People who come to live in Israel often want to live in the buzz of Tel Aviv or the holy city of Jerusalem. But Jennifer Mass of St. Louis, Mo., aka Khaya, moved to Dimona. It was a good move. She met her future husband in the nearest big city, at a bus stop.
Dimona is a development town, in the Negev desert, 36 kilometers south of Beersheba.
Shimon Dairway was born in Dimona and was raised there as part of the Hebrew Israelite Congregation. They used to be known as the Black Hebrews. His family traces itself back to Liberia, so English was spoken at home.
Khaya immediately connected with the Hebrew Israelites when she moved to Dimona in 2006. “Early on, I was adopted by three households,” she says.
When Shimon met Khaya at the bus stop on that spring day in 2008, they were going in different directions and had just minutes to speak.
“Though I didn’t know her name, her face looked familiar to me,” says Shimon. He went up to her to ask her story, and then the buses came, but not before they got each other''s names.
Shimon was on his way to his construction job in Tel Aviv, and Khaya, who has a master''s in secondary education, was off to Jerusalem for a course in teaching English as a second language.
Khaya was sometimes slow in making decisions for herself. Yet from the beginning, she was somewhat interested in Shimon, and permitted a mutual friend to pass on her phone number. Not that things work the way we expect.
Shimon was spending Passover with his family in Dimona when he saw Khaya by chance (or maybe it was predestined). She recalls their conversation:
“I hear you asked for my phone number,” said Khaya.
“But I never received it,” said Shimon.
About two hours later, after he walked her home, they exchanged phone numbers.
“We soon started to hang out together,” says Shimon. She would visit him in Tel Aviv mid-week and he would visit her on Saturdays when he came to Dimona to be with his family. After several months of “sort of dating” – he was 28, she was 29 – Khaya put the question on the table. What’s our future?
Around Rosh Hashana that year, they became a couple. The next step was meeting the family. That was easy to do with his relatives in Dimona. Shimon met Khaya’s family in stages – first by phone.
A month before their wedding, the couple flew to St. Louis and Shimon met the other important people in her life. There was Rabbi Susan Talve, the rabbi of the Reform temple where Khaya had her bat mitzva; her parents, Joan Husch and Larry Mass; her siblings; and two important grandmothers - Rose Mass, who treated Khaya to her first trip to Israel in 2005, and Ann Husch, who loved music and nature and demonstrated a Universalist frame of mind.
Khaya, reflecting on her relationship with Shimon, says: “We come from different backgrounds, but we are very much alike. We both like nature and we like exercising together. We like the same music and the same TV shows; and we share the same values – family, education, and a holistic life-style.”
When Khaya was asked if she defines herself as a St.Louisan? An Israeli? A reform Jew? A Black Hebrew? Khaya responded: “First and foremost, I’m a human being.”
They were married on October 29, 2009 in the presence of loved ones from Dimona and St. Louis. “My wedding,” smiles Khaya, “could not have been more perfect.”