Word on the street among the Jews of West Pasco County, Florida, is that they are a tiny minority. In fact, many will tell you that they don’t know any other local Jews. But for two weeks we traveled the area, seeking out and meeting with Jews of every stripe and color. We drove endlessly in over 100° weather, fueled by some incredible encounters with our Floridian brothers and sisters.
We arrived at Larry’s home while a party was in full swing. An affluent businessman with a wide circle of friends, he took the time to chat with us, and even agreed to put on tefillin.
Sarah was overjoyed to meet us. Fifty odd years ago, back in her hometown of Brooklyn, Chabad rabbinical students just like us had taught her the basics of Judaism at the Released Time program she attended. “I am eternally grateful,” she told us.
Unfortunately, David lost his beloved wife to cancer several years ago. During our visit he explained that he has chosen to focus on the positive, and thank G-d for the wonderful years they enjoyed together. “I feel rejuvenated seeing you—happy young people who are so proud of your Judaism.” David promised to attend High Holiday services, and gladly accepted our offer to put on tefillin.
Sometimes, a friendly greeting to a passerby turned into a deep conversation with a fellow Jew. And on one occasion instead of visiting Mr. A., we mistakenly visited Mrs. B, who was keenly interested in learning more about her heritage. We truly felt that G-d was guiding our steps, helping us connect with His people. And by and large, the weather was far surpassed by the warm Jewish hearts we encountered.