Spending the last three weeks traveling across Ireland, we've come to realize that in this part of the world you don't just bump into Jewish people by chance. Our meetings usually come about by working off a list, which has been compiled over the last 18 years, or by the occasional reference of one Jew to the next.
Such was not the case yesterday.
After finishing a very lovely visit with a local Jewish professor and his family (a story for itself, maybe another time...), we were looking for a decent bed & breakfast to pull over to and spend the night.
On our second attempt, as we were getting out of the car to check out the accommodations (take it from a guy with experience: never trust the online ratings!), a middle-aged man pushing a stroller passed by. After a slight hesitation, he stopped and asked us if we were Jewish. When we answered in the affirmative, he asked us a very peculiar question that we would have never expected: "Is Yetta Rubinstein a Jewish name?" After telling him that it most definitely was, he proceeded to tell us this most interesting tale.
Patrick grew up in an Irish family on the countryside and had a troubled childhood. He left home at a fairly early age and tried to put his past behind him. Only a few years ago, he found out that he was actually adopted as a baby. As one can imagine, it was a huge shock, and although it helped him understand a lot of the things going on inside of him, it was a very difficult reality to accept. It created an intense desire to "find out who [he] was" and where he actually came from. The few facts that he stumbled upon were that his maternal grandmother's name was Yetta Rubinstein and his mother had given him up for adoption in London. For the past couple of years, his only connection to his biological family was the lone name: Yetta Rubinstein. That's where the trail ran cold.
That is until yesterday.
We stood there in front of the bed & breakfast and watched as the realization slowly sunk into Patrick that he is a full-fledged member of the Jewish faith. He continued to tell us how recently he's been going through a very tough time and was putting a lot of thought into the possibility of some sort of Jewish connection. We spoke for about 15 minutes, giving (and receiving) inspiration. We offered him some literature and words of encouragement, and then, on that street corner in Cork, Patrick did something for his thirsty soul. With his child watching from the stroller, Patrick rolled up his sleeve, covered his head with a kippah, wrapped tefillin on his arm and forehead, and said the Shema for the first time in his life. He spoke loud and clear, and yet trembling with a flow of emotion pouring out from his soul.
As we watched him walk off over the hill with his child, we knew that we had just experienced the hand of G‑d leading our steps. Although our role was now over, for Patrick, grandson of Yetta, the story had just begun.