They have different skin colors and different mother tongues. But Ethiopian-born Nurit Beru Kuchuk says: “We have so much in common. We both moved to Israel with our families at a young age and both served in the Israeli army.” Her Moldova-born husband, Gennady Kuchuk, adds: “We both spent time in the US; and we are both film professionals.” Nurit is a photographer; Gennady is a script writer and film director.
They met at age 23 in film school in Tel Aviv. They became a couple a year later and moved in together. This was not the norm for a young woman from a traditional Ethiopian family, but Nurit''s parents were understanding. “They trusted me,” says Nurit. “And besides, they liked Gennady’s nose.” (A large nose is a sign of beauty for some Ethiopians)
Gennady’s parents were less accepting, his mother in particular. “She hated the idea that I had a ‘black’ girlfriend,” says Gennady.
Of course, they came from worlds apart. Nurit, her parents, and eight siblings, escaped from Ethiopia by walking nearly 500 miles to Sudan. It was their only way out. “My youngest sister, Edna, was a year and half old, and my mother carried her on her back,” recalls Nurit. “We arrived in Israel in 1984 and settled in Hadera, where my parents still live. My parents raised us without a lot of money, but with a lot of love.”
Gennady’s history is a tale like that of many Russian Jews. His mother, Zina, spent a decade in Siberia after being exiled with her parents on a trumped-up charge of being an informant. She married, had a son, and when her only child was 12, the family moved to Israel.
“I was my mother’s life,” says Gennady. “She had dreams for me. But she loved me too much.” When he brought home not a blonde but an Ethiopian girlfriend, she “went ballistic,” he says. Gennady, an up-and-coming filmmaker, documented his mother’s response, and it became the basis of an acclaimed film, “Yiddishe Mama.” It’s not quite what some might expect: Zina is shown as fault-finding, disapproving, smothering and meddling.
The film also looks at prejudice. A recent poll suggested that most Israelis would not object to their child marrying an Ethiopian. But fact: Ninety percent of Ethiopians marry within their ethnic community, according to the Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The rate of interracial marriage in the U.S. today is about the same as in Israel. And, of course, the U.S. now has an African-American president.
How do Gennady and Nurit see each other? “Gennady’s bright and he’s modest. He’s not a show off and he has no sense of ego,” says Nurit. Gennady sums up his wife this way: “She’s perfect. She has a yiddishe soul.”
The music for the 400 guests at their wedding was Israeli, Russian and Ethiopian –something for everyone, including a love song that Gennady composed for his bride. They met in 2002; they married on February 27, 2007. And the rabbi was Moroccan. Mazal tov!