Together in paradise

Avi and Karen Bear grew up on opposite sides of the world. She came from a wealthy family in Cincinnati; he on a kibbutz in Israel. Now, 40 years later, the two have built their lives together. Avi and Karen are Jewish and they include their dog, Maydle, and their cat, Mendelssohn, in their Shabbat dinner. "We're our own community," Karen says.

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." 

Avi and Karen share breakfast in the farmhouse they restored 25 years ago. It was built in 1913. They begin and end their days in the same way together.
Before moving to the United States permanently in 1980, Avi went to Tadmor Culinary School in Israel and graduated at the top of his class. He took those skills and ran a popular pastry business in Cincinnati for several years. But Avi and Karen got tired of the city and moved to Cynthiana to live on a farm. They opened their bakery, Avi's Oven Arts, in 1996. For the past several years, they've been transitioning their business into dog food and treats. The couple run the business together, with desks side by side in the office.
Almost every Wednesday, Avi has lunch with the same group of men at Joe's Bar. Dan Furnish stops by to talk to Avi about CBD dog treats, which Avi and his business are about to begin producing. Avi and Karen spend most of their time together, but they part ways for Avi's weekly lunch with the guys and Karen's choir rehearsals on Thursdays. Everywhere Avi goes, he knows most of the people there in some way. "Everybody knows everybody in this town," Avi says.
Karen is passionate about directing the Licking Valley Singers not only because she loves music and teaching, but also because it offers a safe place for many in the community. For at least two hours a week, she says, those individuals don't have to think about all the things happening in their lives; they can just focus on singing. Avi jokingly calls it "social therapy" for the community.
The Bears' relationship is full of humor and laughs. "They're crazy about each other," says Amy Fry, one of Karen's best friends. "They have a long history, and they have always been there for each other."
For this Shabbat dinner, Karen and Avi had fish and a lamb they had raised on their farm. They have Shabbat dinner every Friday evening for the Sabbath. "It's a ritual to remind us how blessed we are," she says. "It's special."
Avi and Karen do little things for each other. Avi takes care of her porch flowers throughout the winter so Karen has flowers to look at as she walks out the door each day. Avi also tends to a fig tree he managed to bring back from his childhood home in Israel. It is special to him. "I grew up eating fruit from its mother," he says. "Hopefully, it will give me fruit here."
Most weeks after dinner, Avi and Karen sit together and sing songs in Hebrew. Karen is classically trained in singing from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. Over their time together, Avi learned English with Karen's help, and she learned Hebrew from Avi. "It's the best part of the week for us," Karen says. "The music and the dinner, they go hand in hand."
Avi and Karen fell in love with their farm after seeing the views from the top of their hills. The land is special to them, and they find peace there. "We're lucky to be stewards of that little piece of land," she says. "It's not 'ours,' but it's ours to take care of while we're here."