A Perk of Being an Israeli Teen Couple: 'Being Scared of Army Service Together'

17-year-old lovers on their way back from an anniversary trip to Berlin talk about staying together against the odds; a slightly older couple talk about packing up their life to move Down Under.

Noa Avrutin and Yonathan Cohen.
Tomer Appelbaum

Noa Avrutin, 17, lives in Rehovot; and Yonathan Cohen, 17, from Gedera; arriving from Berlin

Hi, can I ask why you went away?

Noa: To celebrate our third anniversary.

You’ve been together for three years?

Yonathan: Yes, since we were 14. We met in the ninth grade.

Noa: The end of the ninth grade.

How did it start?

Yonathan: A [male] friend who had been in Noa’s school wanted to introduce a girl to another friend of mine.

Noa: She was my best friend.

Yonathan: But the people who were being introduced to one another were embarrassed to meet alone, so each of them said they would bring someone with them. Noa’s friend brought me, and the girl brought Noa. And from there a week later we were already meeting alone.

What happened to the other couple?

Noa: It was over between them in a month.

What attracted you to each other?

Yonathan: We’re actually pretty much opposites, when you think about it. I have this order thing.

Noa: I’m the messiest thing there is. In school, I’m a perfectionist; he does well even without it being important to him.

What are you studying?

Noa: I’m in the exact sciences – biotechnology and chemistry – and he’s in humanities: Arabic and philosophy.

Interesting, contrary to the stereotype.

Noa: There are more girls than boys in my class.

Yonathan: In my class, too.

Is it hard to stay together for so long at such a young age?

Noa: No.

Yonathan: It’s not hard at all, it’s natural, you learn how to cope. We meet during the week when possible and a lot on weekends.

Do you think the relationship made things easier for you during the crisis of adolescence?

Noa: Yes.

Yonathan: Obviously.

Noa: It even prevented it a little.

How?

Yonathan: You become nicer to your parents – what are you gonna do?

Noa: Calmer.

Yonathan: For sure – there’s always someone to talk to and rely on, things are stable.

Noa: You can be scared of the army together.

From my vague memories, not many couples stay together at your age.

Yonathan: In our circle we’re the only ones. No one is in a long-term relationship. I have friends who were a couple for two years, and that’s considered a long time.

Noa: I can’t really judge, but I feel that it’s different, what we have between us.

Yonathan: We don’t quarrel.

Don’t quarrel? What did you do in Berlin all day?

Noa: We were in museums, every day two museums.

Yonathan: A museum, a break, and then another one, until it closed. On the last day, when the museums were closed, we traveled a little. 

Noa: But we saw all the important things in the city – the wall, Alexanderplatz. 

Do you know what you’ll be doing in the army?

Yonathan: I’m being tested for Intelligence, and I hope to get into one of the sought-after tracks there.

Noa: I don’t know yet.

What did your parents say about your traveling together?

Yonathan: They were the ones who pushed us to do it ...

Noa: Even though my parents are Russian, so it’s a little bit more rigid. When we started to date, they were afraid I would be hurt. After a year and a half they calmed down. And we arranged the trip at the start.

At the start of what?

Yonathan: Of the relationship. We decided we would go during our first year together. 

Noa: First year to Eilat, second year up north, even though it wasn’t really north, just a B&B in Shoresh [outside Jerusalem], third year, Berlin.

Yonathan: It was a kind of goal.

Wow, I get pressured making plans so far ahead.

Yonathan: We didn’t think too much about how it would happen. It was just natural and it went by really fast, the time flew.

What’s your next trip?

Yonathan: Paris, I think.

Noa: Paris for the tenth?

Yonathan: Before that – right when I get out of the army.

Shira Magrisso and Dor Kitenberg.
Tomer Appelbaum

Shira Magrisso, 28, and Dor Kitenberg, 26, both from Tel Aviv; flying to Melbourne

Hello, can I ask you how long you’re going for?

Dor: We don’t know. It’s a one-way trip. We sold everything.

Shira: We packed suitcases weighing 30 kilos and we’re traveling into the unknown.

Dor: We’re still in a fog.

Shira: But we’ve heard only good things about Australia, other than that there are poisonous animals there. That’s the only thing that scares me – that and the distance.

Dor: We don’t have jobs, but we have work visas. They issue 500 visas every year and it’s very easy to get them.

Wow, I never heard about that.

Dor: This year was the first time. Only up to the age of 30. They probably want Thais to work on ranches, but we’re hoping to find different jobs.

Were you working here?

Shira: We both worked in Ramat Hahayal. I was a researcher and Dor was in information security.

Dor: It’s not an escape, more of an attempt to leave the comfort zone.

Shira: We have terrific friends here, we both like our jobs, and everything is seemingly happy.

Why “seemingly”?

Shira: Because on paper it’s all good, but there are things that bother us.

The occupation?

Dor: It bothers us that we work so late. In Australia the workday ends at 4 and they sanctify leisure.

Shira: Here we’re in a rat race. Things seem to be more open there and we’ll have free time for ourselves.

What will you do in your leisure time?

Dor: I hope to find a band in which to play bass guitar, which is my great love.

Shira: And soccer. A few months ago, he said the only thing he would take to a desert island is FIFA. 

Do your parents support the move?

Shira: Our fathers were encouraging.

Dor: They put the idea in our heads, and I think they also want to come and visit. 

Shira: I think they’ll be ordering tickets themselves tomorrow. Anyway, it’s a win-win situation. If we come back in half a year, no big deal; if we stay longer, it’ll be because we like it. Anyway, the world is dynamic and nothing is certain anymore.

Dor: And if we don’t go now, we’ll never go.

Do you have a plan of action?

Shira: The minute we land, first of all, a three-day trance festival to chill out. And then two weeks in Melbourne.

Dor: We’ll check out Sidney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and decide where we feel like finding jobs. I hope to find something in high-tech.

Shira: I’m thinking of studying, but it’s really expensive. 

What do you want to study?

Shira: Maybe psychotherapy.

Dor: I want to be self-employed. In Australia, they encourage social entrepreneurship.

Shira: In Israel, they don’t encourage anything that isn’t boiling hot this minute. And social initiatives take time.

How was your parting from family and friends?

Shira: We didn’t want to have a party, so that if we come back in a few months, we won’t have to go underground.

Dor: It’s not like we’re going into space.

Shira: One stop before space.

How long have you been together?

Shira: We’ve known each other a year and two months and have been living together since last June.

And you’re already going on an adventure on this scale?

Shira: I’ve always wanted to check out a different place, and I told Dor so from the start. And suddenly, here we are. I’m scared.

Dor: I try not to express fear. In the past month I’ve been calming Shira’s anxiety.

Shira: I’m afraid we won’t find work, we won’t have friends, we won’t make a go of it and we’ll want to come back.

Dor: Highways, snakes, jellyfish – you didn’t mention any of those. With a box jellyfish, it’s one sting and you’re finished.

Shira: We hope not to run into kangaroos – they’re extremely muscular and violent. It’s a fiction that they’re cute!