Happy Valentine’s Day! In honour of today’s annual celebration of romantic love, CFHU is spotlighting Canadian married couples who first met as students at Hebrew University.
David Kendal and Ellen Bensky, Toronto
(As told by David)
Ellen (Bensky) and I were both enrolled in the One Year Program at Hebrew U in the summer of 1983. When we arrived, we didn’t know one another, as I hung with the Canadians and her with the Americans. Although I had noticed her around campus during the OPON (Hebrew learning) program, I was too shy to approach her.
After we all got back from the Sept./Oct. break, that’s when it happened. My roommate (Lorne Persiko) and I decided it would be a great idea to join the new “Pipeline” committee and be involved in school. So, we made our pitch to the entire group and explained how we were going to head up the party committee and needed volunteers to join us. When a small group met after the meeting, low and behold, Ellen was standing there.
Apparently, she really liked the beard and long hair I had grown while backpacking for the past month. That night would prove the beginning of almost 37 years of being together. After later returning to North America and finishing our undergrad degrees, Ellen decided that maybe moving to Toronto from Vermont wouldn’t be such a bad idea. That was a huge understatement. She went on to help grow and now run a very successful architecture firm in Toronto. With three adult kids now out on their own, it’s time for us to start really enjoying our lives together – not that we didn’t before.
For me, meeting my life mate was more than just an act of coincidence. I wasn’t supposed to be at Hebrew U that year as I had enrolled in Haifa University for the fall of 1982. But fate dictated otherwise. That summer, on Aug 19, I lost my brother Darren in a tragic car accident that claimed four lives. As a result, with neither myself nor my parents prepared for me to leave a week later, I stayed another year at York University and applied to Hebrew U for the following summer.
I tell my kids this story all the time so they understand that life doesn’t go in a straight line, and you never know what’s behind the next curve in the road – but to be prepared for whatever it is. Ellen and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary this July and we owe it all to our amazing time together at Hebrew University.
Karen E. H. Skinazi and Elliot Ludvig, Birmingham, UK
The question of how Karen and Elliot met has long been subject to debate. For over two decades, Karen has told a story of first meeting Elliot waiting at the bus stop at Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus in August 1993 soon after arriving in Israel.
“A bunch of us were headed to the Mount Scopus campus for our daily ulpan when, amongst the crowd, I discerned that distinctive blue March of the Living jacket,” Karen recalls. “I pushed forward to speak to the man in the jacket who, like myself, had gone on that significant Holocaust-related life event. We discovered we not only knew people in common, but I had even befriended and sent letters to his best friend in Montreal.” The connection was made.
The story picks up again on Yom Kippur when Elliot volunteered to lead a group to the Kotel on foot, and Karen – remembering Elliot was a fellow Marcher and the friend of a friend – went along. Alas, Elliot didn’t really know where he was going and got them all lost. Karen was unimpressed.
But she got over it and thus, we fast forward to March 9, 1994 at the Orient Express nightclub in Jerusalem’s Hyatt Regency Hotel on French Hill where, in the aftermath of a healthy number of two-for-one shots, and to the soundtrack of “It’s Raining Men” (or perhaps “Mr. Vain”), and with friends literally cheering on the pair, Karen and Elliot shared their first kiss.
It’s a great story of origins, apart from the fact that Elliot, years of marriage and three kids later, one day pointed out that it was highly unlikely that he would have needed a jacket in August in Jerusalem.
“Hebrew University has always been a part of who we are,” says Karen. “It’s not just where we met but also, in so many ways, where we became who we are. (‘What are you going to do with your life?’ I was asked during a Shabbat dinner in Tzfat and out of my mouth came a plan I never knew I had – ‘I’m going to do a PhD in English and become a professor.’)”
“In 2012, we took our children to Hebrew U for the first time (it was our first time returning to Israel, too), and we made them stand at the Givat Ram bus stop as we acted out various possible first conversations,” Karen continues. “We went to the Hyatt Regency – now the Dan Jerusalem – and kissed under the sign for the Orient Express. We’ve made two more trips with them since – to float in the Dead Sea, to snuba (snorkel-scuba!) in Eilat, to rappel in the Ramon crater – to recapture, in other words, some of the magic from our year there and bestow it on the next generation. Of course, at some point, they will be creating their own itineraries for travel and for life. As for a year abroad, we’ve suggested Hebrew U!”
Kevin Wein and Sharon Zolondek, Phoenix, Arizona
In the late summer of 1993, Kevin Wein and Sharon Zolondek met literally on the top of Masada the first weekend they were in Israel. Sharon’s roommate (whose daughter’s Bat Mitzvah they’ll be attending in a few weeks) saw Kevin wearing a T-shirt she liked and that was enough of a reason to start a conversation.
Kevin was from Toronto and Sharon from Phoenix but the connection they made that day and during the rest of their year at Hebrew University, was strong enough to lead to 21 years of marriage (as of next month), and the life they have today in Phoenix with their three daughters – Eden, 17, Dalia, 14, and Noa, 11. Eden is currently looking at spending a year at Hebrew U and Kevin and Sharon can’t wait to see how it impacts her life, too.
“We can’t overstate the impact of that year at Hebrew U had on our lives,” says Kevin. “But for that fateful meeting on Masada, our lives would be completely different and not nearly as rich. Neither one of us went to Israel to find a partner but it’s not surprising the common bonds that drew us there in the first place formed the basis of our life together. We will always remain in Hebrew University’s debt for bringing us together that year.”
If you and your spouse would like to be featured by CFHU next year on Valentine’s Day, please email Robert Sarner at firstname.lastname@example.org.