How the Mideast met the Midwest: An Israel-St. Louis love story

ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief

Love stories aren’t just for Valentine’s Day. This one, between the former Galia Gudai, a native Israeli, and Milton Movitz, a born and bred St. Louisan, has fairytale written all over it. As you will read, theirs was a relationship that defined magical. The couple was married for 36 years, until Milton Movitz’s passing in 2019.

Recently, Galia Movitz sat down with Light Editor-in-Chief Ellen Futterman to tell the story of how the Mideast met the Midwest.

Galia Movitz remembers that day in 1974 as if it were yesterday. She was in the lobby of the Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem when she spotted the man who would later become her husband, Milton Movitz.

“I can tell you exactly what he wore,” said Galia, who was born Galia Gudai and grew up in Israel, but has lived in St. Louis for nearly all of her adult life.

“He had on this black silk Cossack-looking shirt and very snappy shoes. He was dressed to kill. He had such an amazing sense of style and fashion,” she continued, explaining that she later learned he co-owned MC Shoes, a wholesale shoe company.

“When I saw him that day it was like seeing a prince on a white horse. There was something magical about him.”

She had met him a few years earlier, when she was 18, and had come to St. Louis to stay with one of her sisters, who was married to a St. Louisan. She spent two years attending classes at Washington University and hanging out at Hillel. Milton served on the WashU Hillel board, largely because of his love and passion for the Jewish state.

By the time of his death in 2019, he had visited Israel more than 50 times, including several mission trips with Jewish Federation of St. Louis. In fact, while on one such trip in 1976, he phoned in a story to the Jewish Light about the arrival of Israeli soldiers returning from Operation Entebbe, the successful rescue of 103 passengers on an Air France flight held hostage by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

After they first met at Hillel, Galia regarded Milton as an acquaintance, albeit a handsome one. He was perpetually tan, impeccably dressed and very well-mannered, and he genuinely seemed to care about people.

But Galia was involved with someone else the day she saw him at the Jerusalem hotel. Before the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, she returned to Israel to serve in the military. When her service was finished, she wound up marrying a Wash U student she had been dating, who was also Israeli. The two got married in Jerusalem but came back to St. Louis to live.

The dating game

Fast forward to 1980. By then Galia was divorced and mother to a young daughter. She had gotten to know Milton better over the past few years, especially through their work on the Israel Expo ’75, a two-week celebration of all things Israeli hosted by Federation and the Jewish Community Center. So, when he eventually asked her out on a date, she said yes.

“In the Central West End, there was a whole group that hung out at Balaban’s. That was Milton’s place,” Galia recalled. “They (the Balaban’s crew) had a black-tie party on this riverboat on the Mississippi, and he asked me to join him for that party. That was our first date.

“We were outside looking at the beautiful night, with the stars, and before we know it, we have a kiss. And that kiss felt like this man is mine. There was something about him that was meant to be, that’s all I can say, beshert. I believe the reason I was brought back to St. Louis was to reconnect with Milton Movitz. When I reflect back, it was like a fairytale. Forty years of a fairytale.”

After a couple of years dating, Galia knew she wanted more of a commitment. “Because he been single for so long, he didn’t seem like the guy who would . . . he loved single life and that’s where he was. At that point, I felt like I needed to go back to Israel.”

When she told Milton of her plans, he didn’t believe her. He asked that before she go, she let him take her out to dinner to toast her upcoming birthday.

“Of course, where are we going to go, but Balaban’s,” she said laughing. “We drive to Balaban’s. We park on the sidewalk and then he comes around to my side — he always opened the door for me, he was a gentleman — and when he opens the door, I see the man on one knee. He takes out a ring and asks me to marry him.”

‘The Mideast Meets the Midwest’

Most people have one wedding celebration. Galia and Milton Movitz had three.

The first took place on May 20, 1983, in the backyard of their Ladue home, with Rabbi Abraham Magence of Bais Abraham and Rabbi Bernie Lipnick of Congregation B’nai Amoona performing the ceremony. The couple were members of B’nai Amoona; Galia still belongs.

“Milty’s idea was family and very close, immediate friends. There were about 50 people,” she said. “He wanted a Shabbos bride. It was a Friday before sunset and coming into Shabbat.”

The next night the festivities moved to the Starlight Room at the Chase Park Plaza, with the theme “The Mideast Meets the Midwest.” With the help of a party planner called Rent a Yenta, the room was transformed into a desert wonderland, replete with a live camel, palm trees and sand. Milton secured recipes from the couple’s favorite Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles, so that similar food could be prepared for their 150 guests.

“There was a belly dancer and a musician who played Middle Eastern music,” Galia added. “I even stood on the table and sang to (Milton) a Hebrew love song.”

Afterwards, drapes parted — like the Red Sea — to reveal the “Midwest” portion of the evening: a full band and ample dance floor.

The next day, the couple traveled to Israel, for another wedding in Jerusalem. This one honored Galia’s Yemenite background.

“I wore a traditional Yemenite bridal gown, with a big hat. It took hours to get dressed, with all the jewelry – every finger had a 24-carat gold ring and so many bracelets,” recalled Galia.

“Then Milton looks at himself and says, ‘What about me?’ They found him a robe that a Yemenite groom would wear, so he’s in seventh heaven. Being dressed this way, he hired a driver and car to take us to the Western Wall. I remember walking down to it. When you see a bride in Israel it’s a big to-do, so everyone wanted to kiss our hands and say a blessing. It was an amazing experience.”

A party at Galia’s uncle’s nightclub followed before the couple flew to Egypt for their honeymoon.

A new chapter

Of course, not all things in a marriage, especially one that spans 36 years as Galia and Milton’s did, are about lavish weddings and exotic travel.

Make no mistake – there was plenty of the latter. Milton was known for his spontaneity, whether it’d be flying Galia’s sisters in from Israel for her birthday or the couple jetting off to Italy or Los Angeles.

Galia chuckled when recalling how Milton once told her he was concerned because they never argue. He felt they should see a marriage counselor.

“We had one session with the counselor who after listening, told us to go on loving each other and enjoying life together, she said, adding, “which is exactly what we did.”

It’s the little things, Galia says, she misses — the rituals that they created, be it sending her a magnificent bouquet of fresh flowers before every Shabbat, or their weekly Wednesday “dates” after he retired.

“For as long as I can remember, I’d come down to the kitchen and this husband of mine would have coffee, a peeled and sliced apple and a love note for me. Every single morning,” said Galia, who has long tutored students in Hebrew and math. “The love, and the expression of it, was unbelievable. He always signed his cards, ‘To my Yemenite cookie from your Ashkenazi cookie.’ That was every card.”

Together they had one son, Daniel, 34, an accomplished photographer who Galia says was “Milton’s prince.” But she is quick to add that she, like Milton, is close to all of her children, including her stepdaughters (from Milton ‘s first marriage) and their families.

When I asked how she was coping with the loss of her beloved Milty, she said she has come to cherish what she hasn’t lost — wonderful memories of her years with Milton.

“Life is a book, and in any book, we have chapters. That chapter is so magnificent,” she said. “I feel so grateful for having such a magical time with such an incredible man.

“It took me time to close this chapter and say, life is not over. He is so much a part of me. I feel that this is what Milty would want me to do — to find happiness. To find a way to continue his legacy.

“And I have to say that in Barry Lipnick, I found someone who is so sensitive and admires the love that Milty and I had, and he cares to continue that.”

Galia has been dating Lipnick, who coincidentally is a cousin of Bernie Lipnick, the rabbi who married Galia and Milton at wedding No. 1. The two met a couple of years ago through, soon after Galia joined the site.

“Barry is a man who like Milty, is very easy to love, appreciate and respect,” she said.