Stories of love to warm the heart for Tu Be'av

On the eve of "the Jewish Valentine's Day," here are some love stories from Israel and the diaspora

Heart [Illustrative] (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Heart [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
One of the happiest days of the Jewish year will be celebrated this coming week, beginning on Sunday night, August 6. As Rabbi Shimon Ben-Gamliel has written: “Israel had no greater holidays than 15 Av and Yom Kippur. On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to dance in the vineyards.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit, Chapter 4).
And every unmarried man would come to choose a wife.
The 15th of Av, also known as Tu Be’av, is sometimes called the Jewish Valentine’s Day, but historically there was a spiritual dimension to this occasion. The women would wear white dresses, the symbol of purity, and all the dresses had to be immersed in the mikve, the ritual bath, for spiritual purification.
Some 2,000 years ago, there was also a humanitarian aspect to this practice. Every girl had to borrow a dress from another girl. This demonstrated concern for the poor, who otherwise would have been embarrassed not to have a dress that matched the dresses of the wealthier girls.
Tu Be’av in Israel today is full of kitsch. Florists add red and white balloons to their bouquets, restaurants are decorated with cupids, and dance bars are decked out in red hearts. While it is a regular workday, without formal legal status as a holiday, it is a popular date for weddings.
Since the Hebrew calendar is lunar, Tu Be’av occurs when there is a full moon, linking the holiday with love, romance and fertility. These days, to find a spouse one is generally advised “to be out there.”
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, tells the story of a cousin who hardly ever left the house, as she was patiently waiting for her bashert (destined one). His wise grandmother admonished her: “If he is like you, you’ll never meet each other, so how can you possibly get married?”
In the time of Rabbi Gamliel, the women were proactive. They went out to the fields to see and be seen.
Today there are other venues.
I research the ways Jewish couples meet and marry. During the past 10 years, I have interviewed more than 130 couples and tell their stories in her blog for The Jerusalem Post and my online column for The Jewish Week.
I am particularly interested in the significant role of friends and family in helping singles meet. I cite a Washington Post article from 2016: “The data underscore the outsized role of friends, who historically have been and still are the likeliest avenue to eventual significant-others.”
I write about Chloe, a hip 27-year-old fashion director, and Mike, a 30-year-old successful attorney. For the young couple to meet, it took Chloe’s mom, Mike’s mom, and Lauren, a friend of both moms, to put it all together. Lauren had the idea for the match and she took the initiative.
I also note the story of Rabbi Evan Ravski, who wore four hats at a recent wedding: officiant, brother of the bride, friend of the groom and matchmaker.
Some call it luck or serendipity. Others consider it fate or bashert to find one’s predestined soul mate. In a commuter love story, Yoav met Rotem on an Egged bus ride from Jerusalem to Haifa (see box) and Jacob met Ariel on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to New York City.
Stay hopeful, I advise those searching for “the cover that every pot has.” Love is everywhere.
How Bar met Tim
“Birthright participants are more likely to marry other Jews,” concludes a recent study. It worked for Tim Alexander of Hagerstown, Maryland, who was 22 when he came to Israel with a Birthright program in the spring of 2011.
Bar Azriel, then a 20-year-old soldier, was assigned to the group for five days. Soon Bar became friends with a participant, Allie, who was a friend of Tim’s. Tim had confided in Allie that he thought Bar was beautiful and very nice. “I didn’t speak much directly with Bar because I’m a bit shy,” admits Tim.
When the 10-day trip ended, Bar invited Allie to her home in Yavne. Allie asked if she could bring Tim and another friend, Gideon. “Of course,” replied Bar.
Bar continues: “When the four of us went out that first Thursday night, I had special feelings for Tim. The next day my mom, a hospitable Moroccan mother, suggested that I invite my three new friends to stay for Shabbat, but I hesitated. I was afraid they would be bored in the Shabbat-observant atmosphere of our home.”
Gideon immediately accepted the invitation, and all three stayed over. During that first weekend, Tim and Bar discussed the possibility of trying a relationship.
About three weeks after they met, Tim asked Bar’s parents to meet with him. He explains: “I wanted them to know that I had to return to the US for my senior year of college; that Bar and I wanted to try a long-term relationship; and most importantly, that I wanted the best for their daughter.” All agreed that, God willing, it would work out.
Bar adds: “I didn’t know about their meeting, and when my dad told me, I thought, no one ever did this for me before. I started to realize that I should keep him.”
After Tim left, Bar’s friends tried to convince her that this was just a fling and that Bar was wasting her time, but the couple kept getting closer. They would talk every day for hours on the phone. Describing himself as “old school,” Tim would frequently send her letters.
Tim came to Israel during his winter break and arrived in time for a large family party. He had never experienced a Moroccan celebration and Bar’s parents thought he would freak out. Actually, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, especially the warmth of Bar’s family. He already had the approval of Bar’s parents, but that night he won over the entire Azriel hamula (clan).
On May 18, 2012, Tim received his BA degree in psychology and Judaic studies from Goucher College. On May 19, he left for Israel without telling Bar. He wanted to surprise her. “I was totally in shock,” she recalls, when he suddenly arrived.
That day, Tim moved into her parents’ home. “They welcomed me with open arms, he recalls. “They were like parents to me. I am forever grateful.”
On the day that Tim became an Israeli citizen, he volunteered with the IDF’s Lone Soldiers program, but he was not alone. He had the support of the entire Azriel family.
Bar is currently a third-year student in civil engineering at the Technion. Tim completed his master’s degree in child development at the University of Haifa and is now the graduate admissions coordinator at the university’s international school. Tim and Bar were married on March 22 this year.
“Bar has so many wonderful qualities,” smiles Tim. “Above all, I think she’ll be a wonderful mother.”
How Mia met Dave
Mia Schaikewitz would become a reality TV star, but first she met Dave Labowitz in a Los Angeles sports bar. Mia didn’t walk into the bar – she wheeled in, as she’s been in a wheelchair since she was 15 years old. Still, as Dave notes, “the only thing she can’t do is walk.”
Mia remembers the day they met: “I was doing errands in the neighborhood when a friend messaged me about a group meetup at the bar.” Mia and Dave, huge sports fans, both remember the date – April 11, 2010 – because their home teams were playing. Mia, then 31, was cheering for the Atlanta Braves; whereas Dave, then 34, was a Phillies fan.
After the game, Dave invited the group to his home for pizza and a movie. Mia and a friend, Dan, accepted, but Dan withdrew when he sensed a spark between Dave and Mia.
Mia recalls that first evening together: “I knew then that we’d have a great friendship. I was very comfortable telling him the story of my paralysis from the waist down, which happened when a spinal arteriovenous malformation (AVM) ruptured.”
The couple reflects on their first month together. “I thought we were dating,” says Dave, but Mia had a different take: “I thought we were going out as friends. But from the beginning, my parents knew he was going to be my husband, and they kind of put the bug in my ear.”
Mia believes that there are no such things as obstacles, only challenges to be overcome. She was the first wheelchair user at the University of Florida to pledge a sorority. She graduated with a major in media production and now works as a motivational speaker and graphic designer. Her latest passion is ballroom dancing.
Dave, too, overcame adversity. Though he initially dropped out of high school, he later attended Pepperdine University on a full scholarship, graduated with high honors, and received an MBA. For over a decade he worked as an operations and finance executive in high-growth start-ups, and recently started a business-coaching service.
“Dave is the most loyal person that I know,” smiles Mia. “For a brief time during our relationship, I went off to work out some issues. But Dave was there for me when I figured things out.”
Mia’s experiences were documented in Sundance TV’s Push Girls, which won the Critic’s Choice Award for the best reality series in 2013. It featured four attractive women in wheelchairs who chose triumph over tragedy.
“Dave makes things fit together,” remarks Mia. His proposal on October 17, 2014, was in character. They both love puzzles and he had one made to order, with a picture of them at a baseball game.
When Mia noticed that a piece was missing, Dave kneeled down on one knee and handed her the missing piece along with a ring box. “Mia, you’re my missing piece. Will you marry me?”
“Mia was the first Jewish girl I ever dated,” Dave divulges. “Though I was born Jewish, I was basically without a Jewish identity.” On the other hand, Mia always planned to marry a Jew and wanted to honeymoon in Israel.
When Dave googled the two words – “honeymoon” and “Israel”– he noticed a program called “Honeymoon Israel,” which provides highly subsidized trips. As an engaged couple, they qualified and were accepted.
“The experience changed my life,” says Dave. “After two weeks, the Jewish people became my people and my family. I was so inspired that I wanted my marriage ceremony to take place in Israel.”
On September 14, 2016, Mia and Dave were wed here in the presence of three Honeymoon Israel groups. Rabbi Rami Schwartzer officiated. Mia likes to say: “Believing in yourself means never having to say: I can’t.”
How Rotem met Yoav
Yoav Ben-David was disappointed when the driver told him the express bus to Haifa was full and he had to wait for the regular bus. In retrospect, Yoav realized his good fortune. Otherwise, he would not have met Rotem Greenglick.
“When one door closes, another opens,” according to Alexander Graham Bell. Yoav, then 21, first noticed Rotem at the departure gate of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Friday morning, October 18, 2013. Yoav remembers: “I saw this pretty girl, and I opened the door for her.”
But she wasn’t paying attention as she hurried to take a window seat on the slower bus. When Yoav got on the bus, there were many places to sit, but he eyed the empty seat next to Rotem.
Rotem smiles. “It’s a good thing I was traveling alone. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met Yoav.” She had come to Jerusalem for a wedding and was returning to her National Service job, an alternative to serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Yoav, a soldier, had come to Jerusalem to make a condolence call and was returning home for Shabbat.
At first, they didn’t speak to each other. They were both tired and fell asleep almost immediately. They awoke before reaching their destination when the bus driver announced a breakdown.
Both Rotem and Yoav found themselves on the side of the road, not knowing what to do. “Once again there was the element of mazal [luck],” says Yoav. “If the driver hadn’t stopped, we might not have started a conversation. But that’s when I seized the moment and asked Rotem for her number.”
Rotem’s reply: “I’m turning 20 in six days and you can send me a birthday card.”
Yoav did not wait six days. He sent Rotem a message the following night, and four days later he visited her in her hometown of Ra’anana.
Rotem recalls her mom’s first response. “She went ballistic when I told her I gave my number to a guy I met on the bus.”
But if there are six degrees of separation in the “universal architecture of connection,” there are fewer degrees in Israel. Rotem’s mom knew someone who knew someone in Sde Ya’acov, the religious moshav where Yoav’s family lived, and she was able to check out Yoav to her satisfaction.
“From the beginning, I felt our relationship was serious,” says Rotem. “I, too, was serious,” adds Yoav, “but I didn’t want to talk about the future. When the subject came up, I freaked out.”
By the spring of 2016, Rotem was getting a bit concerned. “I wanted to get married and had it all planned in my mind, but Yoav didn’t propose.” She decided to take time out in India.
“Soon after she left, I realized my mistake,” says Yoav. He followed her to India, and while sitting in the Chabad House in New Delhi, the couple got back together. After returning to Israel, Yoav proposed to Rotem during Hanukka 2016 on the Jaffa promenade.
Yoav, a guitarist, is currently a student at the Mizmor School of Music in Givat Washington. Rotem, who comes from a musical family, is studying at the Seminar Hakibbutzim State Teachers College in Tel Aviv.
In Rotem’s list of contacts on her cellphone, Yoav is listed in Hebrew as “Yoav min ha’otobus” (Yoav from the bus). As a friend noted: “This is truly a commuter’s love story.”
Yoav and Rotem were married on April 6, 2017.