They’re the same age but were born countries apart. Since the age of eight, Ilan (from Israel) and Sharona (Oceanside, New York) lived on the same street in Beit Shemesh. When they were 16, they began to notice each other. “Ilan and I first started talking when we would walk home together after Friday night activities,” says Sharona Kirshenbaum. Both were counselors in the religious youth movement Ezra, committed to Israel’s nationalist goals within a Torah framework,
Elementary school boys and girls meet in separate Ezra groups, as they do in school. Interaction between the sexes is limited. A window of opportunity opens for Ezra counselors in their mid-teens. It''s natural for guys and girls to start talking when they are walking home at the same time and in the same neighborhood. “And it’s not a no-no,” says Leah Abramowitz, a Jerusalem social worker and mother and grandmother of Ezra members.
“My mom never worried when Ilan would walk me home at 2 AM.,” says Sharon. “We had both a public and a private relationship. On the one hand, our walks were always out in the public. On the other hand, we kept our true feelings to ourselves.”
Sharona says the turning point came when a mutual friend sent her an SMS asking who she likes. She knew that if she told, he would tell her if the boy likes her. She texted back that she liked Ilan. “And I was told that Ilan likes me, too.”
Sharona knew Ilan was shy and waited for him to take the next step. Her friends persuaded her to take action.
Is it unusual for a young religious girl to take the initiative in dating? Leah Abramowitz says: “I did the same thing myself over 50 years ago.”
This was Sharona’s ploy. On an evening when she was sick and her friends were all going to a movie, she texted Ilan and asked if he would be passing by her house alone.
“In truth, I had already passed Sharona’s house,” says Ilan. “But I was so happy to get her message that I just retraced my steps.”
And that was how Sharona and Ilan Ben-Tal became a twosome.
Sharona and Ilan have much in common and share a similar interest in science. Sharona is studying to be a science teacher and Ilan is studying engineering. They think alike but don’t look alike. While Sharona is petite, Ilan is over 6’ tall.
In July 2009, Ilan proposed with considerable preparation. He chose a scenic spot that looked out over the world. He carried a cake he had baked for the occasion and he serenaded his beloved with a favorite song. Both of their dads had proposed in the same way.
They had waited to get engaged until Sharona was 19, after dating three years, three months, and three weeks.
Sharona and Ilan were married on the eve of Hanukkah, 2009. Mazal tov!