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Love is a feeling Olim are certainly familiar with. Olim love Israel, they love the Tel Aviv beaches, they love falafel. It comes as no surprise then, that often this feeling of love leads them to falling in love with their life partners.

“The root of Aliyah is love,” says Aleeza Ben Shalom, the matchmaker featured in Netflix’s Jewish Matchmaking, who made Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh back in 2021. “Falling in love over your love of Israel is a great way to build a connection.”

Noah & Julia Kahn. Credit: Nefesh B’Nefesh

What better time to celebrate love and Israel than Tu B’Av, the Jewish day of love? While often compared to the more widely celebrated Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av is essentially all about finding love. During the times of Ancient Israel, the 15th day of the month of Av was considered one of the happiest days of the year as matchmakers worked extra hard to pair young singles together.

Matchmaking is a long-standing tradition for the Jewish people and today, organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh, which works in close cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA, are doing a completely different kind of matchmaking. Rather than helping people find their life partners, the organization helps Olim actualize their dreams of living in the land they love, the land of Israel.  Along the way, many of these Olim tend to find a life partner.

“One of the things we really strive to do over here at Nefesh B’Nefesh, is create a community,” says Naama Degani-Rabin, Director of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah campus. “The community we have built has evolved into becoming a place where Olim can meet, encourage one another, and even fall in love.”

This has proven to be true time and time again. There are countless love stories that started with Nefesh B’Nefesh helping Olim integrate in Israel, and some of these stories started on the organization’s Jerusalem Aliyah Campus, where the organization often hosts events to help Olim forge friendships and create support networks.

“These stories are touching for both Olim and Israelis alike,” says Degani-Rabin. “It’s not easy to make such a big life-altering decision on your own and the fact that it works is really inspiring.”

One inspiring love story features Noah Kahn and Julia Elbaze, two young Olim who came to Israel to serve in the army after high school through Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Lone Soldier Program.

Wedding at Nefesh B’nefesh Aliyah Campus. Credit: Hodaya Toledano

“Making Aliyah is not just about moving to Israel,” says Kahn. “There is a lot of meaning behind it. It’s about moving to the Jewish homeland and changing your whole lifestyle.”

A native New Yorker, Kahn first arrived in Israel in 2017 to volunteer in the IDF. During a day off from his service, he was introduced to Elbaze, who had made Aliyah two years earlier from Canada and was also serving as a Lone Soldier.

“Aliyah and our passion for living in Israel was a big connection point for both of us,” says Elbaze. “We both agreed we wanted to be here even when it wasn’t easy, and it meant we have similar values.”

“It’s a big part of our relationship,” Kahn agrees. “We’re both passionate about the same things and that helps us get through tough times. Israel is not always such an easy place to call home, so you need to be with someone who supports you and understands your challenges.”

While some love stories may begin at the Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah campus, others come back after they fall in love to commemorate significant milestones. Just recently a couple got engaged on the campus’ rooftop, and another couple used the Nefesh B’Nefesh campus as their wedding venue.

Cindy Seni, an Oleh from Canada, is planning on hosting her pre-wedding Henna party at the Nefesh B’Nefesh campus. Cindy participated in Netflix’s Jewish Matchmaking where she was set up with a prospective match by Ben Shalom, however, she ended up finding love on her own with an Israeli her friends introduced her to.

“When I left Canada, I knew I would never find my person there,” Seni says. Seni made Aliyah in 2018 with Nefesh B’Nefesh after leading a trip to Israel where she was asked to speak to participants about what it means to love Israel. “You don’t choose Aliyah, it chooses you,” she says.

Of course, Aliyah, like finding love, is a journey which is both difficult and rewarding. “Loving relationships are for the good and the bad,” says Seni. “Olim love Israel, but what about when tensions are high? The same with dating. There are times which can feel helpless and hopeless, but in the end, the joy makes up for all of the difficulties, plus some.”

Regarding her journeys of moving to Israel and find love, Seni says both required lots of patience and resilience to get through some testing moments.

Patience and resilience are two characteristics which helped another Oleh, Noah Tradonsky, connect with his wife. After moving to Jerusalem in June 2020, Tradonsky was introduced to a South African Oleh who, as it turned out, had grown up just ten minutes away from him back home. The two had studied at different schools and were three years apart, so their paths hadn’t crossed despite their proximity. It took moving to Israel for them to meet.

“All the struggles of being an Oleh and all the awesome parts of it really brought us together,” says Tradonsky. “We both have this connection to our spirituality in Israel. There is no doubt that loving this land is a part of our love story.”

Tradonsky notes that as two Olim alone in this country, he and his wife face similar challenges, as well as share many of the same values. They both understand the difficulties of not having family around, which has in turn made them each very independent. On the flipside, they both share a love of Israel, which is especially pronounced on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, which has a special meaning for them.

“Olim are usually deeply passionate people,” matchmaker Ben Shalom says. “Olim are individuals who are so in love with the land of Israel, to the extent that they make the crazy decision to travel across the world and move here.” Ben Shalom says this is the same energy that helps people maintain successful relationships.

“If you love something and you find your happy place, it’s easier to live a joyful life and find love,” says Ben Shalom.

For Olim looking for love, Ben Shalom advises networking. “Look for suggestions anywhere,” she says. “The bus driver, the cashier, the lady on the street, anyone might know someone for you. It’s very Israeli to schmooze and connect. Take all suggestions seriously.”

Olim Seni and Tradonsky give similar advice to singles looking for love in Israel.

“Dating in Israel is so different from a Western way of thinking,” says Seni. “It’s a huge culture shock, you need to deconstruct all of that and allow space for change.”

Tradonsky agrees and advises Olim to “have a propensity to say ‘yes,’ even when you want to say ‘no.’”

Network, schmooze, and be persistent. After all, what’s more Israeli than that?