From ‘Group of 20,’ they became two, then three

BY LEAH HAKIMIAN

Fifteen years after they met, Michal and Zali got married. Zali and Michal met in kindergarten in 1989.

Michal Shane and Zali (Bezalel) Sosnovitch were both born in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, Israel. As children, they were both bilingual, speaking English with their parents and Hebrew with their friends. Both sets of parents were immigrants from North America — Dr. Ruth Elbaum Shane was from St. Louis, Dr. Paul Shane from Framingham, Mass., and David and Esther Sosnovitch were from Toronto, Canada.

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Though Michal and Zali attended kindergarten together, the Sosnovitch family moved to another Beersheba neighborhood when Zali entered third grade. From then on, Michal and Zali attended different schools. Their friendship actually began when they both started going to B’nei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth group. Michal remembers Zali from those days as “the cute kid with blond hair and blue eyes.”

“There were about 20 kids in our group,” recalls Michal, “and everyone liked Zali — both the cool kids and the not-so-cool kids. For four years, from fourth grade through eighth grade, the 20 of us (10 boys and 10 girls) would get together every Friday night for Shabbat-appropriate activities. We were all good friends during those years in B’nei Akiva, and yet there was no pairing up.”

In the Israeli religious Zionist community, a boy and his family must make an important decision after bar mitzvah — where to go to high school. A municipal high school? A technical school? A yeshiva? In town or out of town?

Zali, with the approval of his family, decided on the Yeshiva in Mizpeh Ramon, about an hour’s drive from Beersheba. Zali liked the philosophy of this casual yeshiva — looking at the world of science and nature through Jewish eyes.

Michal attended a religious girls’ high school in Beersheba, and continued her activities with B’nei Akiva as a youth group leader.

On the one hand, Michal liked Zali’s choice of a yeshiva. On the other hand, she felt that the community needed him in Beersheba. And that’s what she told him when she started sending him letters during his first year away from home. In truth, Michal wrote letters to a few guys during that first year. But, only the correspondence with Zali lasted. She still has Zali’s letters, eight years later.

“The group of 20” remained friends during high school. Michal recalls there were times when the boys decided that they were going on a hike, and the girls would let them know that they were joining them. “It just happened naturally,” says Michal.

When the boys were home from yeshiva, “the group of 20” would resume their Friday night get-togethers. Everything was the same, except for one thing. In 11th grade, Zali started walking Michal home. Nobody, but nobody knew about it. Not their parents, and not even their best friends. It only came out later.

There was also a change in their letter-writing. The letters were evolving from the general to the more personal. “I don’t think our relationship would have taken off with e-mail,” says the sensitive and artistic Michal.

Dr. Judith Besserman, a therapist in Jerusalem therapist, says that “with e-mails, it is hard to hear the voice of the other person.” With letters, Michal and Zali were hearing each other’s voices. “From early on Michal helped me think about myself, about life,” relates Zali.

In the Israeli religious Zionist community, a girl must make an important decision as she approaches the end of high school — to do regular army service or national service, which is a parallel track chosen by many religious girls. Michal, unlike most of her friends, opted for the army. She wanted the exposure to the “bigger world” that the army offered. Only then could she say to Zali: “I tested the other world. I haven’t missed anything. I see my future in your world.”

Leah Abramowitz, a Jerusalem social worker, says: “This is not uncommon for young couples from the same background and childhood environment. The girl might want some ‘time out’ and then come back to marry the boy across the street.” Hopefully, he is still waiting for her.

Zali Sosnovitch did wait for Michal Shane. On Purim, 2004, they became engaged.

They were the first couple from their “group of 20.” And they set the trend. To date, there have been five marriages. Ten from “the group of 20” are married to one another.

Michal and Zali were married on August 29, 2004. They are the happy parents of a baby daughter. They hope she will join B’nei Akiva in fourth grade.