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 enemy.“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 cultural norms.“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 traditions.”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 fence.