Our travels in the area around Jacksonville bring us to many interesting places. Most of the Jews we meet have two things in common: They are sure they are the "only" Jews in the area, and have very little Jewish affiliation and knowledge. The welcome is all-in-all very pleasant. Most are intrigued at the sight of two Chassidic Jews at their doorstep and are interested in hearing more about their heritage.

Last week, we spent some time in Green Cove Springs, a place where - we are told - the KKK once had strong influence and power. We exhausted our list of contacts, save two.

This week we are concentrating on towns a few miles away, but we decided to go back to the two remaining addresses. At our first destination, the woman who opened the door introduced herself as a definitely-not-Jewish Lutheran. She kindly offered to take any literature we had, but clearly had no interest in them. Flattered by the offer, yet confident in our ability to find trash cans elsewhere, we declined and politely said our goodbyes.

The second house is on a dirt trail close to Black Creek, a rather-large body of water to be termed a creek. As we pull up to the house in our flashy orange car, a man driving by in a pickup truck slowed down to survey the scene. With a look of what appeared to be snobbish disapproval, he continues down the street. Unperturbed (or at least pretending to be), we walk up to the house. Nobody is home, except for the dog, who is staring at us curiously through the glass. Leaving a note at the door, we head back to our car.

The engine is already running, the air conditioner blasting refreshing respite from the balmy Floridian weather, and we're about to drive off. Suddenly, a car pulls into the driveway.

A man jumps out and stops to talk to us.

Justin and his small child live in his parents' home. His father is not Jewish, and his mother doesn't really consider herself Jewish, but her mother, who is Jewish, sometimes attends synagogue. Of course, that makes Justin 100% Jewish. While he considers himself a member of the tribe, Justin never had a bar mitzvah, and he agrees to put on tefillin for the first time in his life.

As we conclude the Shema, Justin excuses himself and tells us that he left his child with someone at the creek. "I only came," he explains, "because this man came over to me at the creek and told me, 'some guys dressed up like Abraham Lincoln pulled up at your house in a bright orange car, and you may want to check them out.' As soon as I saw the Hebrew writing on your bumper sticker, I knew who you were."

Amazed as we were at the turn of events, we reminded him and ourselves how everything is orchestrated by G‑d. We came just as the pickup truck passed by, and the stranger’s suspicion turned out to be the means to an end: setting the scene for a Jew to do a mitzvah for the very first time.

Shmery (who does not much resemble old Abe) with one of our new friends.
Shmery (who does not much resemble old Abe) with one of our new friends.