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European women marry, give hope to Samaritans

By Dalia Nammari

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 17 2013 1:56 p.m. MDT

Alexandra Kraskuk, 28, was the first to come, making the journey from her native Ukraine 10 years ago. Her husband, Wadah, 50, found her through a Tel Aviv matchmaking service after being unable to find a Samaritan woman. He saw her picture, and then flew to Ukraine to meet her.

Krashuk, who has since changed her name to Shura Altif, said her parents objected to the age difference, but that she decided to take a chance and move to the West Bank. Today, the couple has a healthy 3-year-old son, Eliazar, who they also call Abdul Muin. Samaritans use Hebrew and Arabic names.

Making the transition was a challenge, she said. "There are good things and there are things that are not easy. It's a different life," she said. She said the monthly restrictions on women have been especially difficult. "But I commit to Samaritan traditions," she said. "This is the religion."

Before a prospective bride can join the community, the high priest must approve the marriage. The women must spend several months learning the ancient Torah, the Samaritan holy book which is somewhat different from the Jewish Torah, and other traditions before the ceremony.

In all, five women have arrived over the past decade, finding comfort with one another as their numbers have grown. They join each other on Christmas Eve and New Year's, which are not celebrated by the Samaritans. On sunny days, they travel to Israel together for barbecues.

Evdokimova, who now goes by the name Alaa Altif, is the most recent arrival. She and her 53-year-old husband, Azzam Altif, have a 2-year-old son, Murad. A former bartender in her native Ukraine who occasionally went to church, she said the dramatic change in lifestyle doesn't bother her. While the pair initially required a translator to communicate, Alaa has now learned enough Hebrew to speak directly to her husband. She is also learning Arabic, the language used by Samaritans to speak among themselves.

"The Samaritan holidays are festive, I love this. Saturdays were difficult in the beginning, but in the end, when all the family gathers, it's a nice thing," she said. Since arriving, she has arranged for a friend back home to marry another Samaritan relative of her husband. The wedding is planned for August.

Her husband said Alla's arrival has been a blessing. After failed attempts to find a wife in the Samaritan community, in 2010 he decided to turn to an Israeli matchmaking office, which showed him pictures of women in Ukraine. He traveled to Ukraine with a one-way plane ticket for his future bride, meeting 17 women in 20 days.

"I would take them out for lunch and a drink. I would take each one's address and tell her I'll call her if things work out. My wife was the fifth woman I met, but I set my mind on her, her personality and looks," he said.

Several days later, the couple married in a civil ceremony in Ukraine. Then they returned to the West Bank, where several months later they had a formal religious ceremony recognized by the community.

"Some people were happy. Others said it's hard," he explained. "But there is no other solution. It's either this or I stay a bachelor."

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