November 4, 2009 / 17 Cheshvan 5770
Love and romance are among the many reasons people make the choice to move to Israel, whether it’s a love for the land, for family or love for another person. On the recent global “Aliyah on a Red Carpet” experience, romantic love seemed to be the common thread for many.
Roy Cohen (61) and Lesley Shakinovsky (61) were living in Johannesburg, South Africa, when the six-day war broke out in Israel in 1967. Being supporters of Israel, they both decided – independently – to volunteer to help out during this stressful time. They were both 19 and strangers to the land and to each other. They met on their arrival in Israel on June 28, 1967. Three years later, to the day, they were married.
“We volunteered when the six-day war started,” said Roy, “but by the time we got on the plane, the war was over. We were taken to a Moshav first and then we moved to a kibbutz. All the men – sons, husbands, fathers – were still in the army and we were there to do their work for them. We were adopted by different families and living with them on the Moshav for the first three months. Then we were moved to a Kibbutz.
South Africans, Lesley and Roy Cohen, holding their new Israeli ID cards
“After six months together, I said to Les: ‘Let’s get married and live on the Kibbutz.’ She said: ‘You’re only 19, I’m only 19. You must be joking!’ So we went home… and it took us 42 years to get back here!”
Although the Cohens have returned for many visits over the years, their decision to make Aliyah means the next 42 will be spent in the land that gave birth to their love. They have bought an apartment in Netanya and will use it as their base as they plan to travel as much as possible. “We are in the fortunate position of not having to find work so we want to tour Israel and get to know it again,” said Lesley. “There’s so much we still want to see. We also want to spend time visiting our children and grandchildren in Canada and South Africa and bringing them here on occasion.”
Sonja Zhlobinskaya (23) and Yevgeniya Saprynska (28) met in September 2008, a week before leaving for Israel to participate in the MASA programme at the technical college in Be’er Sheva, and have become good friends. The new immigrants have many things in common. Both women hail from the Ukraine. Both women met their partners in Israel. Both partners are Ukrainian. Like Roy and Lesley, they came halfway around the world to find love and romance in the land of hope.
Sonja met her now husband at the Aliyah Centre of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. He had made Aliyah five years before and lived in Be’er Sheva. A year later – to the day – on September 5, 2009, the couple got married among family and friends back in the Ukraine. Nearly six weeks later, Sonja arrived back in Israel on a red carpet, thanks to the Jewish Agency’s “Aliyah on a Red Carpet” programme.
Yevgenia is engaged to be married to the man she met through a former work colleague in Tel Aviv. The couple is from the same town, but didn’t know each other while they lived there. A colleague had asked her to take a gift to her brother in Tel Aviv, which she did, and the rest is history.
(L-R) Sonja Zhlobinskaya and Yevgeniya Saprynska from the Ukraine
Sonja and Yevgeniya have other common ground. They were studying in Be’er Sheva during Operation Cast Lead last year, a frightening time for residents living near Gaza. Far from discouraging them from making Aliyah, this fact made them more sure of their decision.
“We were ‘pleased’ there was a war on during our stay,” said Sonja. “We spent time with Israelis, as Israelis, experiencing the war with them, so we understood what they were going through. We felt part of the Israeli people.”
“It wasn’t hard to take the decision to make Aliyah because we were here during the war,” said Yevgenia. “We understand all the pluses and minuses of living here now and look forward to a good future in Israel.”
Jonathan and Fransina Guetta chose to live in Israel without ever having seen the country. In Dunoon, north Glasgow, there are very few Jews, and Jonathan felt he wanted to learn about his Jewish culture and heritage. “It’s a part of me I don’t know,” he said, “and besides, I wanted to be among fellow Jews after having lived in a very small town, a village really, where there aren’t many Jews at all.”
Fransina’s family is originally from Namibia. “During the war of independence, my parents fled to Angola where they helped in the fight for liberation – and where I was born,” she said. “After Namibia gained independence in 1990, the family moved back home and I joined them from Germany where I had been attending school. I met Jonathan while he was working in Namibia for the French Embassy.”
Fransina and Jonathan Guetta
The couple will live in Haifa, where Jonathan has a job as a French/English translator that he found on the Internet before arriving in the country. “After deciding to make Aliyah about a year ago, it was suggested that we take a tour of Israel before making a final decision, even if we were happy to come without having experienced it,” he said. “We visited Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa and many other places. It was great. The Jewish Agency really organized everything very well for us, and in the end, we decided to move to Haifa. I went back to the UK, found a job on the Internet, and here we are.”
Fransina is not Jewish. “We’ve never really discussed conversion, but who knows? We’ll see what happens.” Asked why, out of the many places she’d lived and could move to, she chose to come to Israel where the religion is foreign to her and she’d have to learn yet another language, she said: “It’s love…He makes me happy. I haven’t been miserable at all with Jonathan, no matter where we’ve lived, and that’s a good enough reason for me.”
Gary (26) and Eliana (21) Brown decided to move to Israel independently of each other – before they even got together. The British couple has been married for about 18 months and has a six-month old baby, Tzipporah.
Gary, when he was looking for a partner, was very specific with his requirements – he wasn’t willing to date anyone who wasn’t interested in making Aliyah.
“I had known Eliana for many years before we got involved,” said Gary, who comes from London. “I went to Manchester to university and ended up staying there for six years. I used to eat at Eliana’s parents often, but never spoke to her because I was 20 and she was 15.”
Eliana wanted to make Aliyah after school, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she went to a seminary (yeshiva). “I had just come out of the seminary when Gary and I met, this time as potential partners arranged by a friend,” she said. They discussed moving to Israel and found they shared a love of the country. Soon, their love developed into a relationship and marriage. After they got married, it was just a matter of time before they moved from the UK.
Eliana and Gary Brown with daughter, Tzipporah
“I know this sounds really cheesy,” he said, “but we’re home. It’s the only way to really say it. This is where we both passionately believe that all Jews should be living. We believe this is our land and this is where we should be, and anyone who is able to come and doesn’t, I think is mental!”
A love for the land turned into a love for each other, and they’ll begin their new lives together as a family in Ramat Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem.
Sarah and Eliyahu Bialick are a “mixed origins” couple. She is from France and he is Israeli, and they have a new-born baby daughter who they named “Aliyah”. She was 10 days old when she landed in Israel in October with her family and, as such, was the youngest baby to make Aliyah. Sarah’s sister, Tsava (10), has also made Aliyah with them.
Tsava, Eliyahu, Sarah and Aliyah Bialick
Paris-born Sarah woke up one morning, three years ago, and decided she wanted to come to Israel. “So I went on the Taglit-Birthright programme and it was wonderful. I was 26 and single at the time.”
But Sarah didn’t want to come back alone. So she went onto an Internet dating site. “I wanted to make Aliyah and therefore, I wanted to meet someone from Israel. I met Eliyahu through the Internet and, although I can’t speak Hebrew very well, he is fluent in French.
Asked why she brought such a young child on such a difficult journey, Sarah said: “After we got married, we decided to move to Israel – long before I got pregnant. Then, when I got pregnant, we thought about the options and decided to come anyway.”
Another love story for the books – love of the land, love of the children in their care and love for each other.