The couple sitting opposite me in the busy Jerusalem café resembles many retired American immigrant couples. The husband wears a large black kippah, and his neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and stylish glasses are part of the daily uniform of many a New Jersey expat. The wife, sporting a colorful kerchief and stylish red earrings, has a quick smile and a friendly manner. But once they tell their tale, it becomes clear that David and Regina “Reggie” Comins are no ordinary couple.
David Comins, 69, grew up in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx, but had no Jewish education.
“My parents had a Christmas tree in the house. No bar mitzvah, no candles, no menorah, no fasting on Yom Kippur. I knew I was Jewish and that was the extent of my Jewish education.”
David studied at City College of New York, earning a degree in music in 1972, and pursued graduate studies in ethno-musicology at Indiana University, but then changed course, returning to New York, where he received an MA in education from Columbia. After teaching woodshop for four years, he retrained and became a business analyst for Time, Inc.
At the age of 28, David married Kathy, Jewish and secular like him. Unlike him, “she was a seeker, into every self-help transformational workshop.” Chuckling, David recalls how she convinced him to join her at an EST training session, a ’70s-era series of psychological seminars. In 1999, while attending an Overeaters Anonymous seminar in Passaic, New Jersey, Kathy was befriended by a group of Orthodox Jewish women who were in the program. Kathy became interested in Judaism, and again, David followed his wife’s interests.
Says David, “She was taken with their equanimity and their lifestyle, and she wanted to pursue what they had. I, being a good soldier, said ‘OK. I’ll go with you and we’ll look into this.’”
David and Kathy moved to Passaic. He attended services each day, found a study partner, studied Talmud, went to classes, and the two soon became an integral part of the Orthodox Jewish community in Passaic.
“She was the instigator,” says David, “but I also sought value for myself.”
Over the ensuing years, David was a member of several synagogues and became close with several rabbis. In 2008, David and his wife visited Israel. While the thought of living in Israel crossed his mind, he dismissed it, as he had no family or connections there. In 2009, David’s wife became ill and she died in 2010; David mourned her death and contemplated his future.
REGINA LEVI was born into a Modern Orthodox family in Oak Park, Michigan. The oldest of five, she grew up with a love of the Jewish state instilled by her parents.
“We all grew up with a desire to go to Israel,” she says. After spending a year at Bar-Ilan University, Regina returned to the US, where she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and then Baruch College, where she met her husband, Yitzhak, an Israeli who was working in the US. Reggie got married in 1976 when she was 23, and moved to Israel with her husband. They had a son, but the marriage collapsed and they divorced in 1978.
Reggie returned to the United States, first to Oak Park and then to Kew Gardens, New York, and switched careers from the fashion industry to computer programming. She worked for Barnard College and recalling
that period, says, “I raised my son myself. It wasn’t easy.” Reggie moved back to Oak Park in 1996 after her son completed high school and remained there until 2004. Eventually, her son married and moved to Passaic, but Reggie remained unattached.
One snowy winter night in 2011, Reggie was in Passaic, visiting her son, who was going to pay a shiva visit to a friend from his carpool, a man who had just lost his wife. Reggie accompanied her son to visit the mourner, David Comins. After they returned, her son said to her, “I want him for you. I have a good feeling.”
After the mourning period for his wife had ended, David was inundated with offers for dates from women in the Orthodox community. There were so many offers that his study partner’s wife had to screen potential applicants. David took a break from dating, and he relates, “My late wife was very stylish, and had a lot of character, personality and pizzazz. I wanted something special. I was afraid to marry someone ‘parve’ and miss out on the special person.”
Reggie adds, “I was praying hard to meet somebody. I was determined that I wanted to get married again.” Reggie and David met on July 3, 2012 ,and her prayers were answered. “I knew on our first date that I would marry him,” she says. “He made me laugh. He’s creative and sensitive, and a musician. I thank God every day.”
David relates, “When we set up our first date, I asked if she liked music and if so, which types. After a moment’s thought she answered, ‘Bluegrass and Celtic.’ This was a direct bullseye hit in my sweet spot and I was knocked out. On our first date, when we greeted each other, I asked casually ‘How are you?’ She answered “awesome” in such a way that I got that she really meant it and was self-confident. I was hooked.”
DAVID AND Reggie became engaged five weeks later. At that time, Reggie’s family was planning their parents’ 60th-anniversary party, to be held in Detroit in early September. The week before the party, her sister-inlaw said, “Why don’t you just get married next week?” Thrilled with the idea, Reggie and David were married the following Sunday, in Oak Park with her family in attendance.
After the wedding, Reggie and David lived in Passaic. While in Israel for a family bar mitzvah in 2014, the couple considered aliyah. They met realtors, interviewed people who had retired to Israel, and purchased a small apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. In November 2016, they moved to Israel. Today, David studies in the learning program at his neighborhood synagogue, exercises regularly and indulges his passion for music – “I love it to pieces” – playing Appalachian banjo music with a musical trio. Reggie attends ulpan, exercises, volunteers for a free loan society and enthuses, “I’ve never been so busy in my life.”
At their wedding weekend, Reggie’s father, looking at David, said, “One of the advantages of living to a ripe old age is being able to see the missing piece of the puzzle.” Reggie and David found each other, married and moved to Israel. Their picture is complete. ■
DAVID AND REGINA COMINS FROM PASSAIC, NEW JERSEY, TO JERUSALEM, 2016