A match made in Israel


When I lived in New York City, I worked on the fourth floor of Furst Hall, at Yeshiva University. One of the people who worked on the other side of the fourth floor of Furst Hall was Avi Narrow-Tilonsky, originally from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Although we overlapped as students at Yeshiva University, we never crossed paths or took any courses together. Until we literally crossed paths in the hallway of Furst Hall.

It was Avi who took the initiative to introduce himself, ask me my name and take the time to get to know me. Each time I bumped into Avi, he’d strike up a conversation, ask me how I was doing. To be honest, it kind of freaked me out a little. Seriously – who is that friendly in real life?

Avi turned out to be the real deal, and we’ve now been friends for 15 years.

Avi decided to make aliyah a few years after I did. I was fortunate that a room became available in my apartment in the Katamonim neighborhood of Jerusalem around the same time. When discussing who should move into the room, I politely told my roommates, “It needs to be Avi.” And so it was.

Just as Avi wanted to know everything about everyone he encountered, he wanted to become a part of everything in Israeli culture.  So, in typical Avi fashion, he signed up for a Hebrew dating site.

It was through this site that Avi met Atara. Born and raised in Israel, Atara was a special-education teacher for children with autism. Their conversations were entirely in Hebrew, which Avi speaks well.

For Atara’s birthday, Avi planned a day trip. That night, he came into my room with a goofy smile on his face. I asked him how the trip was, and he said it was great. Then he added, “Dani, I think I want to marry her.”

So, in 2017, the American from Cherry Hill and the Israeli schoolteacher got married.

Many, but not all, olim (immigrants) gravitate toward people like themselves, people who also made the move to Israel. They also commonly gravitate toward someone who has the same mother tongue. But none of these differences got in the way of Avi and Atara merging their lives and bringing out the best in one another.

Although Avi is an ordained rabbi who served a community in Connecticut and taught at a Yeshivah in Israel, Atara also shares her Torah thoughts. Atara proofreads Avi’s Hebrew writing, and he proofreads her English writing.  

Avi has been an adopted big brother to a boy for many years. Now 17, the young man now spends time regularly with Avi and Atara. 

They have also established some rules to merge their cultures. For instance, while they speak Hebrew at home, they only speak English in the car. 

While I’ve been a huge fan of Avi and Atara for as long as I’ve known them, I became an even bigger fan of their son, Ziv, when he was born two years ago.

It is clear that instilling Ziv with the same shared values that brought them together is important to both of them. And while Atara speaks to Ziv in Hebrew, Avi speaks to him in English. (Occasionally I’ll mess up and speak to Ziv in Hebrew – and get a reminder from Avi saying, “Speak in English!”)

But it’s Avi and Atara’s shared values that they emphasize with their young son. It’s what brought them together as a solid couple from two different worlds – Ziv is the culmination and symbol of that union.

These days, Avi works at the Joint Distribution Committee, helping to collect funds for Israeli charities. Atara is now the head of a nursery school just two buildings away from my home. And Ziv is busy being cute, while taking in everything his parents are teaching him.

In such a divided world, it’s inspiring to see that two people from such different backgrounds can fuse their lives together like Avi and Atara have. It’s a credit to them, their kindness, hospitality, shared values and open-mindedness. A lot can be learned from such a couple. Theirs is a symbol of what making aliyah has to offer.

DANIEL STIEGLITZ (dstieglitz@gmail.com) lives in Jerusalem, where he works as a Life Coach. His collection of short stories, “Tavern of the Mind,” is available for paperback and Kindle purchase on Amazon at www.amzn.to/2Izssrz.

Israel, Stieglitz