California-native Jessica Hertz remembers listening to the Career Israel
participants’ introductions. “There was someone from Boston, someone from Los Angeles, and then there was this guy, Henrik from Denmark,” says Jessica. “I don’t even remember when we started dating, just that he kept sitting next to me on the bus and that we couldn’t stop talking to one another.”
After finishing her term as a program director at Hillel and applying to law school, Jessica enrolled in Career Israel to spend some time with her brother’s family and gain international work experience at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
“Finding a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind,” says Jessica. “I went to camp and was involved in Bnai Brith Youth Organization but I never met guys that way. I would always see couples get together but I thought that was for other people.”
During their first week on the program, Henrik started holding Jessica’s hand. “I was worried that this was all happening too soon. We weren’t on Birthright; we were on a five-month program,” says Jessica. “When I asked him about it, he said he just wanted to be friends. Confused, I asked him if he held all his friends’ hands and he actually said yes. I thought maybe it was a Danish thing.”
When Purim came around, Jessica invited Henrik to her brother’s home. “My brother is more religious than me and he urged me not to date until I was really ready for marriage. So when I brought Henrik, I just said that he was a guy from my program who had nowhere to go for the holiday,” says Jessica. “But after the holiday, my brother said, ‘I hope you’re going to date him because if you’re not, I will.’”
A month into the program, Henrik reacted negatively to Israeli medications. Unhappy with the medical advice he was getting, Jessica called her American doctor who urged him to get to a hospital. “I was freaking out and my mom said, ‘You just met this guy. You hardly even know him!’ When we later traveled to Egypt and Jordan together, she was shocked.”
After the program ended, Jessica returned to California before starting law school in Washington, and Henrik went back to Denmark. After a few days of being separated, Henrik decided to spend the summer in the States with Jessica.
“I thought it was crazy because we’d only known each other for a 5 months during the program, but he said let’s just see how it goes,” says Jessica. Within two months, Henrik proposed and they were engaged.
Jessica went with Henrik to Denmark, to see his 2,000-person Jewish community and to meet his family. Then Henrik decided to come live in the United States.
A few years later, with Henrik working as an electrical engineer and Jessica finishing up law school in Seattle, Jessica became pregnant. The couple now lives in Los Angeles and Jessica is due in a few months.
“My mom used to joke that most people go to Israel and return with a t -shirt, but I went to Israel and returned with a husband,” says Jessica. “I really didn’t think it was written in the stars for me, but after my experience, I wonder if that’s really what these programs are all about.”