Marla Feingold found more than she bargained for in Israel.
Special to the Jewish News
aria Feingold had always dreamed of
traveling to Israel. Her opportunity
finally arrived in December of 2001,
through Birthright Israel, a program
that offers free 10-day trips for Jewish young adults
ages 18 to 26.
She hoped to see Israel, and maybe learn about the
country. But Feingold got more than she bargained
Feingold, 21, of West Bloomfield was studying
kinesiology at Michigan State University, and had
applied to Birthright Israel for the summer of 2001.
But she wasn't accepted.
Birthright Israel believes it is every Jewish person's
birthright to visit Israel. It serves as an umbrella
organization, empowering other groups to offer free
trips to Israel. Birthright has developed a partnership
with major donors to underwrite the cost of the trip
for eligible participants. To date, 40,000 young
adults have received free trips to Israel.
After Feingold's first attempt, she applied and won
a spot for the winter session.
Her group was sponsored by JCC & Maccabiah
Experience, and included 24 young adults from
around the country. The trip was designed to show
participants the land and teach them the history of
Once they arrived, they met their trip leaders —
an Israeli tour guide and a military-trained medic —
who were extremely well versed in the history of their
country. There was also a representative of Birthright
Israel on the trip.
The tour guide led the group, explaining things as
they went along. The medic always brought up the
rear, ensuring that the group remained together at all
It is not uncommon for Birthright participants to
begin dating others in the group. But Feingold
became interested in the Israeli medic, Avi Nachom.
"It was love at first sight," says Feingold.
"Everyone on the trip could see right away that we
liked each other."
Feingold found herself staying in the back of the
group, so she could spend more time with Nachom.
"It was more like having my own private tour. I got
Avi's own view on everything we saw," says Feingold.
She extended her stay in Israel an extra week after
her group left, and after just two short weeks togeth-
er the pair knew they had fallen in love.
The only glitch was that Feingold had to return to
East Lansing to complete her studies, and Nachom
was about to enter a police-training program in
Israel. A computer engineer by training, Nachom
had to find another career path when the engineering
industry was hit hard by the recession. Feingold
vowed that she would soon return to Israel to be
with Nachom, who was a little more dubious about
A Life Change
She returned to the States, but decided to take off
the spring semester to pursue another interest —
cooking. Feingold managed to find herself an intern-
ship as a chef's assistant at the Sheraton Moriah, an
upscale hotel in Tel Aviv. Feingold worked five days a
week in the kitchen. Her compensation was room
and board in the hotel, and the chance to spend
more time with Nachom, who lived in Holon, a sub-
urb just south of Tel Aviv.
"Those were the best three months of my life,"
says Feingold of her time in Israel.
The night before she was to leave, the couple took
a walk on the beach and decided that since they
couldn't live without each other, they would get mar-
Nachom was insistent that Feingold finish her
studies, and he had to finish his stint at the police
academy. Because the government paid for him to
attend, Nachom is responsible for working a mini-
mum of three years as an Israeli police officer in
order to repay the debt.
They knew that moving to the United States wasn't
an option, so without hesitating, Feingold decided to
make aliyah to Israel.
"My family was very excited for me. Only my
grandmother was upset that I was going to move so
far away," says Feingold.
Her parents are worried about the dangers of living
in Israel, but Feingold says that "if I am going to live
life like an Israeli, I will lead a normal life and not be
scared. I will just be more careful."
After taking extra classes in the summer and fall
semesters so that she would graduate in 2003,
Feingold took her mother, Janis, to Israel last
December to meet her future son-in-law and his
family. Avi's family "is very warm and welcoming,
and they immediately treated us like one of the fami-
ly," says Feingold.
Nachom took his first trip to the United States in
May, so that he could attend Feingold's graduation
from MSU. "He couldn't get over how huge the U.S.
is," she laughs. "He said that his entire country could
fit in the Michigan State University campus alone!"
Nachom was also amazed at the lack of security in
the U.S., and the freedom everyone has to move
around as they please.
Nachom was also taken aback at the service he
attended at Adat Shalom Synagoguein Farmington
Hills with Feingold's family. "Not only was he sur-
prised that we could sit together, he was shocked to
see a woman on the bimah,''she says.
Nachom experienced another first at a bar in East
Lansing: he was carded for the first time in his life.
"He couldn't believe it," she says.
Feingold wanted to get married in Michigan, but
realized that it was too complicated for Nachom's
family. The couple will be married on March 4,
2004, in Israel. Feingold's parents, Nathan and Janis,
and her siblings, Leonard and Pamela, and 20 more
guests will fly from the U.S. for the ceremony.
In addition to preparing for the wedding, Feingold
is getting ready to move to Israel this September.
She'll move in with Nachom and his parents in a
newly built house in Gan Yavne, south of Tel Aviv.
She has already secured another internship for her-
self, this time working in Netanya for the Wingate
Institute, Israel's National Center for Physical
Education and Sport. There she will be working with
physical therapists and performing clinical testing.
Feingold is hopeful that she will be offered a job
once her three-month internship is complete.
"I never thought that I would find someone who
complements me so well," she says. "I've found my
soul mate; he's just half-way across the world. But
true love can conquer all — even long distances."
Avi Nachom and Marla Feingold