It’s not often a story of mine begins with an anecdote about me, but finding love in Israel is no ordinary story.
In many ways, my experience is not so unusual. Boy meets girl at work. Girl and boy ignore each other at work, then become friends and then so much more.
As a secular Jew, had I stayed in my hometown of Rockville, Maryland, I never would have given someone who strictly observes the religion a second glance. What, I thought, could we possibly have in common? How could we make a life together work?
In the “Anglo” bubble of Israel, though, where secular, Orthodox and everyone in between interact with each other on a daily basis the differences between us don’t seem that significant.
After dating for a year, we got married last May on a rooftop in the Jaffa port. As the Muslim call to prayer rang, youths from Birthright were chatting down below us on the street and our rabbi sang prayers that have united Jews in love for centuries, I felt truly privileged to bask in a moment that could only happen here.
And I’m not alone.
As we celebrate Tu Be’Av, Israel’s version of Valentines Day, this week, rejoicing in those who found their other half seems an appropriate way to get into the holiday spirit. Originating in the Mishna, the holiday was a celebration of the grape harvest where unmarried women would dance with joy in vineyards. Today, the holiday has transformed into a modern celebration of couplehood in the Jewish state.
While meeting the love of one’s life the moment one arrives at Ben-Gurion Airport is not part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah package of benefits, meeting that special person in this special place does take on a unique significance.
Take Stephanie Nelson and Erez Cramer, who “met cute” in the most quintessentially Israeli way possible – on a kibbutz. The two olim, who made aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA, met in Kibbutz Lavi on a program.
“I think about [how we met] all the time. We both had to end up on that kibbutz and the odds were small. It really seems like fate a lot of the time,” she said.
Nelson’s military service was cut short due to an injury, while Cramer was still completing his.
As an IDF soldier’s time is incredibly limited the two made it a habit to have their “dates” outside of Cramer’s military base. Nelson would come every Friday morning, picnic basket in hand, and they’d relish every moment of quality time together.
“The beginning of our relationship was with him in the army – I would give a shout out to anyone dealing with it. We’d have those two hours together and it was really special,” she reminisced.
New immigrant Sarah Potaznick Novick found her husband-to-be through the Jerusalem singles scene.
“I worked, and went to families for Shabbat and just quietly did my thing until a new roommate moved in. She introduced me to the whole Katamon singles scene,” Novick remembers of the beginning of her aliyah journey and how she met her then-boyfriend.
After an engagement that didn’t work out, Novick decided to take some time for herself and go back to her native Australia. When she returned to Israel a few months later, she decided to dip her toes into the dating scene again.
Inevitably, she encountered a few strange characters – one guy threw an empty Coke can at Novick after he didn’t like an answer to one of her questions – but she felt relieved seeing a familiar face: Ariel.
“It was a lovely surprise,” she said, when she spotted him at a Nefesh B’Nefesh function. “We got talking about how awful it was to break off an engagement and, as it was coming towards the end of hag [the religious holiday], he asked me out. We dated – with a little break in the middle – for two and a half years.”
On the fifth day of Hanukkah, Novick experienced her own little holiday miracle, as the two tied the knot and, today, have a son together.
“Hillel Amichai Ben Tzion was born erev Yom Hashoah [on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day],” she said proudly. “Named for Rabbi Hillel because of his amazing middot [personal qualities]. Amichai [“my people live”] is a reference to his forebears who were murdered during the Shoah – despite all the odds our nation lives! And we chose Ben Tzion as his bris [circumcision] was on Yom Hazikaron [IDF Remembrance Day] as it was going into Yom Ha’atzmaut [Independence Day] – our child of Zion, a product of our respective aliyahs.”
Of course, even with the Holy Land in the background, finding the right person doesn’t come easy.
From my own personal experience, there were many ups and downs (mostly downs). Novick had to break an engagement to eventually make room for the right person for her. And Nelson had to grapple with the rigid schedule of an army officer in order to see her then-boyfriend.
“I would tell singles to push through their fear of being rejected or their fear of commitment, to refuse to let habits get in the way of their finding their beshert,” Novick suggested.
After all, what’s a few noes, when the yes is all that matters?
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.