Last Friday, we stood for hours in the tiny kitchen of the local synagogue. With the few kosher ingredients available in this part of the world, we did our best to prepare a Shabbat meal. We were told to cook for fertzig menschen (Yiddish for "forty people"), so we peeled 10 lbs of potatoes and prepared many other tasty dishes.

Later that afternoon, to our dismay, we exited the kitchen to see only 25 people gathered. That's a nice number, but it's just over half of what we had anticipated, so we pitied our sweat-drenched bodies and skinless fingers.

Nonetheless, we smiled, donned tefillin with those who wanted, and distributed Shabbat candles to the women. We then sat down together and ate, drank, and made merry. Of course, some Torah food for thought was served as well. We discussed the importance of kosher. To our joy, a decision was made that the food at all synagogue events would be strictly kosher.

After most people had left, the president of the community suggested that we return tomorrow to host another get-together, as not to let the food go to waste. "Now, now," we thought, "walking over an hour both ways is not something to sneeze at. But can we say no to people who want to learn about Judaism and celebrate Shabbat?" After a brief discussion, we decided to return the following day.

The next afternoon, we began our hike to the synagogue. Hike, not walk. The average road in Ukraine seems to have last seen a work crew 75 years ago. Our friend, Dmitri, acted as our guide. After just 45 minutes of off-road experience, we came to the synagogue feeling like we had won the World Cup. Greeting us were fifteen local Jews who were very happy to see that we arrived whole in body and spirit. To our satisfaction, most of the guests had healthy appetites, and they finished all the potatoes.

When the last participant had left, we were faced with a dilemma: Stay until that evening when Shabbat ends, or return by foot to our hotel? We decided to leave for the hotel. We convinced Dmitri and ourselves that we knew the way home ourselves, and off we went into the sunset.

Lost in conversation as we were walking, we were suddenly interrupted by a man who introduced himself as Matyash, told us that he was extremely glad to see us, and invited us to his home. We followed him into his self-built house and met with his three guests who "happened" to be Jewish. They were recovering drug-addicts and were thrilled to talk to us.

Before we knew it, we were seated at a table laden with all types of delicious-smelling food. The fact that we did not eat naturally guided our conversation to the kosher laws. During the course of our conversation, one of the guests started singing a song by the famous Chassidic singer, Mordechai ben David. We were shocked. What are the chances that a non-religious person in Zhmerynka would know of Mordechai ben David? To our amazement, Matyash was also well-versed in Mordechai ben David's hits. (In fact, with the conclusion of Shabbat Mordechai ben David's deep, powerful voice made its way from the stereo player to our astounded ears.)

The amazing part is that, contrary to our assumption, Matyash wasn't Jewish, but he was still a great fan of Mordechai's.

As the afternoon wore on it began raining, confining us to this home, just in case we had thoughts of leaving.

At the end of our rainy day, we realized that not everything is meant to go according to plan—our plan, that is.

This photo of Moshe Chaim (one of the guests), ourselves and Matyash was taken on Sunday.
This photo of Moshe Chaim (one of the guests), ourselves and Matyash was taken on Sunday.