We always keep our ears and eyes open to find Jewish people wherever we go.

I had just said goodbye to Joel at the car parts store where he works. Instead of waiting in the parking lot for my co-rover, Hirshi, to finish with the surgeon he was visiting at the other end of town, I decided to walk all the way to the hotel. We had already checked out earlier in the morning, but they had called us to let us know that we left a bag there, so I was going to pick up the bag before we would leave Show Low, Arizona.

I thanked Adam, the receptionist, immensely for taking the time to track us down and return our bags to us. He then expressed his astonishment at seeing rabbis in town. I, of course, asked him if perhaps he knew anyone Jewish in town.

“Well,” he starts, “I actually can’t think of any. My grandma was, and my mom did light candles sometimes, but we grew up Christian.”

“Wait one second!” I said. “That means YOU are Jewish.” He was shocked and needed some convincing and explaining . . .

Suddenly Julie popped her head in from the back office and said, “Waaaait one second. Is that really true? That means my fiancé, Ryan, is Jewish!” (Ryan is Adam’s brother.) Unfortunately, both we and Adam had people waiting, and the conversation was cut short. We had left him our contact info so that we could keep in touch, but we heard nothing from him.

On Friday afternoon, on our way to Phoenix for Shabbat, I decided to try calling Adam at the hotel (we didn’t have his personal number). Sure enough, I heard a familiar “Adam speaking” at the other end. My heart jumped for joy at the opportunity to reconnect. He apologized and said he misplaced our card. He really wanted to meet us, put on tefillin, and celebrate a belated bar mitzvah. Could we make the trip? Although we already had a get-together planned for Sunday afternoon in a different city, we decided to drive the four hours back to Show Low.

We left Sunday morning at 7:30 AM from Phoenix, and arrived at the park where Adam had arranged to have his bar mitzvah. He wanted it in the outdoors, to be proud of this occasion.

He was there half an hour early, together with his cousin; he was so excited that he brought along an audience. A real surprise was that his brother, Ryan, was going to join us! Wow, a double bar mitzvah. We did the whole thing. We said l’chaim, sang, danced, and even threw candies at the bar mitzvah boys. Finally, it was time to go. After making some good resolutions for the future, we said goodbye. We had our get-together a two-hour drive away.

We stopped off to fill up with gas, and Hirshi ran into the store for a minute. Here is Hirshi’s account of what happened next:

As I am walking out of the store, from the corner of my eye, I sense someone staring at me. I turn around and meet Jacob. He asks, “Are you a rabbi?” I answer in the affirmative. “I never imagined that I would see a rabbi here in Show Low!” he exclaims. We start a conversation. It turns out that his grandmother (mother’s mother) was a Jewish refugee from Russia. I let him know that he is Jewish. He responds, “But I grew up Christian.” I explain that he has a yiddishe neshamah (Jewish soul), and that he is just as Jewish as Moses. “It’s a miracle that I met you. Just yesterday my relationship broke off, and I’m going through a hard time. I needed someone to talk to, and here I meet you!” I explained to him that everything is divine providence, and the fact is that G‑d wants us to be right here, right now. I told him about the incredible string of events that brought us to Adam and his subsequent bar mitzvah. He asks if he can have one as well. We bring our bar mitzvah bag (tefillin, candies, prayers, etc.) from the car, and we were all ready.

Jacob said Shema with lots of concentration. He is well-versed in the Bible, and was familiar with Shema, but now that he found out that he’s a Jew, the words “Hear O Israel” mean so much more to him.

He then asks us, “Now that I know that I’m Jewish, where do I start?” we talked a bit about doing one mitzvah at a time, and gave him some practical suggestions.

And off we hurried, as we were getting late for our afternoon get-together, and we still had a two-hour drive ahead of us.

All because of a lost bag.

Toasting to the bar mitzvah at the gas station.
Toasting to the bar mitzvah at the gas station.

With a friend we met at the UPS store.
With a friend we met at the UPS store.