Tamar Elisheva Jonas, from the Bronx, and Elliot J. Shalom, from Brooklyn, each moved to Israel — she in 2015 and he in 2017 — and then met in May 2019 on a blind date in Tel Aviv.
“The intention from the first date was it could potentially lead to marriage,” said Mr. Shalom, 25, who goes by Eliyahu, and is one of six children from an Orthodox Jewish Syrian family, while she is one of nine from an Orthodox Ashkenazi family.
“Phrases my mom uses are not in Yiddish, but Arabic,” he said, explaining their different customs, “and our food is a little spicier.”
Ms. Jonas, 23, did not have much to go on from his first call.
“He was very nervous,” she recalled, but her eyes lit up when he texted her suggesting they go to Topya, her favorite frozen yogurt place in Tel Aviv.
Ms. Jonas, who is pursuing a degree in social work, took time off until recently to work in avocado fields and olive groves at moshavim, agricultural settlements in the Upper Galilee. From 2016 to 2018 she served in the Israeli National Service working with at-risk youth in Tel Aviv and Haifa.
“I was a huge fan of Tamar,” said Mr. Shalom, who is the senior project manager of digital technology at IDW Publishing, a publisher of comic books and graphic novels based in San Diego. From April 2017 to October 2018 he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and graduated magna cum laude from Brooklyn College. “She wasn’t afraid to challenge me.”
It wasn’t until the fourth date that he struck a chord with her.
“He told me how he wanted to change the world,” she said, as they sat in Sarona Park in Tel Aviv over tea with cookies. “We both want to change the world.”
In July he sent her roses and a love note while she visited her parents in the Bronx before spending a few weeks as a division head at Camp Moshava in Honesdale, Pa., which inspired her move to Israel after high school.
After she returned to Israel he supported her decision to move up north to pursue her farming dream.
In December she began having stomach problems, which she attributed to too much junk food, not enough water and working hard. But, during a week off, on April 28, Israel Memorial Day, she went for a colonoscopy in Jerusalem, and was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer.
“It was shocking,” she said. “It was a really, really hard time. Eliyahu was there every minute. We haven’t been apart for more than 24 hours.”
After her parents strongly suggested she return to New York for treatment, they packed their bags with one-way tickets. Her first of six cycles of chemotherapy began at Sloan Kettering on May 26, to be followed by surgery in October.
“Our plan was the minute I’m healthy and out of surgery we would go back to Israel,” she said, but to be safe she was told to undergo a second surgery, and stay until Spring. “We very much decided to get engaged and married in three weeks,” she said, allowing them, as Orthodox Jews, to finally touch. “We never held hands, and I knew after surgery I wanted to be as close to him as possible.”
They were engaged Aug. 19, and married Sept. 10 outside Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., legally by Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt, after a religious ceremony by Rabbi Jack Savdie, with about 220 guests in an open-sided tent and more than 100 via livestream.
“This was not our fairy-tale story, we both cried a lot,” Ms. Jonas said, noting they both had wanted to marry in Israel. “We love New York, but we belong in Israel,” she added. “We’re hopeful and appreciative and have each other to get through this.”
Ms. Jonas added that besides Mr. Shalom, her faith, and the prayers of her family and the international community keep her strong.
“I’m excited to be spending the rest of my life with the most incredible woman in the whole world,” Mr. Shalom said.