The unlikely love story of a rugged Israeli and American city girl
S grew up running through the fields surrounding his parent's home in Elkana, a settlement in the West Bank. Karin 'likes camping', but would prefer a hotel room. How did their love blossom?
S grew up running through the fields surrounding his parent's home in Elkana, a settlement in the West Bank. Sandwiched between seven siblings in his modern Orthodox, Ashkenazi family, there were always enough kids around to make up a soccer team.
After yeshiva, he joined the air force. He kept running too, doing triathlons and, as a volunteer with disabled youth, serving as a guide runner for blind marathoners. At 31 he remains in active service in a sensitive job, so cannot be identified.
Karin is more of a city girl, of both the L.A. and NYC variety. “I like camping and all,” says the 33-year-old, "but for, say, a night. After that I need a luxury hotel.”
Karin’s parents actually met in Tel Aviv, at an Independence Day celebration. Dad – a Polish-born contractor– was on top of a tank. Mom – an Iraq- born special education teacher – was waving a blue and white flag. Years later, economic opportunities beckoned, and the couple packed up their three sabra children and moved across the ocean, eventually settling in Los Angeles.
It was there that her family became more observant, sending the kids to Jewish schools in the San Fernando Valley and keeping the mitzvot at home. After graduation and a year in Israel, Karin headed east. She earned a degree in psychology from Yeshiva University and spent a decade in New York, working for an advantage visa card start up that allows shoppers to donate a percentage of their credits to charities in Israel or get El Al miles for them.
Karin remembers meeting S before he remembers meeting her. It was July 2007, and the two were attending the Schusterman Foundation’s four-day ROI conference for young Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Karin had come to present her new business venture – a branding and consulting company specializing in Jewish businesses and non-profits. She was dating someone at home at the time.
She remembers his presentation well. S spoke about helping young adults with disabilities, who are usually exempt from military service, volunteer to serve. “If the army, which is a gate to our society, can bring in more volunteers and give them something real to do, I believe our society will be better off for it,” he says. He was also dating someone at the time.
“It’s not like we had any memorable conversations or anything,” says Karin. “I think I said something like ‘I liked your presentation.’”
By the time the week was over, they had both, by chance, broken up with the people they were dating.
Meeting, take two.
A few days after the conference ended, there was already a mini reunion in Tel Aviv. “I think we connected because we were both trying to build a better vision for Israel,’ she explains.
“She was officially my rebound,” says S.
“When I saw her at the get-together, I said, ‘Hey, you look familiar,’” he recounts. “And she said ‘Yes, we just spent four days together.’”
“He is bad with names and faces,” explains Karin.
This time around though, he noticed her. “Take my number and call me if you want,” he said. Air force guys are like that.
“I called him a few hours later,” says Karin. Air force guys' lives are like that.
“If I had been in New York with my friends I probably wouldn’t have. But it was Friday afternoon. I was alone, and so I picked up the phone and wished him Shabbat Shalom,” she explains. On Saturday night he texted to ask if she wanted to go out. Another guy from the conference, to whom Karin had given her number, called right after that to ask her out as well. “I told the second guy: ‘You are 10 minutes late,’” she says.
“I know that guy. He is not cute like me,” says S.
That Saturday night he took her walking around Jaffa, where they grabbed a bite at an all-night beigele place. On Sunday, he set up a picnic of salads and cheeses in an orchard near his home. The next night, on a cliff overlooking the sea north of Herzliya, he made her coffee on his camping stove and offered up brownies in tin foil. “In New York we go out for dessert,” says Karin.
And that was not where the differences ended. “In New York, dates in the religious world are very formal,” Karin explains, "filled with a lot of ‘what do you do,’ ‘where is your family from,’ and the underlying ‘How much to you make?'" Also, in the religious scene, she continues, 28 is getting up there – which means, in New York, strategy. “If you have a great time on a date, you start thinking about what move to make next,” she says.
Israel seemed different. She let her guard down. She was herself. “He called every day. I picked up every day,” she says. It was nice.
When she flew home a week later, Karin says, he told her “It can’t end this way.” S doesn’t quite remember.
“Something like that,” he admits, suddenly shy.
“He cried,” says Karin.
Six weeks later, Karin came to Israel for a three-month trial period, moving into a family apartment in Tel Aviv and working her New York job remotely.
“Life presents you with things you don’t even understand are small gifts,” says Karin. She tells the story of a guy she had dated one year before S. “That guy checked all the boxes on my list,” she says. “We had similar backgrounds and upbringing. He was in the business world, and he was good-looking. But within three weeks I realized it was not going to work.
“That taught me that what you think is right for you is not necessarily so. And when I stopped with my checklist, I met the right person.”
S claims Karin was not in Israel just for him. “I thought she was coming to check out the country,” he insists. When she came for her first dinner at his parents' home, he introduced her as a friend. His mom, a teacher, and his dad, the CEO of an internet solutions company, seemed to buy it. A sister at the table raised an eyebrow.
But by Sukkot, a few weeks later, he had started beginning sentences with ‘When we get married. She extended her Israel trial period.
It was only a matter of time before her move became permanent. Today, the couple, together with their two-and-a-half year old son Ivri, live in Sha’arei Tikva, a small communal settlement near Elkana. They are expecting another child soon.
In March, Karin went to New York for 10 days. When her return flight landed in Israel, she heard her name being called on the loudspeaker. She, along with four Hasidic men, were asked to remain in their seats until everyone else had disembarked. “I was a little nervous,” she says. “But I had a hunch what it was.”
Her hunch was right. As part of his military work, S is in charge of coordinating between the air force and the civilian airport, and he had pulled some strings and was right outside the plane when it landed. He gave the ground staff a plastic bag to go give Karin. Inside was a T-shirt with a note telling her to put it on. There was also a name tag.
The T-shirt had a big exclamation point on its front. The name tag read Karin, along with his last name. “Later, it turned out she had all these ideas about a hyphenated last name. I never even thought of that,” admits S.
When she stepped off the plane, T-shirt on, S was down on his knee, surrounded by the Delta crew and wearing his own T-shirt with a question mark on it. With the help of a friend who worked at H. Stern he even had a proper fancy ring to offer her.
“My friend had told me ‘You do not marry an American girl with a ring from the cheap chain store in the mall,’” he says.
The next day S took Karin to the Ottoman Antipatris fortress at the base of the Yarkon River. He had dreamed of getting married there since he was 10. She took one look and said: "No way."
“They are beautiful ruins , but I am like, ‘what about high heels?’” Karin explains. She had black tie in mind. S was more of a "what’s wrong with shorts and sandals," sort of wedding planner.
At the end, they chose Ganei Canaan, a popular wedding venue where they could have a chuppah under the stars but where ladies could walk without fear of getting a Louboutin stuck in gravel. At the end, of the approximately 650 guests, the vast majority (“Oh, almost 600,”assesses Karin) were his relatives or friends, who came in sneakers, or flats anyway.
“That’s just what Israel is like. You got to love it,” says Karin and smiles. “The whole thing was perfect.”
“It really was,” he agrees.