You may have first met Arielle Bernstein (née Messafi) when we profiled her for our 2020 newsletter. Since then, a lot has changed! Arielle’s Jewish journey has taken her to Israel, where she and her husband, Joe, are currently studying at a married couples’ fellowship in Jerusalem. Not only did Etz Chaim play a key role in Arielle’s growth, but it also introduced her to Joe. Now, Arielle and Joe are learning together in the Jewish homeland and look forward to building a Jewish home when they return to Baltimore.
Arielle grew up in a traditional family in Owings Mills, and first got involved with Etz Chaim when she participated in Rabbi Efy Flamm’s Kollel and Kollel Plus classes in college. After she graduated and started working as a nurse, she got involved with JCare. During her second year with the program, she started learning one-on-one with Chana Grove, which jump-started her “frum curious” journey, as Arielle calls it. During the pandemic, Arielle did the Olami Seriously Souled online seminary, and started incorporating mitzvot into her life little by little.
Around this time, she met Joe, a JCare fellow and Pikesville native who was working as a software developer. Despite attending Jewish day school and traveling to Israel on Birthright, Joe had never felt particularly connected to Judaism. In his senior year at UMBC, however, Joe became more interested in Jewish spirituality and started learning with Rabbi Gavriel Horan, who was running Etz Chaim’s programming at UMBC at the time. Inspired to continue studying and get more involved, Joe joined JCare after graduation.
Although Arielle and Joe had mutual crushes, neither was sure it was the right time to date. Arielle had signed up for an eight-month seminary program in Jerusalem, and Joe was planning to spend two years at yeshiva. Independently of one another, they reached out to Chana Grove to test the waters, and Chana told each of them they’d be a great match. Arielle and Joe started dating while they were studying in Israel and got married last summer.
“The past year is the most Jewish growth I’ve had in my life,” Arielle says. “Etz Chaim has been life-changing for both of us—we both grew tremendously as Jews.” Joe concurs: “Because of what Etz Chaim taught me, my life is more meaningful, I’m a happier person, and I found my soul mate. I’m incredibly indebted to Etz Chaim and I hope they can continue impacting people the way they impacted us.”