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It all began in the youth movement.
Einat Goreshnik was in the Ramat Hasharon chapter of the Machanot Ha’olim youth movement, and Alon Cohen was a member of the Herzeliya chapter. Originally, she had actually joined the Tzofim (Scouts) movement, but they were not for her: too regimented. And she didn’t like the khaki uniforms much either. If she had stuck it out with them, Einat muses, she and Alon might never have crossed paths.
What she loved most about the youth movement experience, says Einat, were the trips: crossing the country from the Kinneret to the Sea or traipsing right down the country from the Lebanese border in the north to the distant Egyptian border in the south. She never missed those trips. But that’s not where she met Alon, who didn’t much like them and never participated.
Instead, they first saw each other at a party. Someone from the Herzliya chapter had invited Einat and a bunch of others from Ramat Hasharon to celebrate his birthday.
Alon was leaning on a windowsill, recalls Einat, some 27 years later. The son of immigrants from Yemen, he had dark skin, eyes and hair and a certain calm about him. Einat, whose mom is Uruguayan and whose dad’s family is Polish, is blond with greenish eyes and laughs a lot. She is outgoing, vivacious and warm. Alon was more reserved, taking his time to get to know someone.
“There was something there that drew me to him,” she says. “…and gave me a rush.” He noted her too. They might have even spoken a few words, but she can’t remember what they were. She had a boyfriend then. He had a girlfriend. But that is where the story started.
When it came time to go to the army, Einat and Alon both joined the youth movement’s small Garin Nachal, which combines military service with living on new agricultural settlements. They were part of a group of 18 sent to Kibbutz Elrom, which they jokingly called the highest kibbutz in the world, as it is situated in the northern Golan Heights, and there are no kibbutzim in Syria. The two fell into a comfortable friendship there, chatting for hours about anything and nothing. Einat was still dating her boyfriend, who was off in the air force. Alon was still with his high school sweetheart.
“Alon was a true friend. He knew how to listen and was sensitive,” she says. “He really could ‘get’ people – those similar to him, and those different.” He brought out the real and best self of people, she says. “That is why people liked him. That was the secret. There were no games. It was simple,” she says.
When the young men of the garin left the kibbutz to start their active duty in Gaza, Alon and Einat kept in touch, writing letters back and forth. She would fill him in on the kibbutz gossip and send care packages filled with candy. He would report from the front. Sometimes he wrote about silly, mundane things. Sometimes he shared his fears and dreams. He called her his “golden girl.”
They were like siblings, she says. Everyone knew they were close.
“I loved the way he wrote. He had beautiful language, and was very intellectual,” she says. “And between the lines there was a softness. A kindness… and love too, although I didn’t really see it at the time.” Soon, he was telling her about his break up with his girlfriend, and then, she was telling him about her break up with her boyfriend. But still, it was a friendship. When she began dating someone new, a kibbutz member, she told him about that too.
When she finished the army, Einat set off for a two month trip to Thailand. Once away, thrilled with her new independence, she just kept going - for a year and a half. She traveled up and down Japan, meandered through the Philippines, flew over to the United States, came back to Japan and started dating an Israeli she met along the way.
Meanwhile, Alon finished up his service and also set out to see some of the world, travelling to Germany and then on to India with his friend Gidi. Though the two kept writing, “We sort of grew apart,” Einat admits. “And the letters were nice but not earth shattering.”
“But he told me that when he came back to Israel he was going to marry Einat,” Gidi says today. “He did?” asks Einat, startled. “Yeah,” says Gidi. “He did.”
Back in Israel, a few years down the line, Einat was living in Tel Aviv and getting a degree in graphic design at the Holon Institute of Technology. Alon was renting a little room on Kibbutz Glil Yam, working as a security guard and studying philosophy at Tel Aviv University. They struck up their friendship again, and soon Einat found herself spending more and more time with Alon and his friends, keeping them company when they were on duty. “He was always reading his philosophy books, and I would just be around. It felt really nice,” she says. “I think that is when I fell in love with him.”
Soon, when one of her roommates moved out - Alon moved in. “By then we were together,” she says, simply. “He had a motorcycle, and I would get butterflies in my stomach when I heard it downstairs,” she recalls. “And then he would come in with that smell of someone who has just come off a bike…I loved those times.”
She worked as a bar tender, did some costume design, and then found a job doing window dressings for the clothing chain Mango. Alon kept working as a guard, finished his philosophy degree and, thinking he better get some more practical training, went to study and then work in film editing.
One day, four years after they first moved in together, he showed up at the store where Einat was working, and gave her a ring. “He liked buying gifts out of the blue. Not on birthdays, but just like that,” she says. She called the ring her engagement ring, she says, even though he never put it that way. “He was like that too, he rarely spelled things out.”
But then, a few months later, he did spell it out. They were visiting friends up on Moshav Almagor for the weekend, and were sitting alone by a fireplace. He gave her a swatch watch - and asked her to marry him. “I was shocked,” she laughs. “And confused. I said ‘yes’ and then ‘no, no, no, I have to think about it.’ Because, well, I was not sure what I was supposed to say.”
Two months later, in April, they got married in the Tel Aviv port in front of 300 friends and family. “It was like marrying your best friend,” she says.
For their honeymoon, they went to Europe, staying with friends along the way. In Amsterdam, a friend named Shai-Shai gave them his apartment for the week and they spent the time fixing it up – buying furniture in IKEA and combing through the flea market for cool decorations. “We like that kind of stuff,” she says. “There was no IKEA then in Israel so it was fun, and we really wanted to make it nice for him.” She cut off all her hair and died it platinum blond. Alon liked it.
Einat and Alon were married for 13 years and had two children: Itamar and then Illy, whom they named after the coffee. They were known, among their gang of friends, for having great dinner parties. Alon always cooked. She was the sous chef. They supported each other through professional ups and downs and argued about cable TV, which he refused to sign up for. On Fridays, they always went to his parents in Herzliya, took naps there and had Shabbat dinner with his three older sisters and their families.
“Alon loved his childhood. Those were happy times for him, and he liked talking about them,” Einat recalls. He would describe the smell of the Yemenite food his mom would cook at home, and how she would make everyone be quiet when she took her afternoon naps. “There was something stable and organized about his youth that he looked for later in life. He liked traditions,” Einat says. “He would say that he hoped our kids came home for naps on Fridays when we were older.”
Seven years ago, Alon was at a friend’s birthday party where they went go-carting and came home feeling dizzy. When he still felt dizzy a few days later, he went to get it checked. It was a brain tumor.
At first they were sure he would beat the cancer. He had operations, did radiation, travelled to the United States for alternative therapies, and went in and out of hospitals, sometimes biking himself to the emergency room and biking home when he was released. There was a period of remission, when everyone thought the worst was over, but then it returned with a vengeance. “He didn’t like talking about it,” says Einat. “He always said it was boring. So we talked about everything but that. But it was there.”
Sometimes, the medications were overwhelming and he did not seem himself. Einat would get scared he didn’t love her anymore. “I love you,” he would assure her. He was worried about her, he admitted. He was worried about what would happen if he were no longer around.
By the end of last summer, Alon had trouble walking. He got a cane, but soon, could not even make it up the stairs. They moved to a new apartment, with an elevator, and he painstakingly fixed up the new library and set up the stereo system. A few days after those things were done, he began having difficulty talking. Their friends made up a schedule and were there around the clock – helping Alon eat, shower, get comfortable and just keeping the family company. On October 13th, he started having trouble breathing, and was moved to hospice care. Less than 24 hours later, Alon passed away. He was 42.
“People would say to me that I was lucky to have known real love. That some people never even have that,” says Einat. “But I didn’t feel lucky at all. I thought ‘Why us? Why separate two people who are such close friends? Who are so happy together?” Today, she understands it somewhat better. She was lucky. But she misses him terribly. There are days when a few hours go by without her thinking of him. It’s a relief, but it also scares her. Sometimes, when she forgets details of their time together, she worries it will all fade away.
“If he were here with me telling our love story, he would remember things I might have forgotten,” she says. “We completed each other that way.”