Oy. And a mini-miracle.

It’s erev Shabbos. We are having a Shabbos guest, who should be arriving any minute.  He “found” us on shabbat.com, an international website where guests who want to come for Shabbos and hosts who want to have them, make a “shidduch.”  (If you haven’t checked out shabbat.com, I highly recommend it.)

Not that he could drive up our steep, icy driveway.  The previous night and that morning we had sleet and snow, making the driveway impossible to navigate unless one has 4WD.  It was truly treacherous, and our snowplow guy was nowhere to be seen.  We had left instructions earlier in the day for our guest to stop at the bottom of the driveway and honk several times.  Our guest drove his car a mile up the road to the Inn, where he parked, and my husband shuttled him back to our house and up the driveway in our SUV.

Aaron is a 22-year-old Satmar chasid from Williamsburg who is apprenticing to an Israeli auto mechanic in Boro Park in Brooklyn, NY.  He didn’t wish to divulge much about his personal life, but he loves to travel, and doesn’t much like the hustle and bustle and noise of Brooklyn.  He’s been all over the world, and certainly has an adventurous spirit.  When he travelled to Israel, he also made his way to Egypt and Jordan – twice.  (He wore a disguise so he wouldn’t look Jewish.  I guess an Arab kaffiyah is good for covering up peyos, but his heavy Yiddish accent would have fooled no one.)

He once spent a Shabbos with a shomer mitzvos rancher in North Dakota.  This fellow raised prize-winning goats who were renowned for the quality of their  milk and cheese.  He showed our guest many pictures of his kids on horseback, working the ranch, lassos in hand.  The rancher was a ger (convert to Judaism).  He home schooled his children, teaching them Torah.  When they got older, they wished to study in yeshivos in Israel.  Lacking tuition money, the rancher sold all his ranchland except for where his house stood, so his kids could have a yeshiva education.  Talk about mesiros nefesh (sacrifice)!

Aaron has been to the White Mountains on several occasions and loves anything to do with nature.  So when he saw us listed on shabbat.com under “Maine” he knew he had to check us out (he had hoped to bring two other bochrim, but they chickened out – I guess they couldn’t believe anyone could be truly shomer kashrus and shomer Shabbos in the middle of nowhere).  Fortunately we had just come back from our home town, so I had a healthy supply of chalav yisrael dairy products, although I did ask him to bring me a 1/2 gallon of chalav yisrael milk on his way up from New York.

Besides preparing for our Shabbos guest, I was busy cooking and baking for our upcoming Chanuka party this coming Sunday.  I made challah from 15 lbs. of flour – that’s dozens and dozens of rolls.

It was when the rolls were rising that the oven broke.

Our Premier-brand range has been the bane of my existence.  We bought this particular brand because, due to our limited solar panel-fed electricity supply,  it doesn’t use a “glow bar” to light the oven, which is a huge surge of electricity that we couldn’t spare.  Instead it uses an electronic ignition spark to light a pilot, which then lights the stove, which is a system that is “old fashioned” and hard to find today.  The stove, however, is a lemon.   It is under warranty, but each time something goes wrong, the store I bought it from – some 65 miles away – won’t warranty repairs, so they tell me to bring the stove back and then they give me a brand new one.  Sounds good, but I then have to pay the local gas company to install it and convert it for propane use, so it’s not the bargain it sounds like when you also figure in time, trouble and travel gas and other expenses. And each subsequent replacement stove has been a lemon, too.

Lately the oven has been working on some days, and other days, not.  A call to the manufacturer diagnosed the problem, and since it is under warranty, a new part was mailed to us.  That was several months ago, but then the stove suddenly started working again, so I thought it was foolish to call and pay a repairman to come and install the new part.

Alas, the oven decided to rebel on erev Shabbos, and it was erev Xmas to boot.  Which meant that getting a repairman would take a Chanuka miracle.

My husband said he’d try to replace the part himself.  Let me just say that this was really, really not a good idea.  He is not mechanically inclined.  Many past attempts at fixing things over the years have resulted in the additional expense of not only calling a repairman to fix the original problem, but also to undo the so-called fix attempt which further exacerbated the original problem. (Sorry, Honey, if I’ve embarrassed you publicly)

As he worked on the oven with a hex wrench, a pliers, and a drill, I was frantically calling repairmen across the state of Maine, as well as looking up manuals on the Web.   Of course most repairmen couldn’t come, or knew nothing about my particular brand of stove.  Finally I found someone about 100 miles away, who was actually familiar with my range.

He guided my husband by phone, but even with the new part installed, it wasn’t working properly. Now the stove turned on, but the oven ignited with a whoosh and flames shot high into the air.

While this was going on, I was frantically trying to bake my challah rolls.  I put a batch into my woodstove, but it was way too hot, and the bottoms burned black and the middles were still raw.  Our woodstove was designed as a home heater, not a cook stove.

The woodstove was too hot for the challah rolls! What's a balabusta to do? Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Oy! Charred on the bottom, raw in the middle.

Then I tried inverting a black cast iron frying pan along the bottom of the fire, and placing the rolls on a tray above the pan.  This would have worked but the stove was still too hot, so the bottoms of the challahs still burned, but at least the middles were baked through.  The clock was ticking – – Shabbos was in 90 minutes.

Next I tried inverting a cast iron frying pan onto the glowing coals, which provided a bit of distance from the intense heat

The bottoms were still burnt, but at least the middle baked through and they were definitely edible. Fortunately our oven was fixed by the time the final batches were ready to be baked

Meanwhile the repairman suggested we turn a certain valve clockwise with a wrench, and keep turning until the flames lowered.  Sure enough, that did the trick!  My husband fixed the stove!  The repairman was a saint!  (He spent 45 minutes guiding us on the phone without compensation, saying how sorry he felt that this happened to us at such an inopportune time and he “just couldn’t let (us) have a miserable Christmas.”)

Quickly I put the rest of the challahs and Shabbos food in the oven, and just as everything was done, it was time to light our menorahs.  I would venture to say it was the first time in the history of our 177-year-old Maine town that Chanuka candles have been lit!

My husband and our guest about to light their menorahs on the porch that faces the road

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Tiger Mike on December 25, 2011 at 3:04 am

    Once when we had guests arriving for a seder in 15 min., we had a pipe break causing water to start dripping out of the cealing.

    Sounds like an unusual Satmar.

    In Korea, Tiger Mike.


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