During the Shorashim trip, we ventured from the Golan Heights in the North through Jerusalem to the Negev in the South, accompanied throughout the journey by seven Israeli soldiers in plainclothes. While these soldiers were all in my age group (20-23), their military experience had imparted upon them a mature confidence I had only experienced when dealing with successful individuals 30 years old and up while in the United States. They seemed so cool, calm, and collected at all times that even after only knowing them for 10 days I would gladly put my trust in them during a crisis.
Irrespective of whether the romantic aura is created by the beauty of the country itself or the culture lying therein, Israel is the perfect country in which a person can fall in love. Lo and behold, I did. I met Shani as we walked through Yitzkhak Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on the third day of our trip. The group was assigned the task of interviewing strangers around the square regarding Rabin’s 1995 assassination, and as fate would have it, Shani and I were placed in the same group. I was immediately stricken by her dark brown hair and eyes, the pigment of which closely echoes mine. I found her confidence and charisma when approaching strangers on the street to question them about an uncomfortable topic breathtakingly irresistible.
The next day as we strode the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, I began flirting with her outright (my forwardness would have been undeniably flirtatious in America; however, I later learned that in Israel it is customary to behave in such a fashion). Come lunch time, we were walking together when I said, “So, Shani, where are you taking me to lunch?” The answer, oddly enough, was for pizza (which was delicious).
After, I ate (she decided she didn’t want pizza) we separated and I went to hang out with a group of my male friends, including several of the Israeli soldiers. I instructed the group’s medic, a former soldier named Dor, to ask Shani whether she had a boyfriend, in the process letting her know that it was me who was asking (I also told him not to let her know that I wanted her to know that it was me who was inquiring [Shhhhh…she still doesn’t know how many layers there were!]).
After sending Dor on his way, I approached a different Israeli, aptly named Israel. I asked Israel if there’s a phrase I could say to Shani in Hebrew that would shock her into being attracted to me. “Of course!” he said, “I will teach you a phrase that means ‘You have something special in your eyes.’”
“Yeshlach mashe-hoo mayoochad ba’ena’im.”
For two whole days I practiced those 12 syllables to myself whenever I was alone, building confidence and waiting for the perfect time to use it.
Our trip took us south, to the Negev where we slept in Bedouin tents. The next day we were scheduled to ride camels. Shani and I crossed paths (pictured) while walking outside, and she informed me that she had seen where the camels were being held. I asked her to take me there. She did. Finally, we were alone in the desert, our faces illuminated only by the moonlight. We spoke. When the perfect time came, I spoke the phrase with confidence and strength that I hadn’t even felt while speaking it alone. Shani visibly changed. A look of bemusement crossed her face. I continued, “Shani, you are a beautiful girl. I would like to kiss you now.”
“No.” she said.
I had been rejected.
“It would be too difficult,” she continued, “I never expected meeting anyone like you on this trip. It is so unexpected.”
I had been accepted!
Shani and I walked back to the tent together, arm-in-arm. As the others on the trip, including the instructors and tour guide, can attest, we were inseparable for the remainder of the adventure. Each day we grew closer together, and each stop we made was a perfect date. The day after we spoke in the Negev, Shani kissed me as we rode the bus. We did not stop kissing for the rest of the trip.
Leaving Israel and the wonderful friends we’d made was difficult for all of us. There were many tears. But I couldn’t comprehend how difficult it would be to leave Shani. I had developed such a connection with her, and at this point viewed her as my other half (after only 7 days together!). The love was there throughout, but we hadn’t said the words until my departure. As I held Shani in my arms in the airport, I heard her whisper the most beautiful phrase in the English language: “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I whispered back.
Shani and I had defied reason by falling in love with someone that lives half-way around the world. Technology makes this arrangement infinitely easier than in could have been in the past. We text each other every day using the smartphone application Whatsapp. Every weekend she’s not at her military base, we speak for hours using Skype. Yet, I count down the days until I can see Shani again in person. This summer, when I have finished taking all the sections of the CPA exam, I will return to Israel and be reunited with the love of my life. What will become of our relationship, I cannot say. But I hope it will end like all the best relationships do: with a family.
By Eric Chapman