‘Israel brings us together’

In honor of Tu Be’av, ‘Metro’ brings you tales of romance between new olim and native Israelis.

In honor of Tu Be’av, ‘Metro’ brings you tales of romance between new olim and native Israelis (photo credit: Courtesy)
In honor of Tu Be’av, ‘Metro’ brings you tales of romance between new olim and native Israelis
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jews from all over the world make aliyah for all sorts of reasons.
Many olim find themselves right at home when they arrive in their new homeland, making new friends, finding employment or going to university, and creating a home for themselves in their new environment. But a crucial factor in the successful integration of many olim into Israeli society, especially those who immigrate at a young age, is... love.
It is not uncommon for young olim to undertake the brave move when they are single, and end up meeting their lifelong companion in Israel.
And it is also not unusual that this translates into dating a native Israeli, and navigating cultural differences to sustain a lasting relationship.
For many olim, dating and marrying an Israeli cements their bond to the country.
This personal bond provides them with a substitute family in Israel, which fills what is often missing most – their family of origin in their home country. Being far from one’s family is widely acknowledged, in fact, as the greatest challenge for olim who come to live in Israel on their own.
Here are some stories of olim who have met their match, and made it work.
Batel and Sam
For Batel and Sam, a multicultural relationship adds to the distinctiveness of the immigrant experience. Sam, 27, made aliyah from England in 2009. His fiancée Batel, 24, is part of a large Ethiopian family and was born and raised in Rishon Lezion.
They met during Sam’s service as a lone soldier in the Nahal unit.
The story of their meeting includes serendipity and a missed bus that would have taken him to a different party. Sam found himself at a party with Batel, where they started to chat. They continued to see each other every two weeks, the allotted time Sam had off as a soldier. They eventually became serious and moved in together, becoming engaged in December 2013, with a November wedding planned.
“The wedding will be a mix of cultures,” Sam says. “We’ll have plenty of traditional Ethiopian ceremonies, food and dance as a part of it.”
For Sam, however, staying true to himself is also important, aware that as an immigrant, it is easy to become too reliant on his partner’s parents and family for support.
“I love her family. But it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that I become a ‘plus-one’ of her family. Rather than relying on them, I strive to make it on the basis of the two of us together,” he explains. His parents, who are still in England, are thrilled about the upcoming wedding and, although they miss their son, are proud of his accomplishments in Israel.
The two playfully disagree about where they see themselves down the road. “I want to be on a moshav somewhere, and she wants to be close to her family in Rishon Lezion, but we know for sure we want to stay in Israel,” he says.
The two currently live in Tel Aviv.
Jackie and Omri
Jackie, 26, and Omri, 28, have been married since October 2012. They met after Jackie made aliyah from Maryland in 2009 and started studying government at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“Omri and I began talking at a back-to-school party during the start of my second year at IDC,” Jackie says. “We hit it off because we discovered his sister was living at that time in the same town I come from in Maryland, and it even turned out we had a few friends in common.”
From this typical bit of Jewish geography, the two hit it and off and eventually became inseparable.
Omri, who grew up in the northern moshav of Shavei Zion, worked in the tehina business and introduced Jackie to the field. “We would go up North to visit his family on the weekends, and I would help him with all aspects of production,” Jackie explains.
Dating outside of the usual social circle at IDC – generally students from abroad who mainly speak English – offered Jackie the opportunity to learn more about Israeli culture.
“I was able to get out of the bubble of being with only new Anglo olim at IDC, which really helped me feel more settled here,” she says.
Traveling North and staying on Omri’s hometown moshav, speaking Hebrew and becoming immersed in an Israeli family helped her feel more at home in Israel.
Eventually, Jackie brought her sisters to meet Omri’s family and they were all impressed with the flavorful tehina made at his moshav. Jackie, her sisters and Omri then launched a business that exports tehina to the US, where Jackie’s sisters still live.
Soom Foods is available throughout the East Coast.
“For us, starting a business, especially in a market relevant to Israel, is extra special.”
The two currently reside in Jerusalem and have plans to relocate to Shavei Zion, where they are building a house.
Asher and Mati
Asher, 30, artistic director of The Stage, an English- based performing arts community in Tel Aviv, has been married to his husband Mati, 28, since June 2012.
Mati, who made aliyah from Hungary with his family when he was six years old, is by all means the “Israeli in the relationship,” says Asher, who made aliyah from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Mati was raised on Kibbutz Metzer in the North.
The dynamic duo met on the Internet but only started dating steadily two years after their first encounter.
They say that the cultural differences are what keep them strong as a couple.
“You know, in the beginning of the relationship, there was definitely a bit of a language barrier, and sometimes things got lost in translation. But we were so aware of it that it made us better communicators,” Asher says.
But now, the tables have turned. “Mati’s English is far superior to my Hebrew, so I guess in some ways that holds me back because we always speak English,” he says.
Mati, who is currently working on his master’s in chemistry at Bar-Ilan University, often complains that the couple has too many Anglo friends, even though they live in Israel. He recently declared his need to socialize with more Israelis, something Asher observes is a pitfall of an Israeli dating an oleh.
“Because of him, I also have less of a push to immerse myself. Even after eight years here, I still rely on him to deal with the bureaucratic daily tasks,” Asher says.
Asher does say that having served in the army, where he was in the maintenance and construction department, helped him connect with Mati right off the bat. “Before I served, I couldn’t really relate to him, so having that experience and then starting to date him towards the end of my service made me feel more connected to the Israeli experience and by proxy, to my Israeli boyfriend. I never expected the army to affect my relationship as much as it did,” he says.
Asher and Mati live in Tel Aviv.
Julia and Omer
Omer, 28, an account manager at Tel Aviv-based company Iron Source, and Julia, 23, who does business development at IsraelDefense, a security magazine, met in the US, when both worked as counselors at Camp Ramah New England in the summer of 2009.
“I was a visiting shaliah [emissary] at the camp for a few summers,” explains Omer, who was born and raised in Ramat Hasharon.
Through the Jewish Agency, Omer participated in the Summer Shlihim Program that brings Israelis to the US to represent Israel at Jewish summer camps. Julia was already living in Israel, studying at IDC at the time, but they had yet to find each other. At camp, where Omer worked as a boating instructor and Julia as a counselor, Julia says she made excuses to take her campers out on the lake every day. Yet it wasn’t until the summer session ended and the two came back to Israel that the romance blossomed.
“Camp Ramah was a big part of my childhood and my closest friends are from camp. So it’s really great to have met Omer at a place that was such a big part of my identity growing up,” Julia explains. “Who would have thought that when I was an 18-year-old camper, I would meet an Israeli at camp and we would end up starting our lives together in Israel!” After finishing her studies, Julia served as a lone soldier, a non-commissioned officer in the Foreign Relations Branch of the IDF Ground Forces Command – but her service was far from lonely, with Omer’s family there to support her. “My family was really proud of Julia for serving, and we were happy to be there for her,” Omer says.
For Julia, having a surrogate family to rely on during her time as a student and soldier made a world of difference.
“Of course I miss my parents, but having people close to me to rely on here is so helpful,” she says.
The two live in Tel Aviv.