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Two Disparate Worlds, Now Linked

September 15, 2005 By:
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Lisa Pliskin-Ismail and Mohamed Ismail
Growing up in Richboro and becoming a Bat Mitzvah at Shir Ami-Bucks County Jewish Congregation, Lisa Pliskin-Ismail never imagined she would one day marry a Sudanese man, in Egypt, with a ceremony conducted by a Muslim cleric and a wedding contract written in Arabic.

But six years ago, while living on a Kibbutz outside Haifa, she took a trip to the Sinai and met Mohamed Ismail, quickly fell in love with the aspiring photographer and decided to marry him right there, without the presence of her family.

“He is so peaceful, and I definitely come from a very intense, anxious family,” said Pliskin-Ismail, while seated behind the counter of the Center City photo shop the couple now runs.

This past summer, the pair marked their fifth anniversary with a renewal-of-vows ceremony — this one conducted by a Reconstructionist rabbinical student, and with a host of family and friends in attendance — that revolved around the themes of co-existence.

Along those lines, Pliskin-Ismail, 30, has just begun selling T-shirts with the words “Shalom/Salaam” — “peace” in Hebrew and Arabic — printed on the front that she designed to raise money for Just Vision, a New York-based group that promotes dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

She said that it’s people’s interest in her marriage that has led her toward such activism.

“When people find out that I’m Jewish and he’s Muslim, they are so intrigued,” said Pliskin-Ismail. “They want to know: How is that possible? And what do your parents think?”

She admitted that when she called to say she had fallen in love with a man named Mohamed, they weren’t exactly thrilled.

“I was taken to therapy,” recalled Pliskin-Ismail. “And then they were basically like, ‘We love our daughter, and she loves this man, and we’re going to stand by her.’ ”

What’s happened, the couple emphasized, is a coming together of disparate worlds.

Ismail, 39, grew up in a religiously traditional family in Sudan, but fled his home for neighboring Egypt in 1992 after he was conscripted to fight in the country’s civil war.

“I don’t want to serve in the army because I don’t see the purpose,” said Ismail. “I saw friends lose body parts, saw them die. I don’t see any reason for that.”

In 2001, the couple decided to settle in America. Pliskin-Ismail came first, and with the help of her parents, worked to speed her husband’s immigration process.

Then, her parents, Adina and Michael Pliskin, helped the couple’s start in business.

Now, Pliskin-Ismail has been fasting on Ramadan, and her husband has taken part in Chanukah celebrations and Passover seders.

She said that since turning 30 earlier this year, she’s gotten a lot of questions about whether they plan to have children (they do) and in what faith they would be raised. The two have decided in favor of Judaism.

“He likes the Jewish culture, and he’s with my family and celebrates our festivities — not that he would convert, or that I would expect him to,” she said. “One day, we’ll eventually go to Sudan, and my kids will see where there father comes from. He will definitely speak Arabic to them.”

Sudan’s not the only country they plan to visit. “I love Israel,” she noted. “I hope one day soon, when Mohamed gets his American passport, that we’re going to go [there].”

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