While voices buzzed around the table, filling the restaurant with conversation, they sat in silence. Avi and Karen stared at each other, brown eyes into blue. He wanted to talk to her, but didn't have the words. She wanted to know what he was like, but there was no way to ask.
They didn't speak the same language.
Now, they laugh when reminiscing about that first, awkward encounter. "In Cahoots! That was the restaurant!" Avi says as he reaches out to squeeze Karen's hand with a laugh. "After all these years, I remember."
In the 40 years since then, Avi and Karen Bear have built a life together. Starting in Cincinnati, then to Seattle, then to Israel, Avi's home country, back to Cincinnati and finally to Cynthiana, where they have found what Karen calls their "piece of paradise" on a 200-acre farm in the rolling hills of Harrison County.
The farm has sheep, horses and chickens in addition to their dogs and a cat. "For me, it's a dream come true," Avi says. "It's perfect."
As they got to know each other all those years ago, Avi got better and better with English, and Karen became more and more intrigued. Karen says she was fascinated by how differently Avi's life had been from hers. She came from a wealthy family in Cincinnati; Avi grew up on the coast of war-torn Israel on a kibbutz, a farming commune.
Avi stayed in the United States through the semester, and they became good friends. When Avi had to go back to Israel, they kept in touch. They wrote letters to each other, and he invited her to come to Israel. "It was the most romantic trip I have ever been on," Karen says.
The two were married on May 31, 1981 in Cincinnati.
By the 1990s, Avi and Karen had grown tired of the city and started looking for farms in the region. This farm piqued their interest, and they bought it in 1994. They travelled back and forth at first, fixing up the old farmhouse and transitioning their lives to the country.
"We hated going back to the city," Karen says. "This is the best decision we've ever made."
They started their bakery business, Avi's Oven Arts, in 1996. They both say they felt welcomed into the community immediately.
"There are a lot of small towns like this, but they're probably not as welcoming as Harrison County," Karen says. "How wonderful it is to be so blessed to love where we live."
Avi participates in the Rotary Club and goes out for lunch with his buddies. Karen directs the Licking Valley Singers choir and helps in the town museum.
"They have separate lives, but they do everything together," says Ilan, one of their twin sons.
Karen and Avi have breakfast and coffee at their kitchen table, watching the sunrise over the hills. They work together in their bright, yellow and purple office at the shop with desks side-by-side. They end their day with a walk around the farm when it's nice out. They eat dinner together and, in cool weather, enjoy a cozy conversation by the fireplace in their living room.
"We're an old married couple," Karen says. "We've built our life together as partners."