In certain circles, the idea of an Israeli-American romance is extremely alluring. The American cherishes the stereotype of Israelis as sexier, more dashing versions of the Jews they grew up with: bronzed, muscled and comfortable with a gun. For the Israelis, an American represents access to the big world outside Israel, where life promises at once more opportunity and less stress.
Matt Tratner-Katz, 38, and Uri Tratner-Katz, 31, never saw the appeal. A native New Yorker, Matt had thought of visiting Israel, but never gone through with it. Uri, who grew up in a small town near the Gaza border, thought more of Australia as a possible destination than the States. Yet hours after meeting each other, they were inseparable. Within five months they were married.
They only met at all because Matt, a teacher, made his first trip to Israel for an unusual reason: in July 2011, he accompanied a friend who was going to scatter the ashes of his late husband. A longtime lover of nightlife who also had a career in party promotion, Matt didn’t want the journey to be “all about mourning,” so he reached out via Facebook to Uri, a friend of a friend, and asked for recommendations for nightspots and restaurants that were off the tourist-beaten track. Uri said he would be happy to show Matt and his friend around and squired them masterfully about his haunts in Tel Aviv, where he worked as a radio producer.
“He was so nice, and so kind and there weren’t any ulterior motives,” Matt said.
Indeed, both Matt and Uri insist that they weren’t attracted to each other at first, although that changed at the beach. The rest of Matt’s 10-day stay was a whirlwind of romance, kind of like one of those soft-focus movie montages, featuring nightclubs, strolls along the beach and two Shabbos dinners with Uri’s extended family.
“The first night I was treated as a guest,” Matt said, glancing at Uri. “The second night, my sister asked, ‘So, what do you do?’” Uri elaborated. “‘What do your parents do?’ They had the talk.”
And then the last night of the visit, Matt turned to Uri as their cab pulled away from a club at sunrise and said, “We have a problem.”
All along, Matt’s visit had felt as fun as what they called a “vacationship”: a montage, yes, but one that fades to black when the carefree lovers return to their real lives. As his departure neared, they realized it was more.
“When you know it’s the one, you just know,” Uri said.
They hastily arranged a trip for him, over his High Holy Days vacation, to the place he’d never had any interest in visiting. On the third day Uri informed Matt that the trip had been a waste of time — he might as well have just moved already into Matt’s apartment in Fresh Meadows, Queens.
It was determined that Uri would move, since Matt’s career with the New York City Department of Education, with its ample benefits, pension and early retirement age, was too valuable to give up. Marriage was a given. And on Dec. 12, 2012, each man crushed a glass underfoot in a religious ceremony in Central Park.
The plan was to spend summers in Israel, but that hasn’t happened yet, because of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal 1996 law that forbids recognition of same-sex marriages. And because immigration is a federal matter, DOMA means the immigrating half of a binational, same-sex couple struggles to secure a green card. Uri is in this very position, which puts him in a kind of legal limbo — unable to work and unable to travel.
But he’s making the best of it by going to Queens College and studying computer science, and except for DOMA — which might be overturned by the Supreme Court, but might not — life for the Tratner-Katzes is filled with domestic delights: a cat and a dog, movie night on the same couch, a crowded Shabbos table and that icon of young married life, a KitchenAid mixer Uri calls “Nancy” and Matt calls “Big Blue.”
“He never saw himself having kids until he met me,” Matt said of Uri.
“Because of him,” Uri said of Matt, “I’m starting to see myself with kids.”
And so, it seems, does Uri’s mother. And Matt’s mother.
“They’re starting to push,” Matt said. ✦