Talia Gorodess, the only child of a short marriage between an American and an Israeli, was brought up in Ra'anana by her mom, a struggling school teacher. Later, after national service, she headed off to Illinois to study political science at the University of Chicago, and get to know her dad, a professor turned real estate mogul.
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She fit in both places, and flitted between the two. A self-proclaimed “nerd,” she loved the rigors of the University of Chicago, as well as the sweet apartment her dad got her. But she also missed Israel, and when she graduated embarked on the unlikely path of joining an organic vegetarian kibbutz in the Arava Desert. “I had a degree in political science and I was herding goats. But that felt right too,” she says.
Koby Windzberg, at 34, four years older than Talia, was, meanwhile, doing some of his own traveling back and forth, but all in one country, and by foot.
“I don’t understand why people feel they have to rush off to India when we have Shvil Yisrael [the Israel Trail] right here” he says, referring to the 1,000-kilometer hiking trail. “Look at the Appalachian Trail,” he continues, earnestly. “It’s nice, but there is no diversity in the scenery.”
Ramat Gan born and bred, Koby, the son of an accountant and a teacher, is an electrical engineer by training. He spent eight years in the army before going to work in solar energy and today heads research and development for a cellular communications company. In his spare time, though, he was all about hiking the Israel Trail. He once took two months off to hike the entire length of it, from the Dan near the Lebanon border right down to Eilat on the Red Sea -- and since then goes back often to visit favorite sections.
It was on that trail that the two met. It was January 2010 and Talia, who by then had left the organic kibbutz and was doing a Master's degree in security studies at Colombia University in New York, was visiting Israel. The weather was beautiful, and a friend invited her to join a group of friends hiking along a section of the trail.
“At first I did not really notice him. He was cute but was walking with Reut, his hiking partner, the whole time. He seemed shy,” says Talia, who says she was “sort of” dating someone at the time, but it was “nothing serious.”
“I liked her,” says Koby, who had recently broken up with a longtime girlfriend. “She was witty and she barged into conversations, and tall. I like strong women.” He instructed his hiking partner Reut: “I am going to walk near Talia. You stand back, look and tell me if I am taller than her.
Reut returned with a report: “You have a centimeter on her. Go for it!”
“Actually I am 1.73 and he is 1.75, but I stand straight, and he stands like a question mark,” says Talia. “So we end up pretty much the same.”
“I thought she might not want to go out with someone shorter,” says Koby.
Back in Tel Aviv, Koby invited Talia to go hear his friends’ rock band play. He thought it was a date – maybe the “foundation of something,” he says. She just thought he was being friendly to a visitor. The concert, they both agree, was terrible. “I got the wrong date and it was a different band,” he explains. “It was heavy metal. For two hours.”
“He never mentioned it was not his friend’s band – so I was trying to be polite,” says Talia, who finally broke down and insisted they leave the club. They went strolling to Jaffa and played backgammon with some Arabs hanging out by the port.
“It was interesting to see her interact with different people. I’m more of an introvert, and she is an explorer. I said to her: ‘I would love to go travelling with you. It must be fun going with you to new places.’”
On their next date – they went to see the World Photo Exhibition at the museum—she brought him a little gift: a small cat she had fashioned out of white Fimo. “I know. It’s weird,” she says. “I never made anyone a cat before. But I just felt like it.”
They were sitting in the car, in the parking lot. He loved the cat, he said. And then, just like that, he kissed her. “It was not a gradual kiss like in the movies,” she remembers. “It was like, 1-2-3- and he jumped into it. He was so cute.”
“I don’t believe in long-distance relationships,” she informed him before she flew back to New York. “You have to see me every month or I will forget you,” she warned. “Fine,” he said and got on Expedia, a site for hunting down cheap airline tickets.
In between trips back and forth to the Upper West Side of New York to visit, Koby sent care packages filled with stuff he thought she might like – a children’s book in Arabic and a stuffed giraffe, for example. He sent flowers every Friday too, and read her David Grossman’s book "To the End of the Land” – which unfolds along the Israel Trail – aloud over Skype. There was no way she could forget him.
Before long, her degree done, Talia moved back to Israel. Within half a year, the two had moved in together – first into Koby’s rented apartment, which came complete with a roommate, the roommate's girlfriend and two dogs, and then into their own rented space, near Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina.
“I felt at home with him, no matter where we were. I felt at peace and calm – because he is calm,” she says. “Of course he can be annoying,” she continues, stroking his back, “…and I was wary about marriage because of my parents’ break up….but I really liked him.”
Love came in the throes of the social protests of July 2011. Talia, who was now working at the Reut Institute of Strategic Thinking, took on a leadership role in the protests for social justice, setting up a small tent camp in Kikar Hamedina, underneath their apartment. The couple, along with dozens of others, then spent two months living in tents: organizing lectures, negotiating with the government, giving interviews, and periodically filing upstairs to the apartment, with the other protesters in tow, to shower.
“It was great for our relationship,” says Talia. “I saw sides to his character I had not seen before – I saw he was willing to fight for the same things I was. He impressed me. I thought: this is someone I can run long distance with.”
“Why didn’t you ask me to marry you then?” Talia suddenly asks, interrupting her narrative and turning to Koby. “You mom wanted you to marry me from the first day.”
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I have a different pace.”
When Koby’s grandfather died, the couple bought and moved into his old house in the Tel Aviv suburb, Givatayim. “For me this was big,” says Koby. “I had always postponed buying an apartment because I did not know who I was going to live my life with.”
It was there, under the leaves of Koby’s favorite tree in the garden (the one Talia had been agitating to cut down because the roots were threatening to uproot the house), surrounded by Shesek and Tarzan, their cats, and Navi, their mutt, that Koby proposed.
“It was dark. I could not see the ring,” says Talia. “And I was so excited I could not talk.”
“I took that as a yes,” says Koby.
They wanted to hold the wedding right there—in the backyard under the tree, but the roots were too problematic and there was not enough room anyway, so they chose Jaffa, where a Reform rabbi they had met during the social protests pronounced them man and wife –20 minutes after a missile landed from Gaza, signaling the start of Operation Pillar of Defense last November. “Officially, according to the Orthodox rabbinate, I don’t think we are married,” notes Talia (since non-Orthodox weddings are not recognized in Israel.) “But we had an amazing Jewish wedding anyway. And luckily no one gave a damn about the missiles either.”
The honeymoon, as is only fitting for two travelers, was quite a journey. But they can tell you only the following details: It was a month long, it involved a lot of action, and it was filmed for TV. Anything beyond that and they would be breaking their contract.
“It was two weeks before our wedding and I was in the bookstore talking to a friend about getting married,” explains Talia. “And there was this blond woman eavesdropping.” She turned out to be a producer for "Hamerutz L’Million," the Israeli version of The Amazing Race – a reality TV game show in which couples compete in a race around parts of the world. The blonde approached Talia and invited her and Koby to an audition. “I think they were looking for newlyweds,” Talia surmises.
And so, in between the last -minute wedding dress fittings and ordering the bouquets of flowers, Talia and Koby went through a series of interviews and psychological exams, en route to becoming contestants on the reality show. “We were suddenly even more excited about this than about our wedding,” says Koby.
They were chosen, and without telling a soul, set off on the race, soon after the chuppah.
“It was an extreme honeymoon,” says Talia.
“It was sort of like living 30 years of marriage, but in one month,” says Koby. “Of course we fought. It's hard not to. And Talia is a strong woman,” he adds.
“I can't say who took control,” say Talia, directing anyone interested in details to watch the show, which began airing this week on Reshet – Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9pm.
“We leaned on each other,” says Koby.
“It was great,” says Talia.
“I’m not sure I would do it again,” laughs Koby.
“Anyway, we were happy to come home and start our real life together,” says Talia. “And if we want to travel we can always go do some of the Israel Trail again,” offers Koby.
Update: Newlyweds Talia Gorodess & Koby Windzberg were the winners of the third season of HaMerotz LaMillion, winning NIS one million three months after this article appeared in August 2013.