It was no ordinary marriage proposal. Rotem Langer is a 31-year-old disabled veteran of the Israeli army whose speech was affected by his injuries. “Sometimes I forget words,” says Rotem. “I didn’t want that to happen when I proposed to Shelly.”
Six months after they met, on April 29, 2012, he and Shelly were sitting on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Instead of mouthing the words, he asked the question in a text message: Will you marry me?
He was deeply in love: “Some good things happened after my injuries – I met Shelly.”
Rotem was seriously injured in 2002 in the Battle of Nablus during operation Defensive Shield. His parents were told his death was imminent. Or, possibly, he could remain a vegetable. The left lobe of his brain, responsible for speech, had been erased.
“But I was a medical miracle,” says Rotem. He underwent six head operations during his stay at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and then moved to a rehabilitation center. For three years, he couldn’t utter a word. “When my old girlfriend wanted to break up with me, I didn’t ask her why. I couldn’t speak,” says Rotem.
Slowly the right side of his brain took over the work of the left side, and Rotem began to relearn the basics – to speak, to read and to write. In 2006, he took a step toward independence when he rented his own apartment in Tel Aviv. Soon he got a driver’s license and a job with Hewlett-Packard.
He also had to relearn the dating scene. He registered with the website lovedavka.co.il, which caters to the disabled. “Most of the women thought I was retarded because I wasn’t able to speak in full sentences,” says Rotem.
“They were too quick to judge him,” says Shelly. Shelly Denish met Rotem in 2011 on JDate. It was one week before her membership expired.
Rotem read her profile, but didn’t take any steps to contact her. “I didn’t like her photo,” he explains.
When Shelly noticed that he was checking her out, she turned the tables. “It bothered me that he was a year younger than me,” says Shelly. She also wanted to learn more about his disability and contacted a mutual friend. “He gave Rotem high marks, and I decided to meet him.”
They agreed to meet at a coffeehouse. Unfortunately, it was very noisy. Rotem speaks softly, and it was impossible to hear him, recalls Shelly. Fortunately, it was a pleasant October evening. They continued their date outside.
“Already, from the beginning, he touched my soul,” says Shelly. She had served in air force intelligence and studied communication. Though currently working in Q&A (computer software), she was between jobs when she met Rotem. “I so much appreciated Rotem’s support, she says. “And as our relationship deepened, we were blessed to have the support of both families.”
“I fell in love with Shelly after five dates,” says Rotem. When he asked Shelly why she would want to live with someone disabled, she answered: “You are not disabled in your heart.”
Ten weeks after they met, Shelly moved in with Rotem. There were now two people to walk their dog.
“We travel a lot and we talk about everything,” says Rotem. “It’s like she’s inside my head. She often finishes sentences for me.”
Rotem didn’t want anyone’s help with the sentences he had to recite under the wedding canopy, Shelly notes. “Rotem put a lot of pressure on himself to practice these words over and over, to make sure he got them right.”
It was probably the most emotional moment of the wedding when Rotem, on his own, recited the biblical passage: “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”
Shelly and Rotem were married on September 9, 2012.
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