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As I settled into my seat on Flight 1272 bound for Chicago, I glanced at the passengers filing down the aisle. My Jew-radar immediately went off; in addition to the business travelers toting their laptops and briefcases and the pleasure travelers wearing shorts and Walkmans, I spied several suede kippot, a striemel and ankle-length skirts.

Despite our shared heritage, I didn't bother acknowledging them. They were strangers. And I live in New York, where strangers seldom exchange greetings, even if they recite the same prayers.

The plane rolled toward the runway and I waited for takeoff. No such luck. The pilot announced the flight was being delayed three hours due to stormy weather conditions in Chicago. I glanced at my watch nervously. Usually, I avoid flying Friday afternoons for fear I won't arrive in time, but on summer weekends when Shabbat doesn't begin until 8 p.m., I figured I'd be safe. I figured wrong.

But I calculated that I could just make it if I didn't claim my luggage and jumped into a taxi. I turned around to check on my co-religionists. Two kippot were examining their watches. The chasid was on the airphone.

A half-hour before arrival, the pilot announced O'Hare Airport was shut down and we were landing in Milwaukee until we could continue on. My stomach sunk. Candle-lighting was an hour away. I'd never make it on time. Like most religious Jews who work in the secular world, I'd experienced my share of close calls. But I never knowingly violated the Sabbath. Now, I was stuck.

By now, the kippot and long skirts were huddled in the back of the plane. They had been joined by others. Shabbat was bringing strangers together.

It was time to introduce myself. We're going to get off in Milwaukee, a young man told me. The chasid had called Milwaukee's Chabad rabbi, who offered to host any stranded passengers for Shabbat. Come with us, he urged. I nodded with relief but returned to my seat crestfallen since I had planned this weekend with my family for months.

My non-Jewish seatmate, noticing my despair, inquired what was wrong. When I told him the story, his jaw dropped.

"Let me get this straight," he said, "You're getting off the plane in a town where you've never been with people you don't know to stay overnight with complete strangers?"

For the first time that day, it occurred to me just how lucky I was.

When the plane landed, the pilot announced we were disembarking first for religious reasons. Passengers stared at us, dumbfounded. My seatmate bid me farewell as if he didn't think I'd survive.

But I quickly realized I was among friends. As I attempted to carry my bags off the plane, a woman insisted on helping me. When we crowded into cabs to take us to the rabbi's house, the chasid insisted on paying for me. And when the cabs pulled up at the home of the rabbi and rebbetzin, they ran outside to greet us as if we were long lost relatives.

The sun set on Milwaukee as they ushered us into their home, where a long table was set for Shabbat with a white tablecloth, china and gleaming kiddush cups. When I lit the Shabbat candles, a wave of peace washed over me. With all that had transpired, I was warmed by the notion that the world stops with the first flicker of Sabbath light.

Over a traditional Shabbat feast, the rabbi enchanted us with tales of the Baal Shem Tov and informed us that our re-route to Milwaukee was due not to the world of weather but of Divine providence.

We lingered over our meal, enjoying our spiritual sanctuary in time after the stressful day. Zemirot (Shabbat songs) filled the room. We shared disappointments about our unexpected stopover. Most of the group was traveling to Chicago for their friend's aufruf ("calling up" the groom to the Torah on the Shabbat before a wedding) and wedding and were missing the aufruf. The chasid and his wife were missing a bar mitzvah.

We pondered the meaning of the departure from our journey and marveled at the coincidences. I had attended camp with my roommate, a couple had conducted business with my father, a man had studied in yeshiva with my cousin, the chasid used to work in my hometown of Aurora, Ill., and I had once spent Purim in Crown Heights with my hosts' son.

Exhausted as we were, everyone was hesitant to leave the table to go to sleep.

The next morning, a lively tefillah was followed by a leisurely meal where we exchanged stories about our lives, careers and dreams. We nicknamed ourselves the Milwaukee 15 and wondered if future generations would retell the story of the flight that didn't make it in time for candlelighting.

Saturday night, we made a regretful journey to the everyday world. But before we began the final leg of our journey, I called my husband to tell him all that had transpired.

"Who did you spend Shabbat with?" he asked worriedly.

I pondered how to explain who these former strangers were who had given me object lessons in Shabbat hospitality and in the power of Shabbat in bringing Jews together.

And, then as swiftly as a 747 can leave the tarmac on a clear day, I realized the truth: miles away from my parents, husband and home, I had accomplished what I set out to do when I booked my ticket: I had spent Shabbat with family.

Deena Yellin is a reporter at a daily newspaper in New Jersey. Her work has been published in The Jerusalem Post, Newsday and The New York Times.
Originally published in The Jewish Week
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Debbie Johannesburg April 13, 2016

I was so touched by this beautiful story! Reply

N D G May 29, 2015

Shabbat When we keep the shabbat holy the shabbot protectes us Keep the shabbat holy Someone who loves the shabbat the shabbat wil be love. Them Reply

John Pierce Bothell,WA October 26, 2012

The Wonder that is Shabbat I was moved to tears as well by your story. I am a Christian but have many Jewish friends who are as close as family to me and I look with a little bit of envy when I see them celebrating their faith. God Bless and Shalom Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, MD February 28, 2012

I had a catch in my throat when I read your beautiful story. I, too, suddenly realized how lucky I am. Thank you! Reply

Karen Lincoln, Nebraska February 3, 2012

it is amazing it is amazing that sharing one simple story can touch so many people. Or maybe it is not the story, but the one who orchestrated it. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to be touched Reply

Patty Livingston, NJ via chabadessex.com October 7, 2011

Reminder I cried when reading your beautiful story.
Tonight, begins Yom Kippur, shabbab night as well. Your story has many meanings; we are all family together, we are never truly alone, and that we need these things to happen in our lives to remind us that G-d has plans for us while we make our own.
This story is a reminder of every connection that exists; to each other, to our inner self, and to G-d.

You are blessed as a writer, and perhaps another reason this happened to you, is so that you could share this story with others and not only tell about the lighting of candles on one night, but to remind us that the unexpected paths in our lives just might be a gift from G-d, that our lives have special meaning.

Thank you. Reply

Darlene Geswein Dayton, Ohio August 2, 2011

What a beauiftul story! Isn't it amazing how God still provides for you when you think you're alone. You brought tears to my eyes. I fell upond this site by accident, but maybe it wasn't. I got to visit Israel twice in the last 5 yrs, I love learning about the history and your culture. Thank you for opening my eyes and heart even more. Reply

Nessa valley stream, ny June 30, 2011

Non Jews "keeping the Sabbath HOLY" I am
a Christian and many of us are awakening to the fact that we are all to observe Shabbat and enter into God's rest.
Learning about Firstfruits offerings , the feasts and their significance and moden ani and its importance.
We embrace the Jewish roots of our beliefs.
A very touching story. Shalom to all. Reply

Hilton Gilfillan Port Elizabeth, South Africa December 21, 2010

Shabbat I am a christian that has experianced the peace of the Shabbat. My wife and i seprate this day and keep it holy. I have experianced no greater peace than the comming together at the table of our Shabbat meal on a Friday evening.
My wife has been in the UK with my doughter who has given birth to her 1st and our 3rd blessing of a grand child.
I stayed at home in South Africa as we could not afford for us both to be there.
Now i have experianced the lonlyness that the Shabbat can bring when you are on your own. I know this that when my wife returns i am going to make sure that we find those that are alone on Shabbat and invite them to share the joy and peace of family on the blessed day.
I pray for the day when christians wake up to this blessing that they so ignorantly condem. May the Shabbat continue to be a blessing to those who keep her Holy. Reply

go-ds right hand man jerusalem, israel October 5, 2010

The Baal Shem Tov's Custom I overheard years ago some chasidim speaking with each other and it was said the Baal Shem Tov wouldn't travel on Friday for any reason.
Possibly because traveling isn't a preparation for Shabbat... Reply

Nan Jones Granite Falls, NC January 13, 2010

Shabbat Your story brought tears to my eyes - thank you for sharing. Although I am not Jewish (I am a Christian), I love the Jewish people and appreciate your faith. It is amazing how God provides for His people. Bless you! Reply

Ana Livermore, CA via jewishtrivalley.com October 16, 2009

The Magic of Sabbat There is a magic air that comes around on Fridays afternoon affecting Jews and non-Jews. Many times, due to my profession, it is difficult keep Sabbat, and, here and there, I have to skip meetings, dinners and events, wake at 5am on Sundays to catch up with the work I should have done on Saturdays.
Today I registered for a conference I have to go (no way out) on Friday and Saturday next month. I am hoping (and asking) that my talk will be on Friday. My husband, who has no official religion, is also going to the conference. He saw me nagging around about how to keep Sabbatd during the trip. Two hours later, he e-mailed me the address of the Chabad in the town and the hotel reservation near it (so we don't have to drive). It was very touching, very magic.
Shabbat Shalom! Reply

Rachel Naples, FL October 14, 2009

Shabbat in Milwaukee What a heartwarming story of the love between all your souls. My own was lifted by the beauty of it "happening". Reply

Ms. Sharla Lindsey September 12, 2009

Loved it! I don't feel so alone with this web site. Reply

Deborah Atzori Kahului, HI, USA August 26, 2009

Shabbat I am alone in my apt. on Maui, HI. there are other Jewish brethren that I would like to meet and share Torah with. I did have a small group to fellowship a while back, but presently I am alone. Yet Shabbat is a day of encountering my Elohim in a way that cannot be compared with any other day I fellowship. It is so special to be alone with Him and study His Torah, dance, and worship Him. Although alone in the natural I am with the brethren in the spirit. I love you, my family. Shalom. Reply

Anonymous Gaspe, quebec August 25, 2009

Sacred Beautiful & Heartwarming Reply

Samuel China June 13, 2009

Great Story! How come I get no guests on Shabbat?

Ahh~~ I live in the middle of nowhere! thats why!

Great story ~
(^-^) Reply

Deborah Atzori Kahului, HI, USA May 29, 2009

Shabbat testimony I am new in following my Jewish roots. I have been inspiried by the lightning of the candles. Personally I do not always light the candles and do the prayer because I do not want to become "religious' and I may loose the spirit of the Shabbat. I am concerning about too much rituals. However, after reading the story tonight at Sundown I will light the candles. It is a matter of the heart. thank you for sharing. It touched me. Reply

Anon March 20, 2009

Great story. Reply

Sebastian Stockholm, Sweden March 23, 2008

This was a wonderful story!
I can imagine, a few years from now, that it will be retold as a Shabbos table story :) Reply