Yitzchak, a chassidic Jew from London’s Stamford Hill
neighborhood, took frequent business trips to the countryside in northern
England. No matter how far he traveled, he was particular to always return home
in time for Shabbat—except for one Friday...
It was on a Friday morning in the 1950s or ’60s, when engine
trouble forced Yitzchak off the road as he was returning home for Shabbat. In
the service station waiting for his car to be repaired, he glanced at his watch
frequently, wishing that the watch’s hands would move just a little bit slower
and the mechanic’s hands would move just a little bit faster.
After several hours Yitzchak’s car was up and running, but
it was clear that he would not have time to return to London for Shabbat.
With little time to spare, Yitzchak drove to the nearest
village, checked into a local hotel and made inquiries about the closest
synagogue. To his delight, there was an old synagogue in town.
The building had been constructed in grand style, but now it had a neglected appearance. As the sun
sunk in the west, a handful of worshippers trickled into the building. They
were mostly middle-aged men who seemed to have just a rudimentary Jewish
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Yitzchak was approached by
an elderly gentleman. Sporting a full beard and speaking a fluent Yiddish, the
elderly man seemed strangely out of place in this forgotten hamlet.
“Would you be so kind as to be my Shabbat guest?” asked the
older man with a sense of urgency in his voice. Upon hearing Yitzchak’s
positive reply, the man broke into a broad grin.
As they walked home together in the chilly darkness,
Yitzchak asked his host’s name and learned that it was Yaakov Frankinowitz, but
that everyone knew him by the more familiar “Yankel.”
They walked in silence until they reached the old man’s
home—a crumbling old house, with a faint light emanating through the grimy
windows of one of the rooms.
As Yankel ascended the stairs to his home, he started
wheezing and coughing incessantly. But the old man dismissed his younger
guest’s concern. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said in Yiddish, “It’s just a bit of
asthma. It happens to me all the time.”
As they entered the dining room, Yitzchak was surprised to
see that the table was set for two. “How did he know that I would be coming?”
As if he read Yitzchak’s thoughts, Yankel said: “I’m always
ready for a guest to join me for Shabbat, and I set an extra setting just in
The food was under-seasoned and overcooked, but the
atmosphere at that Shabbat meal was outstanding. The conversation flowed easily
as the two men discussed the finer points of the week’s Torah portion and sang
traditional Shabbat tunes late into the night.
At one point, Yitzchak noticed his host’s well-worn but
still-beautiful Chumash [Five Books of Moses] from which he was reading and
translating the weekly Torah portion.
“Ah yes,” said the old man with delight. “It belonged to my
grandfather, as did the siddur [prayer
book] that I use in synagogue. It has endured decades of heavy use, but it’s
still as good as new, if not better!”
Long after midnight had come and gone, Yitzchak excused
himself and prepared for his walk back to his hotel.
“Please stay here,” urged the kind host. “It’s not often
that I have the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim [hospitality], so please do not deprive me of this
As Yitzchak lay on the lumpy mattress that smelled faintly
of mold, he listened to his host coughing fitfully in the other room. The wind
blew in freely through the cracked window panes, and he feared that it was too
cold for his newfound friend.
The following morning was even colder, and Yitzchak begged
Yankel to stay home, rather than walk the long way to and from synagogue. But
the old man would hear none of it.
Between their long walks and even longer meals, the two men
developed a deep and fast friendship. Yitzchak was inspired by Yankel’s sincere
faith and determination to serve G‑d to the best of his ability.
Finally, during the third and final Shabbat meal, Yankel
shared his story.
“I was born in Russia and still remember those terrible
times—the pogroms, the hunger and the fear.
“When I was seven, we left for England and settled here. My
parents passed away not long after, and my grandparents took me in. They were
the pillars of the community, and it was due to their strength and inspiration
that a synagogue was built here. Jewish life blossomed, and others came here as
“My grandparents were exceptionally generous, never sending
away a poor man empty handed and always hosting travelers in their home. They
never took a penny for their services, happy to provide fellow Jews with kosher
food and a warm bed.
“The younger generation grew up and moved away, attracted by
the opportunities that the bigger cities like Manchester and London offered
them. Those who stayed tended to be less Jewishly involved, and I was somewhat
“Like everyone else, I considered leaving town, but my
grandfather would hear none of it. He understood that without our family, the community
would soon dissolve into nothingness, and so I stayed.
“The Jewish community continued to dwindle, and my wife and
I wanted to move to a town where there would be other Jews like us, who valued
Torah and mitzvah observance, but Grandfather was adamant. We were needed here.
“Before he passed away, Grandfather again asked me to remain
here. ‘There will come a time,’ he told me, ‘that a Jewish traveler will come
through town needing a place to eat. Then you will know why you are so needed
here. Who would be there to serve them if not you?’
“And so I remained here for the Jewish traveler who may be
in need of a kosher home,” the man concluded simply.
Yitzchak then understood that he was the guest for whom his
host had waited for decades.
As the old man broke into another coughing fit, Yitzchak’s
eyes glazed over with pitying tears.
After regaining his breath, the old man continued. “Please
don’t feel bad for me. Your visit has given me so much pleasure; it has given
meaning to all the years of waiting, proving my grandfather’s words to be true.
The circle is now complete.”
They shook hands warmly before Yitzchak drove off into the
night. Yitzchak promised that he’d return, claiming that he had more business
in the area. The truth was that he wanted to come back with a gift for the old
man who had taught him so much about patience and faith.
When he came back to the sleepy hamlet later that week,
Yitzchak climbed the steps to Yankel’s old home and knocked on the door. Once,
twice, three times—silence. Fearing the worst, he sped off to the synagogue,
where he was informed that Mr. Frankinowitz had passed away on Sunday morning.
“He came to services as usual, started coughing, and then he
was gone,” said the caretaker.
“Wait a minute,” continued the caretaker. “Are you the guest
who was here on Shabbat? Mr. Frankinowitz left you something. I found it on his
table when I went to his house to put his belongings in order.”
It was a neatly wrapped package with a note. Written in
Yiddish, it expressed Yankel’s gratitude at being able to finally fulfill the
mitzvah of hosting guests, and it stated that the enclosed Chumash and siddur were a token of his appreciation
and an expression of his hope that Yitzchak would raise his children in the
spirit of Torah and mitzvah observance.”
Upon learning that the old man left no relatives, Yitzchak
took it upon himself to say kaddish for
And from then on, Yitzchak’s family adopted the peculiar
custom of always setting an extra seat at the Shabbat table, ready to be used
by anyone in need of a warm meal.
from Sichot Lanoar, Adar I, 5730