Suzanne took a leap of faith and traveled 7500 miles to pursue the guy she hoped would be her husband. “I didn’t have a clue,” says Avi.
In December, 2008, Suzanne Anziska was a 28-year old business school student at Northwestern University. Her family was celebrating her dad’s 60th birthday; not in Teaneck, where her parents lived, but in her dad’s hometown of Cape Town, South Africa.
“We are a close family,” says Suzanne, who has four siblings scattered around the US, “so it was a perfect time for us all to be together.” For the final weekend in Cape Town, they had plans for Thursday night, Shabbat, and Saturday night.
By chance (or maybe it was bashert), Suzanne invited her cousin, David, to barbecue on the Thursday night before she was to leave Cape Town. David asked if he could bring his childhood friend, Avi Kawalsky, who was then 30 and worked in financial services.
Suzanne had been to Cape Town once before, a city with about 17,000 Jews, but she had never met Avi. David’s mom had actually thought about the match, but had not yet acted on this intuition.
“As soon as I saw Avi standing on the patio overlooking the ocean, I knew I was going to marry him,” recalls Suzanne. “We totally hit it off. He’s a great listener; we had similar interests; and he totally fit into our family.”
After the barbecue, Suzanne emailed Avi and was disappointed when he didn’t email her back. “I didn’t reply because I didn’t open my email that night,” says Avi. “But I was looking forward to having Shabbat tea at their home. Suzanne’s mom had invited me.”
And then another family member got into the act. Suzanne’s sister-in-law invited Avi to join the family for the Saturday night get together.
“I left Cape Town on January 4, and kept thinking about Avi,” says Suzanne, who had to return to Chicago to finish her last semester of graduate school. The couple emailed and exchanged sporadic instant messages. After graduation, Suzanne moved back to New York. She was at a professional crossroads.
Before starting Northwestern, she had been deputy chief of staff for a US Congressman in Washington DC. Did she want another position in the political world?
She was also at a social crossroads. Should she pursue Avi?
On the Fourth of July she had a pow-wow with three of her single male cousins. “What should I do? asked Suzanne.
“You have to go to Cape Town,” they advised her. Suzanne deliberated: “On the one hand, it was scary and the fear of rejection was almost paralyzing. On the positive side, I had found a golden nugget and didn’t want to let him go.”
Her parents were supportive and trusted their daughter’s instincts.
Suzanne knew she wanted to go but didn’t tell Avi the real reason. “I didn’t want to scare him off,” says Suzanne.
What did she do? She found a political internship and then bought herself a three-month ticket. On August 4, 2009, she left for Cape Town. Avi picked her up at the airport. A good sign.
“We saw a lot of each other the first month, but we weren’t exactly dating,” says Suzanne. Then, on August 28, they went to a program at a local synagogue where the topic was “Finding Your Perfect Match.” The speaker, a prominent rabbi, made a point of discouraging South African guys from dating American women. “Ironically enough, that topic got us talking, and that’s when we started dating,” says Avi.
By the time Suzanne returned to the US in December, she and Avi were serious, and in February, Avi moved to the US.
Suzanne and Avi were married on November 28, 2010 at the Gardens Shul, formally known as the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation. Avi had sung in the choir there for twenty-one years and Suzanne’s grandparents had wed there a century earlier.