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Stop the Car or Turn Left?

Stop the Car or Turn Left?

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Most of my fellow roving rabbis have already returned to their respective yeshivas, and we’ve spent some time exchanging stories from our time abroad. While this is not a new discovery, a common thread of our tales is the Divine Providence that seems to be working overtime to enable us, despite our limited human capabilities, to discover precious Jews isolated in some truly far flung locales.

On a Friday afternoon, we were driving though the small town of Boquete. We passed a cafe and thought some of the people sitting outside might be Jewish. We backed up and parked in front, but as we were about to exit the car, I suddenly felt uneasy suggested we continue driving. We turned left and drove down a side street where we spotted a young man walking. We rolled down the windows and called out, trying not to startle him, “Hey, are you by any chance Jewish?”

He stared at us for a moment before replying, “Yes, I guess you can say I am ethnically Jewish.”

This time, we got out of the car. “Wow, we’re so glad we bumped into you!” We introduced ourselves and our mission, and he told us that his name was Andrew and his mother was a descendant of one of the two main Jewish families in the region. His family had immigrated to the States before Andrew was born, and had returned to Boquete when he was nine. He told us he currently attends university in the States, and was visiting his family during his summer break.

After some more chatting, we showed him our tefillin and asked him if he wanted to put them on. He wasn’t too keen. Moving on, we asked him if he wanted to join us for Shabbat dinner in a few hours, and he was enthusiastic about that. We gave him all the details. Ten minutes before the start time, he texted us that he wouldn’t be able to make it, so we gave him the option of joining us for Shabbat lunch. To our surprise, he did show up, and actually stayed until the end of Shabbat. Before he left that evening, he offered to take us on a hike at one of the local mountain ranges the next morning, which we happily accepted.

We hiked and chatted, and when we reached the peak we again brought up the tefillin. Andrew was still ambivalent. “Andrew, we’re pretty sure no one has celebrated their bar mitzvah on this mountain. You’ll be making history!” This, along with all the quality time we had spent together, seemed to shift his perspective and he finally agreed.

He was soon wrapped up and repeating the accompanying prayers after us word by word, followed by lots of photos and some spirited dancing. Luckily, none of us is afraid of heights!

On the way down, Andrew wanted to discuss every detail of what had transpired: the meaning of tefillin, of the shema prayer, of a bar mitzvah. It was clear that it had all affected him very deeply. He hugged us both and we thanked him for the hike and told him we would definitely keep in touch.

The three of us have since returned to the States, and we have kept up via the wonders of modern technology. In fact, next week, Andrew is coming to New York for a visit, and we have plans to catch up in person. All because we decided to turn left.


Shneur Dick & Zalman Serebryanski
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