I wasn’t sure if I had fallen in love on my Birthright trip or if I was just in love with the romance of the situation. Did I actually love Yarin? Or did my infatuation lie more with the idea of meeting a boy abroad and slipping into love amidst the beautiful Mediterranean landscape? It wasn’t until I got back to Chicago and took off my Birthright goggles that I could see it so clearly: I realized it was the former, that I did love Yarin – and that I had to get back to him.

I sensed that what Yarin and I shared together during those ten days in Israel was real; yet, I was at a point in my life where I was still jumpstarting my career. It wouldn’t have been reasonable to just move across the world and chase a possible love interest instead of chasing after and developing my career. But Masa’s Destination Israel internship program provided me the opportunity to do both; I was able to develop professionally while having another chance to see Yarin, who was a university student pursuing his MBA in Tel Aviv at the time. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Masa afforded me the ability to not have to choose.

Those first five months in Israel with Masa gave me plenty of time to truly explore my love for this boy I had been thousands of miles away from. It turned out my intuition was correct. Yarin and I cherished the time we spent together. On June 14, 2019, we moved back to the US to tie the knot, after having lived together for two years in Israel. Those five months on my Masa program pretty quickly turned into two years—Yarin and I were inseparable and the time flew. Our marriage, however, came with a small caveat; while we were legally married in the United States in June of 2019, we opted to schedule our traditional Jewish marriage ceremony for June 14, 2020 so his friends and family from Israel could be there to celebrate with us. The date remains the same, but we like to joke that we’ll never be able to agree on how long we’ve been married!

Israel brought us together, and even now, years after that original birthright trip, it continues to nourish the love that Yarin and I share for one another. We speak Hebrew to each other at home, named our dog Gali, and regularly listen to Israeli music. I work in Israel advocacy, and so long as I’m married to Yarin, the prospect of moving back to the country is always on the table. Israel isn’t just a place to us. It’s a feeling, one of affection and belonging, that Yarin and I look forward to sharing with our future children.

Alissa Brown is a Masa alum of Destination Israel.

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