanie, an artist who designed their invitations as a wedding gift; and Erica, Vanessa, Tuyet, and Thao, who organized the gathering and decorated part of the park for the after-party.
“It turned out to be the same week that a lot of the mask mandates were dropped, and after an entire year of no celebrations, people were just so excited to be out celebrating,” said Jason.
“People stayed until about 9:30, and it was just wonderful,” Megan agreed.
After saying goodbye to their friends, Megan and Jason walked to their apartment and found another surprise: Their friends had scattered rose petals and hung a homemade sign that pronounced them “Just Married.”