Countdown to Bliss

Jenni Lipa and Ghassan (Jack) Kayyali

Met: June 26, 2000

Engaged: Sept. 2001

Projected Wedding Date: June 15, 2002

Love will solve the crisis in the Middle East!

Jenni Lipa, 50, is a Jew who grew up in South Africa but has lived in Manhattan since 1977. She’s a retreat organizer and professional spa consultant for a company called Spa Trek Travel. Marriage was never important to her. Until ….

She met Ghassan Kayyali, 40, a Palestinian Muslim who goes by the name Jack, on a trip to the Dead Sea to check out some spas. Mr. Kayyali, who was driving for Hertz at the time, picked her up at the airport, and by the time her bags were in the trunk he was smitten.

“Right from the beginning,” he said, “I knew I loved her.”

Ms. Lipa warmed quickly to her chisel-faced chauffeur. Over the next few days, sitting in the back seat, she told him about her father’s life as a prisoner of war in German salt mines during World War II, and about growing up in a liberal, anti-apartheid home in Johannesburg. Mr. Kayyali, who has been virtually deaf since the age of 6 and hears only with the help of a hearing aid, described his adventures selling staple goods in post-Communist Bulgaria and driving President Clinton’s entourage around Jordan.

Before very long, they had kissed in the Valley of the Moon desert and proclaimed their love for one another under the scorching sun.

After she returned home, Ms. Lipa learned her mother was being hospitalized for heart surgery and realized that Mr. Kayyali was the only person she wanted to have comfort her.

They began talking on the phone every day.

Last fall, Mr. Kayyali called and said, “Honey, I have something to ask you. I would like to marry you. You already have my heart; I’m just running on a photocopy.”

“He had been the proverbial playboy, always out carousing,” said Ms. Lipa. “But as soon as I met him, he stopped. His mother said, ‘I want to meet this woman!'”

However, when Ms. Lipa came to Jordan to sign the necessary papers for a civil wedding, the officials insisted that she write her religion down as “Christian” to avoid scandal. Ms. Lipa refused. The pair hopped on a boat traveling down the Nile and discussed strategy.

After a few tussles with the American embassy, Ms. Lipa got special permission from the Jordanian courts to state her true religion on the marriage certificate, and the pair had a small civil service in February 2001. Following the traditional Palestinian custom, Mr. Kayyali gave Ms. Lipa one golden sheqel to seal the contract of their marriage.

The bulk of last year was spent battling the post–Sept. 11 bureaucracy to get Mr. Kayyali a green card so he could live in New York. Representative Carolyn Maloney helped.

Now they’re sharing the spa maven’s large Upper East Side apartment. He’s taking English classes and helping around the house. “Jack is a very gentle soul and also a perfect gentleman,” said Ms. Lipa. “He knows how to care for a woman-opening the doors and putting the slippers outside the bathroom door so that your feet don’t get cold.”

About 60 guests will attend a second wedding at the Omni-Berkshire Hotel, with Middle Eastern food, dancing and a belly dancer-or possibly two. After the couple exchanges vows and Tiffany wedding bands, Mr. Kayyali will break a glass with his foot, in the Jewish tradition.



Jean Victor and Nicole Graham

Met: Sept. 17, 1994

Engaged: Jan. 9, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: July 2004

Nicole Graham, 25, teaches the fourth grade at Fieldston. Those kids run her ragged on the softball field. At 2 a.m. one school night, she was sleeping peacefully in her Yonkers apartment when her live-in boyfriend, Jean Victor, began nudging her and telling her that he loved her.

“In my glowing state,” said Ms. Graham, “I was like, ‘Yeah, O.K., I love you, too. Now let me go back to sleep!'” But he insisted . “Can’t we do this tomorrow?” she said pleadingly.

You guessed it: When the light was finally switched on, there was Mr. Victor, on the bed in his plaid boxers, propped on one knee. “I realized he looked just as bad as I did,” she said, “which made it hysterical.” They never went back to sleep.

The next morning, her fourth graders drew their glowing teacher pictures of hearts and flowers. Every girl in the class offered to be her flower girl.

Ms. Graham met Mr. Victor, 27, when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore and they were both eating ham-and-cheese omelets in the dining hall of Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. They’ve dated steadily since then and had been talking about marriage for over a year. Mr. Victor, a software engineer, had studied up on rings at the Web site and saved a nice bundle to spend on the jewel, but then his ’94 Jetta broke down. He had to use a large chunk of the cash to put a down payment on a new Honda Civic.

When he was laid off from a Boston Internet company last August, Mr. Victor decided to spend several months visiting his family in French Guiana, his birthplace. To assuage his eager-to-wed girlfriend, he suggested she shop around for the ring she wanted while he was gone. She picked out a square diamond with four baguettes set in platinum that cost only slightly more than the Honda down payment.

“I liked being part of that decision,” said Ms. Graham. “But at the same time, I wanted the surprise of not knowing when he was going to propose.”



Lucia Elizabeth Giudice and David Charles Surace

Met: Oct. 2, 2000

Engaged: Feb. 14, 2002

Project Wedding Date: June 8, 2003

Upon returning to see their nephew in New Jersey after a wedding in Santorini, Greece, David Surace’s Uncle Vinny and Aunt Cathy made an announcement: “Have we found the perfect girl for you!”

“They wouldn’t leave me alone the whole trip!” reported Lucia Giudice, a 30-year-old Upper East Sider. “They kept saying, ‘We want you to meet our nephew,’ and I kept saying, ‘No! He lives in New Jersey ? I want to have nothing to do with him.”

But out of politeness, the petite, fair-skinned blonde grudgingly said that Mr. Surace, who works in telecommunications with UPS-IT, could take her to dinner-if, and only if, he came into Manhattan. They dined at Via Oreto on the Upper East Side, but once they got past their similar family backgrounds (both are first-generation Italian-Americans), Ms. Giudice, an event planner for Agenda New York magazine, announced there was nothing left for them to talk about. So she told him (in Italiano ) that perhaps they could be “just friends.”

Mr. Surace reported back to Uncle Vinny, who was not impressed. “Whatever you did, you did it wrong,” he told his nephew. “Go back and do it again, and don’t come back until you get her in the family.”

So the young buck started sending her cards with one-liners like “Glad I met you.” She responded, repeatedly, “Let’s be friends.”

After five weeks of persistent wooing, Mr. Surace, who is also 30, told her that he wanted to take her out of the city on a Saturday night.

“He thought driving me out of New York would impress me, so he took me to a restaurant called Mt. Fuji in Hillburn, N.Y.,” said Ms. Giuduce. “Like I couldn’t have gotten the same miso soup across from my house? A guy with a Chinese gong was walking around and singing ‘Happy Birthday . ‘ Not romantic.”

Amidst the mayhem, the dark, muscular Mr. Surace turned to Ms. Giudice and said, “I don’t want us to be friends. I want to date you.” Perhaps it was the gong ringing in her ears, but Ms. Giudice decided she might as well give in.

When Mr. Surace decided-much to Uncle Vinny’s delight-that it was time Ms. Giudice officially enter the family, he bought a hefty ring and made plans to propose to her at Lincoln Center before going to the opera on Valentine’s Day. But when he learned the performance was going to be four hours long ( War and Peace ), he decided they’d be better off popping the question after penne with marinara sauce, at home.

She was especially thrilled when she learned the gem was bought in New York-not in Jersey. Countdown to Bliss