Love in the time of COVID and war
A South African man met the love of his life on an online Jewish dating site, but has no idea when he’ll see his Russian fiancée again as she’s in Moscow and the country is at war.
Dean Friedman, 37, is living in limbo with his parents in Cape Town while he eagerly waits for his fiancée, Anna Gurovich, 32, to join him so they can tie the knot and begin their lives. He might have a while to wait.
It’s one thing to meet the girl of your dreams online during a global pandemic with crazy travel restrictions, but it’s another to get together after war in Eastern Europe is thrown into the mix.
“If our relationship can survive what we have already been through in such a short time, we’ll be okay,” Friedman told the SA Jewish Report this week.
In October last year, they were just two ordinary souls looking for love. She a religious Russian Jewess working in human resources for a tech company in Moscow; he is a risk analyst for an online Australian sports betting company, working remotely but basing himself at the time in Bulgaria.
On a visit to his sister in the United States for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur last year, he added his profile to the dating website called The World’s Largest Jewish Singles Group.
“I had tried a number of other dating sites as I lived in many places for work, including the United Kingdom, Malta, Germany and Bulgaria,” said Friedman.
His profile somehow landed on Anna’s radar through a friend of hers who thought they’d make a good match and set about hooking them up.
“Anna phoned me from Russia while I was sitting on the beach in Florida with my sister,” he said. “I could speak a little Bulgarian and we managed to strike up a conversation.”
The two continued to speak regularly on WhatsApp and Facetime, and he told her that when he returned to Bulgaria, he would fly to Russia and meet her face to face.
“Everyone said I was mad,” he said, “You hear all these scam stories like Tinder Swindler, especially ones involving Eastern Europeans.”
However, he had a good feeling. So on 6 October, with butterflies in his stomach, he flew to Russia.
“It was nerve-racking because I didn’t know what to expect. She was nervous too, and was surprised I went,” he said.
The first thing she noticed was his smiling face when she caught his eye in arrivals at the Sheremetyevo Pushkin International Airport.
“He looked very happy,” said Gurovich this week.
They spent 10 whirlwind days together in Moscow and the rest, as they say, is history.
“She cooked a meal for me that first day of Turkish meatballs, Israeli salad and a parev cheese cake, which she had spent days planning,” he said.
“We visited the Kremlin, went horse riding and enjoyed a boat cruise. There were sparks flying, it was very exciting,” said Friedman.
The couple had Shabbos at Rabbi Sergov and Rebbetzin Esther Friedman (no relation), linked to the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue, and there was even early talk of marriage, which he said he didn’t want to rush into even though he “knew she was the one”.
“From the beginning, I knew she was right for me. She’s intelligent, kind, caring and you just know,” he said.
The couple said their goodbyes with a view to continuing their romance come what may.
Not long afterwards, Friedman gave notice on his flat in Bulgaria and packed up his life there, moving with his dog to Russia to be with Gurovich, who also has a dog.
Several more Shabboses spent with the rabbi and his wife and marriage became high on Gurovich’s agenda. She didn’t want to wait too long, although Friedman was still cautious, thinking of his family and how they were going to be able to travel to be with them during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also had a 90-day tourist visa which was going to expire, posing yet another problem. Then came the outbreak of Omicron, which further complicated international travel.
On Boxing Day on 26 January, Friedman took Gurovich, her mother, and her friend to lunch at the Misha Fisher in Jaffa kosher restaurant at the Afimall City shopping mall. Feeling courageous, he bought an engagement ring from one of the jewellery stores in the mall while the others went shopping after lunch.
“I know it wasn’t the most romantic thing, but I proposed to her in a shopping mall. We were there, and the moment just seemed right,” he said.
It was a blur of heady, intoxicating excitement, but then reality set in. He was able to live anywhere in Europe and South Africa, but where was she able to join him? So began several discussions and meetings with immigration attorneys finally looking at her prospects of living in Cape Town.
Since then, the couple have run into several seemingly insurmountable stumbling blocks such as Omicron-imposed tight travel restrictions and the expiration of his visa, forcing him back to South Africa. Then Russia invaded Ukraine.
“It has been one thing after another,” said Friedman.
Intense discussions has ensued over where they will live and how they will eventually reunite, given the situation worldwide.
He tried to get back to Russia without success. The country hasn’t lifted its travel ban on South African passport holders. So they scrapped the idea of getting married there, instead opting for her to join him in South Africa. Immigration comes with overwhelming requirements, including a mountain of paper work, with police clearances and dozens of original and apostilled documents.
Meanwhile she’s in Moscow and he’s in Cape Town as war rages around her and European upheaval plays havoc with their plans.
“War shouldn’t exist. To live in a time of horror! If the situation was stable, leaving my country of birth wouldn’t be so bad because it would be about missing my loved ones, but now I’m worried about what will happen to them,” Gurovich said.
“I feel sad for the situation everywhere. People are worried about being able to buy things and about losing their jobs; it’s uncertain.”
She finds comfort in knowing that she has met the man of her dreams.
“He is unique, he is my other half, my person,” she said.
Gurovich who has lived in Russia her whole life and whose family dates back many generations to Tzarist times, said she wasn’t afraid to come to South Africa although “I know it will be another world to me”.
“It has been stressful and our love has been put to the test, but if we can overcome this, we’ll be fine,” Friedman said.
The couple is hoping to be married in July under a chuppah in Cape Town in front of his friends and family.