Yakira Wiesel was the only girl on the crowded rooftop of a rickety bus. She was in Nepal, on a nine-hour ride, heading toward the Frozen Lake Trek. She heard some of the guys speaking Hebrew, which was comforting for a 20- year-old Israeli girl. When the bus began to shake, she turned to one of them and asked: “Can I lean on you?” Michael Azulay, who was 23 at the time, was happy to oblige. He recalls: “I immediately felt an attraction.”
Michael and Yakira had actually seen each other the Shabbat before, but “seeing is not meeting.” Many young Israelis do see each other traveling in Nepal off the beaten track. A trip to the Far East, following their stint in the army or national service, is a rite of passage for them.
When she first came to Nepal, Yakira volunteered with Tevel B’Tzedek, a nonprofit mission to help alleviate poverty. By the spring of 2011, when she met Michael, she was ready for a new adventure.
Once again Michael was happy to oblige. They traveled for about six weeks together with other Israelis. “I want to emphasize that we were not a couple,” says Yakira. “But it is true that we flirted with each other.”
They were getting ready to go on an Everest trek, when a friend raised the question: “Why aren’t you two a couple?” Yakira found the courage to ask Michael: “Are we a couple?” Michael responded: Do you want us to be a couple?
They were together for the rest of their travels.
When they returned to Israel in July, it wasn’t clear what would happen next. Did they just have a “shipboard romance” destined to end when the vacation was over? Some friends and family thought so, and some even hoped so because Yakira and Michael seemed so very different.
Yakira was third generation from Chicago, Illinois. Her family made aliyah when she was a young child, and she was raised in both worlds – American and Israeli. Michael was born in Israel to Israeli parents of Moroccan descent.
Some of the family was concerned that they were not yet on a career path. Still, Yakira was accepted at Hebrew University and would study communications. They weren’t too worried.
Most problematic was the religious issue – Yakira was from an Orthodox home, went to religious schools, did Sherut Leumi (national service), and was Torah observant. Michael was from a secular home in Herzliya.
Many religious girls would never consider dating a non-religious guy. “They think before they fall in love,” says Yakira. Michael and I fell in love, and then we had to deal with it. But it is definitely worth it. Michael is so very sweet.”
“We deal with it by working really hard,” says Yakira. ‘We each have our boundaries,” she emphasizes. And Michael adds: “Most importantly, we have respect for each other’s beliefs.”
They love hiking together. One evening in June 2012, as they were walking along a cliff, Yakira looked down to the beach and saw the marriage proposal set up by Michael’s friends. She happily accepted.
They planned a wedding with something for everyone – religious, secular, Israelis, American, Moroccan, friends and family. Michael and Yakira like to make people happy. They are inspired by Yakira’s great-grandparents who recently celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary.
Yakira and Michael were married on September 4, 2012. 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.