I realize regular readers of this blog may be tired of my repeating that we live in a remote area of the White Mountains, with no conveniences, few neighbors and no Jews nearby, but keep that fact in mind when you read what follows:
This was probably the most surreal Shabbos of my life! What follows is a story of incredible Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence).
On Shabbos morning, right after davening and before lunch, my husband and I decided to take a short walk along the side of the road at the bottom of our driveway. Snow was still on the ground, and everything was so quiet, clean and beautiful; the pond had started to freeze over and the many tones of grey gave it an almost unearthly quality.
Less than five minutes into our walk, we saw a man approaching from the other direction, and we exchanged greetings. He had a thick British accent and was clearly not a “local.” As he introduced himself, he asked if we lived up the road. When we pointed out the location of our house, he seemed very pleased.
“You see, I am staying at my father-in-law’s newly built cabin – the one that is adjacent to your property, where I came for Thanksgiving weekend with my wife and two friends. We had never been there before, so as we arrived, we drove up your driveway by mistake. We noticed a mezuzah on the door, and we thought that it was kind of interesting that a Jew would live so far out in the middle of nowhere. But then we saw yet another mezuzah – – on the garage – – and we thought: ‘these are our kind of people!’”
I was puzzled, because I know our neighbor is not Jewish. But it turns out his daughter has undergone conversion, and married an English Jew. They live on the Upper West Side in New York, and brought their good friends – – a young married Israeli couple – to the father’s rustic cabin for what they hoped would be a relaxing holiday weekend in the Maine woods.
Even though I had planned our Shabbos meal for just my husband and myself, we quickly invited them for lunch. Much to our delight, they tramped through the snowy woods from the hill next door and joined us. The men arrived wearing kippot! The Israeli couple lives in NY where the husband had just become a staff member of a hospital there. His American parents made aliyah before he was born. He served 5 years in the Israeli army, then attended med school in Tel Aviv; more recently he completed a residency and fellowship in neurology in Massachusetts and New York. The wife had come to Israel as a small girl from South Africa and her parents lived in the religious neighborhood of Har Nof, in Jerusalem.
The other couple was equally interesting. The Englishman had been greatly influenced by Shlomo Carlebach’s music. He attended a prestigious American university before going to Israel to study. Back in the US he leads a national Jewish organization. He met and married his wife (the non-Jewish neighbor’s daughter) while she was undergoing the conversion process. She is an independent filmmaker, writer and actress. Both couples are very involved in the vibrant, young Jewish community that is part of the Upper West Side.
It was a joyous meal, filled with singing, divrei Torah, excellent kosher wine, a few l’chaims, and lots of good-natured life stories. In the middle of the meal a fierce snowstorm brewed, filling the skies with white. Twenty minutes later the snowflakes glistened like jewels as the sun shone from a clear blue sky.
I only had a small amount of chicken to offer, but it turned out that 3 of the guests were vegetarians and my plentiful cholent happened to be parve this week, so even that turned out to be providential! I had also made several types of salad, so no one walked away hungry.
The only question was who thought the whole affair more surreal: our guests meeting up with an unlikely older Orthodox Jewish couple in the remote Maine woods for a Shabbos meal, or vice versa!