(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Israel is probably the last place a Syrian-born bride would consider spending her honeymoon, but for Zalga Lusia and her Dutch husband Matthew – married on July 5 in Arnhem – the Jewish state was the first destination they considered.
“It’s such a romantic place with beautiful beaches, and we both love the Israeli people,” said Zalga Lusia, 23, who was born and lived until the age of 11 in Qamishli, a city in northeast Syria, near the border with Turkey and not far from Iraq.
“We were here for the first time a year ago, and although I was nervous
then, people were so friendly that it was very obvious for us to come
back again,” she said.
For the Lusias, the journey to Israel has been a combination of
discovering a heritage and rejecting a heritage.
Matthew Lusia, who met Zalga when they were in high school, explained
that he had been a teenager when he discovered he had Jewish roots via
his mother’s family.
For Zalga Lusia, who immigrated with her family to the Netherlands, it
was the cutting of her family ties that allowed her to learn more about
Israel and grow curious about visiting here. She also said that moving
from East to West had helped her gain a deeper understanding of
democracy and personal freedom.
“I remember when we studied geography in school, they drew a map of
Syria, and Israel simply did not appear next to it,” said the law
student. “They would draw Syria as big as Turkey and Iraq, with a little
tiny thing next to it called Lebanon.”
She said the only thing she had learned about Israel was that it was her
“When I arrived in Holland it was a shock, because I really knew
nothing,” said Zalga Lusia, whose family is Christian. “It was only then
that I started learning about the world wars and reading how Israel was
attacked by Arab countries.”
Also after moving to the Netherlands, Lusia said she had begun to
question her family’s traditional practices and beliefs.
“I could never understand, for example, why there had to be a
distinction between boys and girls and why boys are much freer than
girls,” she said. “At first my parents said it was not true, that they
treated boys and girls the same, but as I got older I started seeing it
differently and realized many of the things were not nice.
“I have made some hard decisions in my life, but I am really happy about
them,” Lusia continued, describing how she had broken off contact with
her parents more than three years ago when they tried to end her
relationship with Matthew and force her to adhere to their strict
“I tried to explain to them why it’s better to live this way and how I
was happy being an independent woman, but my ideas were too modern for
them,” she recalled.
“I always believed that my parents wanted the best for me, but I
discovered that they did not care about my happiness at all, all they
cared about was our culture,” she continued. “They tried to pressurize
me to stay a virgin, not to go out a lot and to get married to a person
that they would choose.”
As for their first trip to Israel last year, Matthew Lusia said that for
him, it was “because of my Jewish background and love for Israel,” and
for Zalga, “because she has read a lot about Israel and started to put
herself in the shoes of the Jews.”
“Zalga is amazed at how a country next to her birth country can be so
free,” said Matthew Lusia, who works for his local municipality.
“I think Israel has done a really good job of staying free and
democratic, of respecting women and human rights in such a horrible
region,” said Zalga Lusia. “I always ask myself whether the Arabs will
be free-minded like people are in the West, but the more I read more
about it, the more confident I become that the people do not want to be
free. I see that with the immigrants from here that go and live in free
Western countries – they still act strict and try to continue with their
As for their honeymoon plans, Zalga Lusia said they did not have a “set
schedule” and preferred just to sit on the beach or go shopping.
“We will go to Haifa, visit the Baha’i Gardens and to Jerusalem,” she
said – adding, however, that she did not have any plans to go to the
Golan Heights to view her former country from the other side of the