She could spell her name as “Chaya” or “Haya.” Instead she chose “Khaiyah” – an original choice
Jennifer Mass is a third-generation St. Louisan. Her parents, Joan Husch Mass and Larry Mass, and her maternal and paternal grandparents, are all from St. Louis.
Jennifer and her two siblings, Jesse and Paula, grew up in University City and Jennifer graduated University City High School in 1998. “Our family belonged to Central Reform Congregation and I had a Bat Mitzvah there, but religion never made much sense to me growing up, so there was kind of a void in that aspect of my life.”
“I was always searching, and while studying at the University of North Carolina, I explored some Eastern philosophy. But it didn’t speak to me. After I received my Master’s Degree in Secondary Education, I accepted a teaching position in Los Angeles, where my brother Jesse lived. It was wonderful to be close to my brother, but my first year of teaching was problematic.
“The next year was the low point of my life. I was underemployed and I weighed about 180 pounds.”
Here’s how it turned around. “My brother Jesse had a business relationship with Nelly, the well-know St. Louis rapper. Nelly has an uncle, Amicham, who belongs to an extension of the Hebrew Israelite Community. Amicham became Jesse’s friend. When Jesse went to Israel with our grandmother, Rose Mass, for a two-week visit, Jesse insisted that they visit the Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona. Jesse was extremely impressed with the community and encouraged me to go and check it out for myself.”
“Israel was never on the radar screen when I was growing up. It was one of the last places I ever thought I’d end up. Neither of my parents had ever visited. My only connection with the country was through my grandmother, Rose Mass. She always encouraged us to visit and offered to pay for the tickets.
“Thanks to my grandmother, I bought my ticket for Israel in December, 2005. I planned to stay for a few months. I stayed for 9 months. After spending some time in the US, I officially moved to Israel as a new immigrant in December, 2006.”
How does her mother, Joan, feel about this decision? “I am truly inspired by her decision. She had the courage to travel to a foreign country, not knowing anyone. She opened herself to a new society, a new way to eat and care for her body. She is a sensitive woman who cares deeply for others, especially for people who have less than herself. In the past, she was always selective and somewhat slow to choose things for herself. But after nine months in Israel, she knew it was the country for her. And she is flourishing.”
“Socially, physically, and intellectually I feel at home with the Hebrew Israelite Community in Dimona, a town in southern Israel,” says Khaiyah. “Socially, I felt comfortable from the very beginning in this mostly black community of about 2,000 members, known as Kibbutz Shomrei Hashalom (Guardians of Peace), one of the largest urban kibbutzim in Israel. I was adopted in three households. Language was not a barrier as their native tongue is English.
“Physically I have never felt better. I went from being a size 18 to a size 6. I am thriving on the community’s holistic life style. We are vegans, eating no meat, eggs, dairy products or foods with chemical additives. And intellectually, I accept their commitment to a New Humanity.”
For a 27-year old St. Louis woman, this is a new world. “It is a highly regimented world, with laws regulating what you eat and what you wear,” says Khaiyah. The name “Khaiyah” means that “G-d lives.” That’s the essence of my being,” she adds.
Khaiyah seems fulfilled. Is there anything she misses from St. Louis? Without skipping a beat, she responds – “my family and the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Written by former St. Louisan Leah Hakimian, who now lives in Jerusalem.