Ellie Schneiderman remembers how her boss, Stuart Levy, told her about the trip. He said: “I have some news for you. A part of it you’ll love – we want you to lead a Birthright trip; and a part, you’ll hate – your co-leader will be Yonatan Hochman.” Stuart knew how Ellie felt about Yonatan.
“At the time I was avoiding Yonatan at all costs,” says Ellie. “And it wasn’t easy since we were both working in the offices of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.” Ellie was an intern with the Jewish Community Relations Council and Yonatan was a community shaliach (emissary) brought to New Jersey by the Jewish Agency for Israel to work on behalf of the Israeli scout movement.
Ellie, then 22, had moved to New Jersey to start graduate school at Fairleigh Dickinson University. When she asked the Hillel director about getting involved, he suggested that she contact Yonatan and another shaliach. “I reached out to both of them, and received a curt response from Yonatan – to the effect that he wasn’t interested in meeting me.”
“Thanks to Stuart Levy, I was given a second chance,” says Yonatan, who is the same age as Ellie. “We had a great connection on the Birthright program,” says Ellie, and adds, “It was totally platonic.”
But there were some sparks, and when they came home, they began dating. They were very private. Even Stuart didn’t have a clue that they were seeing each other.
“We were totally honest with each other from the beginning,” says Yonatan. “Ellie knew that I would return to Israel in the fall to start my architectural studies in Haifa at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. And I knew that Ellie needed to remain in New Jersey another year to complete her Master’s of Public Administration and Jewish Communal Service.
Still, they had the summer of 2009 to enjoy.
“We have all summer to fall in love,” Yonatan told Ellie.
They made a list of the top 20 things they wanted do in New York. “As a former scout leader, Yonatan loves adventure,” says Ellie.
On the September day when Yonatan was flying back to Israel, Ellie declared: “When I graduate, I’m on the plane.” Ellie was now committed to making aliyah, or immigration to Israel.
Yonatan hadn’t even asked this of her. Still, no one in her family was surprised. From the time that Ellie spent her freshman year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she had considered aliyah.
Ellie and Yonatan were at different points on the religious spectrum. Yonatan, born in Tel Aviv, was less observant. “But we met somewhere in the middle,” says Ellie. They are both fervent Zionists.
Over the winter break of 2009-2010, Ellie, herself a Birthright alumna, led another Birthright trip to Israel. She was able to add some personal days to spend with Yonatan and his family. The following summer, Yonatan and Ellie spent in Montreal, and Yonatan met Ellie’s family. They came back to Haifa as a committed couple. “I had found my best friend. She’s the most gentle person I know,” says Yonatan.
Almost immediately, Ellie was hired by the University of Haifa International School, and she works there today as Acting Director of Marketing for study abroad and summer programs.
Over the Passover holiday in 2012, Yonatan proposed to Ellie. The daughters of Stuart Levy would be flower girls at their wedding. After all, without Stuart, they wouldn’t have met.
Yonatan and Ellie were married on August 30, 2013. Mazal tov.
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’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.