Aviva Koltan was at work one day at her management job at the National Jewish Health hospital in Denver, Colorado, when two nurses came over to her brimming with excitement. They told her about a TV interview they had heard on the nightly news. A local Reform rabbi, Bruce Greenbaum, had announced a new initiative – the founding of the Colorado Jewish dating service at Temple Emanuel in Denver in 1991. (He was concerned about the high intermarriage rate among young Jews and the lack of programs for singles.) These non-Jewish nurses encouraged 35-year-old Aviva to register, as they liked her and wanted to see her married. Though Aviva’s family always made it clear they were Jewish, they were non-practicing, so she had no real connection to her Jewish roots. Nor had she met anybody who kept Shabbat or kashrut. “I didn’t know they existed,” she says.
Meanwhile Dr. Jeffrey Kashuk, a 38 year-old surgeon, divorced and father of two, who lived 50 km. away in Boulder, had watched the same program and came to Denver to sign up. Aviva’s profile interested him, and after the temple secretary handled introductions, she agreed to meet him. Jeff had grown up in Miami, and even attended the Hebrew Academy there before moving to Minnesota after his bar mitzvah. But although his family had Friday night dinners and celebrated some Jewish holidays, their lifestyle was a non-observant one.
Besides sharing medical backgrounds, Aviva and Jeff were both enthusiastic skiers. Skiing was Aviva’s passion. “I taught, did ski patrol and competitive racing, both in downhill and telemark skiing,” she says. “It became a strong connection with Jeff when we met.”
As their relationship progressed toward marriage in 1992, Jeff suggested finding a rabbi to talk to, “as he wanted this potential relationship to have a strong foundation.” After approaching several rabbis, they met young Chabad Rabbi Pesach Scheiner and his wife, Chani, in Boulder’s small Jewish community. The Scheiners were warm and hospitable. “That is when the learning started,” Aviva explains. For her at that time, “Everything was new. Everything.” In 1994 the Kashuks moved from Boulder to Palm Beach, Florida, where both had been recruited by a surgical practice, as surgeon and administrator, respectively. Jeff was board certified both in surgery and trauma and critical care, while Aviva had a masters’ degree from the University of Denver in design and delivery of healthcare systems.
Shortly after arrival in Florida, Kashuk recruited Rabbi Pesach Scheiner’s brother, Rabbi Moshe Scheiner and his wife, Dinie, who had just married and moved to Miami. The young man agreed to lead a minyan on Shabbat, and the couple eventually moved in. “The Palm Beach Synagogue was born from this small minyan,” explains Jeff. “They have built an extraordinary shul and community.” After Aviva gave birth to two daughters in Florida, “I wanted to raise my children with ‘yes’ more often than ‘no,’” she says, “and thought Israel was the place to do this.” Although she had never visited Israel, she thought it would be beneficial for their family.
Accordingly, on January 1, 1996, the Kashuks found themselves headed for a Jerusalem apartment they had taken “sight unseen, and toward an unknown future.” On the plane Aviva studied the Aleph Bet assiduously. True, her husband had spent a few weeks in Israel during college in 1971. “But that was it – we had a vision to start a new life in Israel, and the dream came true,” they declare. After arriving in Jerusalem, Aviva said, “I watched the map of the world the entire time, but what continent is this?” Fortuitously, Jeff revived his Hebrew knowledge from his Miami elementary school and managed without ulpan. He started at Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem, but four years later switched to Ichilov in Tel Aviv. He also enlisted in the IDF shortly after making aliyah. After completing the shortened basic training and officer’s course for immigrant doctors, he did reserve duty once a week at Tzrifin.
Working as a hospital administrator was not feasible in Israel without good Hebrew. For this reason, Aviva became a certified personal trainer in 1998 – falling back on her athletic days. Their third daughter was born in 2001 at Hadassah-University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem.
The Kashuks moved back to the USA for eight years in 2004, to be closer to elderly parents and to support children through college. They lived primarily in Denver but also in Pennsylvania and Michigan before returning to Israel in 2012. Jeff climbed the academic ladder in surgery to the rank of professor.
All three daughters live in Israel and love it. The oldest completed national service, then law school. The second attended seminary and completed three years as an IDF officer with honors. “Both are married and each recently gave birth: one boy and one girl. Our youngest is doing national service at Beit Elazraki in Netanya and will do shlihut next year with Bat Ami,” they say proudly.
Now, after more than 30 years of trauma surgery, Jeff maintains a general surgery practice at Assuta Tel Aviv and Herzliya Medical Center and an aesthetic practice in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Besides six days a week in surgery, he is a professor at Tel Aviv University’s medical school and edits medical journals. He enjoys daily running and swimming. Aviva helps him twice weekly with the aesthetic practice in Tel Aviv, and continues as a personal trainer. In addition, she likes to host many guests, explaining, “It’s important to me to have an open home.” They summarize their 16 years here by saying, “Even though life in Israel has little resemblance to our life in Colorado, we knew we had come home. We are still in awe and filled with thankfulness that we are so blessed to live here.”