For the past three years, Birthright Israel trips conducted by the Mayanot Institute for Jewish Studies for young adults with special needs have earned a reputation for making the Holy Land all of its excitements accessible to a high-functioning population with a range of medical issues, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But the most recent of the high-energy 10-day trips offered its participants something extra: a surprise engagement.

According to trip coordinator Rabbi Noach Pawliger, who has been working with people with special needs since his days as a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical student, Arizona residents Zachary Kazanovich of Phoenix and Rachel Goodman of Tucson first hit it off on their trip’s Facebook page three weeks before arriving in Israel.

“We like to say it was love at first chat. We just hit it off!” said Goodman. “Then I saw him for the first time at JFK and everything just clicked.”

Pawliger said that each trip is modeled on the standard Mayanot-coordinated trips popular with college students and graduates. Participants see as much of the Holy Land as can be presented in a 10-day schedule, and benefit from Mayanot’s more-spiritual focus.

“We try to water it down as little as possible,” explained Pawliger.

“The whole idea is to bring people to Israel who can’t come on their own,” echoed Deb David, a coordinator at Mayanot. “We make the trip as similar as possible to the other trips, so no one misses out.”

Kazanovich and Goodman certainly enjoyed their tour, but the couple might have been more focused on planning the rest of their lives together than on experiencing Israel for the first time.

“You just don’t expect to see these things in real life, to be able to watch a couple progress from the first meeting,” said volunteer David Geller.

“They really connected on such a different level,” added Deb David. “To watch them support and take care of each other was really something special.”

Since the trip, Kazanovich and Goodman, who both attend community college, have been planning their wedding, which they hope will be an outdoor affair in April. In addition, Pawliger – who will likely perform the ceremony – and his wife have been counseling the couple by phone, offering guidance on how to run a traditional Jewish home.

“The whole thing is unfolding to be a very beautiful thing,” says Pawliger.