By Perel Krasnjansky
As everyone on this planet has undoubtedly noticed, this past month has been a whirlwind: Shabbos, Yom Tov, repeat. And repeat again. And repeat yet again.
Of course, there’s immense gratitude for being immersed in excess holiness for a month. I will admit that it’s been, let’s just say a tad exhausting… Especially for the female gender of the species. Like any observant Jewish woman, this month has been filled with planning, shopping, cooking, serving, cleanup. And yes, repeat again. (Only, as shlucha, quantities are generally magnified.)
Which brings us to last Sunday, Erev Hoshana Rabba, the 4th day of Chol Hamoed. It was my last opportunity (as, of course, Monday was Erev Yom Tov, cooking day again) to try and visit the children and families that belong to our Talmud Torah (aka Hebrew School).
Unfortunately, Talmud Torah / Hebrew School being their primary connection to Torah and Yiddishkeit, we had not seen almost all of the families during the entire month of Tishrei. Hence, I was very excited about my plan to visit them on Sunday: I was hoping to give these families at least one opportunity to say a Brocha on a lulav & esrog. (While my husband has spent Chol Hamoed assisting people, with lulav & esrog in hand, the Talmud Torah /Hebrew School families are my responsibility.)
As luck would have it, my pre-Simchas Torah menu planning and shopping did not end until after 5:00 PM that afternoon. Tired but motivated, I quickly rushed over to Adi & Meni’s apartment, as they had recently been blessed with a new baby boy. I’d spoken to Adi earlier in the day about a Bris, promising that I was coming over with a lulav & esrog – and a mini honey cake for my student, their four-year-old, Emma.
As I enter the lobby of the elegant building, the doorman (or, more accurately, two door-women) stop me, and ask me for my vaccination card.
I look at them, dumbfounded: The mayor of Honolulu had recently instituted an island-wide decree – yes, that is what it is called nowadays – that no one is to enter bars, gyms or restaurants without either a card showing full vaccination (i.e. double dose) – or a negative COVID test taken within the last 48 hours. I knew that. But a private, residential apartment building??
I tried discussing this logically with the two women. Explaining that I would be less than 15 minutes. Explaining that there was an important religious ritual at stake. Explaining that I was single-dose vaccinated. Trying to reason with them that this was not a restaurant, bar or gym. To no avail. Abject failure in the persuasive powers department: I could not enter. Not only was I not (yet) double vaxxed, but I was totally taken by surprise – and did not even have my vaccination card on me.
The clock is ticking. It is now 5:30 PM. The sun will set at 6:22 PM – I still want it to make it to a few other families!
I called Adi. Quickly and tersely explain the situation to her. She’s upset, too.
After what feels like a very long five minutes, her husband and daughter come downstairs. BH, they bentch lulav and esrog, are delighted with their mini-honey cake (thank you Shluchim Office!) – and return to their apartment. My original plan to visit another Israeli friend in the same building was obviously DOA right now.
I looked at my watch. 25 minutes left to Shkiah (sunset). Who can I go to now?
I dialed two other Israeli friends, whose children are in our Talmud Torah / Hebrew School. No answer. By either. I try them both again. No answer by either of them again. I look at my watch one more time, as if I could make time stop by continuously checking it.
I’m totally despondent.
I had so hoped to reach more families and children and bring the joy and Mitzvah of Sukkos to them! I’m crushed, as I realize that there are no other families within close enough driving distance to make it before sunset.
The story might have ended there. But of course, Hashgacha protis was at play.
I look up. There is a gorgeous Whole Foods emporium, the largest in Hawaii, directly across the street. I realize that I still need a few more items for our Yom Tov cooking marathon tomorrow. If I’m not reaching any Talmud Torah parents, I may as well shop in beautiful Whole Foods and soothe my wounded spirit.
As I’m walking down the aisle… I hear Hebrew!
I turn around. I see a tall, thin young Caucasian man with a Polynesian woman (wife, clearly) at his side and their child. I turned to him and say, “אתה מדבר עברית?״”.
He looks at me (somewhat strangely, I think fleetingly) and answers, “What?”
I realize that I am so tired – and spend more than half my time with our Israeli community here – that I was literally hearing things.
I apologize. “I’m so sorry. I thought I heard you speaking Hebrew.”
Tall Thin Man answers: “I don’t speak Hebrew. (Long pause) But my mother does.”
Me, delightedly, “OHHH! Are you Jewish?”
Tall Thin Man: “I am not.. kind of… My mother is…”
Me, beyond thrilled, “Well, if your mother is Jewish, that makes you Jewish…”
Tall Man, sort of smiles, “Yes, I know…”
I look at my watch. Less than 10 minutes to sunset. I gauge if I should go for it – or not. I plunge in.
I ask him, in rapid succession, if he’s ever heard of Chabad, Sukkos, lulav and esrog. Negative to all three. In an absurd 120 seconds, I try to give him a VERY brief explanation – of all three concepts… He agrees to meet me upstairs in the parking lot and bentch lulav and esrog – within the next seven minutes.
Sprinting quickly to the express lane, of course, the line seemed to stretch out inexorably. (I later clock it at three minutes).
Dash upstairs to the parking lot.
Carefully withdraw the lulav and esrog from the back seat of my van, with our Simchas Torah flyer (fresh from the copy center.)
Run back to the entrance of Whole Foods. Quickly scan east and west.
My quarry is nowhere to be found.
I look down, over the escalator, and spot the family in line at the checkout counter below.
After a split-second hesitation (looking at the watch, three minutes to sunset), I decided that I’ve gone this far, I may as well go for it completely.
Take the escalator down into the Whole Foods shop and ask Tall Man (at this point I know that his name is Jeff, no last name) and, trying again to sound somewhat sane, ask him to make the brocha.
And in the last minute before Shkiah – he does.
And then, as his wife is unloading their purchases onto the cashier’s conveyor belt, I take a deep breath and explain to him our Rebbe’s beautiful explanation of the unity of the Jewish people as symbolized by the Daled Minim.
He looks moved.
At which point, I feel safe enough to give him the Simchas Torah flyer, inviting him to join us.
There were so many things that were “not supposed to happen.”
With enormous gratitude to Hashem, I mentally begin reviewing the events of the past 90 minutes, marveling at the multiple incidents of Hashgacha Protis (Divine Providence) necessary in order for this one Jew to do one Mitzvah of Sukkos:
The Board of a private residential building – not a bar, gym or restaurant as decreed by Honolulu’s mayor- had made an unusual decision to not allow any visitors that were not double vaxxed. (Had there not been that constraint – and had I been double vaxxed – I would have been sitting in that apartment building way past sunset. Double hashgacha protis.)
None of my other Talmud Torah / Hebrew School parents answered their phones.
Beautiful Whole Foods was right across the street. So conveniently right there for me to shop.
I was so tired that I was hallucinating Hebrew conversation.
To what great lengths will Hashem maneuver events to get one Jew to do a Mitzvah! I feel simultaneously humbled, grateful and elated.
We are so blessed that we have a Rebbe who opened our eyes to our privilege to be part of these microcosmic – and macrocosmic – transformations.
Excerpted from the forthcoming book “Tales Out of Paradise: Scenes from Three Decades of Shlichus in Hawaii,” by Perel Krasnjansky. Chabad of Hawaii is looking either for a young couple, bochurim or girls to participate in a meaningful, transformative year of Shlichus. If interested, please contact [email protected] or 808-478-8892.