Yitz Lauterbach met Maria Kharina in an international relations class at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Appropriately, their own backgrounds made for an interesting international relationship.
Yitz was raised in an ultra-orthodox home in Philadelphia. In 2004, at the age of 18, he made aliyah and joined the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier, an army term for “those whose families live abroad and who have chosen to leave their countries of origin to serve the State of Israel." Religiously, Yitz became less observant.
Maria was born in the small Russian town of Revda, where there were very few Jews. Still, she felt the Zionist calling, and, in 2005, when she was 17, she too made aliyah and joined the army as a lone soldier.
Yitz and Maria didn’t meet until 2008. After becoming friends at Hebrew University, they maintained their friendship as they both enrolled in the university’s Baccalaureate Program. Then Yitz had to drop out when his father became ill and he went home to Philadelphia.
“Skyping kept us together for a year,” explains Maria. “We would Skype two to three hours a night. Luckily, I worked the night shift as a hotel receptionist, so the time difference between Jerusalem and Philadelphia wasn’t a problem.”
A decade ago, long-distance relationships were considered risky, and often doomed. However, a recent study conducted by Microsoft’s Idea Lab found that 47 percent of their respondents credit Skype with “keeping the love alive” while far apart.
2012-2013 was a transition year for Maria and Yitz. After his dad died, Yitz finished some projects he had started for the U.S. military, and then he made plans to return to Israel. “By that time, I was head over heels in love with Maria,” said Yitz. “I used to suck at the whole romance thing, but it happened so naturally with Maria. She’s the love of my life.”
Back in Jerusalem, they became a couple. Maria, who had completed a degree in Business Administration, was working at a conference center. One of Yitz’s favorite jobs was being a Birthright leader. “One guy from my group later joined the army, and he credits me,” Yitz reveals with pride. He’s also proud of his current work with the Israel Police.
In August 2013, the couple flew to the Amalfi Coast of Italy, where Yitz proposed. Among other things, it was important to Maria that “Yitz is a gentleman, and he doesn’t drink or curse.” She adds: “I also like it when he brings me flowers.” Yitz soon learned about the Russian custom for bringing flowers: Giving an even number of flowers is a bad omen, because they place an even number of flowers on graves.
Yitz and Maria planned their wedding for August 2014. However, a month earlier, following incessant rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, Israel launched its military operation, Protective Edge. Yitz reminisces: “Many of our friends from the army were unable to come to our wedding because they had emergency call-ups. My grandmother, Bella Reznick, from Philadelphia, almost had to cancel her flight; but luckily, she made it.”
As Yitz broke the glass under the marriage canopy to remember the destruction of the Second Temple, the officiating rabbi reminded the guests of a more recent tragedy – the scores of Israeli soldiers who had lost their lives in Tzuk Eitan.
Maria and Yitz were married in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 21, 2014. Mazal tov.
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Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 1990’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.