Though they come from different worlds, it usually doesn’t take long for participants and Israeli soldiers on Federation-sponsored Taglit-Birthright Israel trips to form lasting friendships. Every once in a while, one of those relationships develops into something more. Like this romance between Hannah, an all-American girl, and Gilad, an IDF soldier she met on her Birthright trip.
Hannah: I grew up in a very Jewishly-involved family. I went to Jewish day school, sleepaway camp, was involved with Hillel in college, had visited Israel on a Federation trip. I wasn’t sure about going on Birthright, but I wanted to see Israel again—I loved it so much.
Gilad: When you’re in the army, Birthright is a great way to have a vacation without taking any days off. I played sick to get out of a training course and was accepted to join a trip. At first it was overwhelming—my English wasn’t so good and I had never met an American before. Now I was surrounded by 40 of them!
I saw Hannah on our first night at dinner by the Tel Aviv port. I thought she was a nice Jewish girl, very cute. And from then, we were together the rest of the trip. We didn’t talk so much at first. But we sat together, ate together every night, looked for excuses to be around each other.
Hannah: The day before Birthright ended, Gilad came back to see me. But you can’t decide how you feel about someone so soon! So we went back to our normal lives. I went back to college, Gilad finished his army service and went to college. We talked and Skyped a lot, but nothing was official.
When I graduated eight months later, I came back to Tel Aviv with Career Israel, a 5-month Masa Israel Journey program. Of course, Gilad picked me up at the airport.
Gilad: When Hannah landed in Israel, I introduced her to my family right away. They knew we were texting for months. They loved her immediately.
Hannah: After Career Israel, I decided to stay. Gilad sent my resume to some high-tech companies, and I got a call from a start-up looking for a native English speaker. Even though it had crazy hours, I took the job. I ended up there for three years.
Gilad: We became so close. When I was ready to propose, I was very subtle. She likes going for walks at night, so I took her on a walk to where we met on Birthright. That’s where I asked her to marry me. She was in shock.
Hannah: I couldn’t believe it, I said “Oh my God!” for 10 minutes!
Gilad: We are building a new life together. There are funny differences between cultures, language barriers—we speak Hebrish. I come from a more traditional Jewish background, too.
Hannah: We just had our tasting for the wedding planning. In Israel, it’s a tradition that you bring your whole family with you. So Gilad’s entire family—7 people—came! All of my family is coming here for the wedding. I can’t imagine our lives now if I hadn’t gone on Birthright.