By Liba Rimler
Early Wednesday morning, 42 young students from Beth Rivkah Montreal set out on a bus ride for what they thought would be a day-long journey to Crown Heights for the long-anticipated Chidon Competition. Little did they know what an ordeal it would become.
Snow was falling heavily due to the nor’easter and highway patrol officers were not permitting commercial vehicles to pass, leaving the girls and their chaperones stranded with nowhere to go.
A woman from the Monsey Anash community, who wishes to remain anonymous, received a phone call from her friend Dina Lehr at a quarter to seven.
“There’s a group of girls stuck near Newburgh, New York. They’ve been on a bus for twelve hours and the driver cannot go on. I know you have a lot of space, can you take them in for a few hours?”
The friend agreed and began to prepare. She soon received another phone call.
“Plans changed. These girls need a place to sleep over for the night. I know this is a huge favor to ask. It’s really a lot, I’ll understand if you say no…”
She said yes.
Meanwhile, the Monsey community sprung into action. A Whatsapp group was formed and people began volunteering to drive to pick up the girls.
It wasn’t easy. The snowstorm was still going strong and several drivers were unable to dig out their cars or leave their neighborhoods where fallen trees and wires were strewn all over the place.
So someone reached out to a group in a non-Lubavitch Shul. The response was overwhelming. Within seconds, people were jumping up to grab the Mitzvah.
”My first reaction was: wow! These people don’t even know who these children are, where they are from, or where they are going — and here they are, sacrificing comfort and personal safety to go out and help.” said another anonymous member of Anash.
The woman who was hosting the girls made sure that everything would be comfortable for them.
“I began pulling out blankets from all over the house to prepare 42 sleeping arrangements. As for food, it happens to be that my daughter’s Bas Mitzvah was just a few weeks ago, so I had these huge trays of cinnamon buns in the freezer.
“When the girls arrived at 10:00 PM, I was pulling out yogurts, cheese sticks, and orange juice for them. They devoured everything! The poor girls had been without proper food for hours. They were so relieved and grateful.”
Most of all, their resilience amazed her.
“Here was a group of young girls — some on their first sleepover trip away from home, to go through such an ordeal! — and they were so upbeat. I was very impressed with how they handled everything with such grace and good cheer. They were singing Shema together, it was amazing.”
What impressed everyone the most was how the girls were so intent on making the whole experience a positive one. One of the chaperones recalls how a van showed up and the girls thought it was coming to take them to Monsey.
It wasn’t. But how did these precious students deal with their disappointment? They began saying the Twelve Pesukim on the bus, rally-style!
Hashgacha Pratis was really felt every step of the way.
“At one point our bus was forced to move another few miles down to a different exit. We found out later that this had made the travel time from Monsey closer by half an hour!” exclaimed one of the chaperones.
Shoshana Tova Amzallag, another chaperone, helped the girls maintain a positive attitude.
“No matter what the situation was, the girls took it with such happiness and joy. They didn’t let the negativity overcome them. They made a snowman, composed a song, and kept repeating the mantra of Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut.
“I overheard conversations where the girls were reassuring each other that it’s all really good since everything comes from Hashem. This is not something that an adult was preaching; this was coming out of their own hearts! I found that to be really incredible.”
They also wish to thank Tzivos Hashem for being so accommodating, giving the girls pizza and fries when they arrived and ensuring that they would be taken care of, in the same vein that the Monsey community responded with such open, loving arms.
A parent expressed the following sentiments: “When your nine-year old is stuck on a bus for hours and you’re helpless to do anything since you’re so far away, to know that Yidden really care enough to go out of their way to help others in need is truly heartwarming. Mi K’Amcha Yisrael! We are beyond grateful to those who helped our girls.”
Mi K’Amcha Yisrael definitely takes on a new meaning for the dozens of girls who were involved in this situation. This snowstorm may have left many in the dark, but it has also generated a wonderful kind of light that will continue to inspire many. The girls may be pining for the coveted Chidon trophies, but these 42 girls won the real trophy of owning up to such challenge with Bitachon and a positive spirit.