Feeling a little discouraged after the last few offices, which were either closed or the people we wanted were away for the summer or in a very important meeting, we plugged the next address into the GPS. Driving along, however, we came to a detour, and saw the street name that we thought we were looking for. So we decided to park and walk to the office. As we started walking, it quickly became clear that it was not the correct street (see how much the word North can change things!), but we figured that the street we needed was just a block over and decided to cut through a parking lot to get there.

As we’re walking, a man comes out of an office building and starts walking towards us. He greets us with “Shalom!” We ask him if he’s Jewish. With an accented English, he tells us that he’s Jewish and that he came to the States from Tashkent. “Wait just one second,” we tell him. “What about tefillin?” “What’s that?” he replies. So we explained to him the mitzvah and he happily put them on.

He told us that in Russia he never had a chance to wrap tefillin, and that here in Clearwater there was no synagogue to do it in either, so this was his first time. “No synagogue? Why, there’s a Chabad right around the corner!” We directed him to the Chabad house.

After we said our goodbyes and exchanged numbers, we walked to the other side of this building, and lo and behold, we find the right address!

But this is a double dose, so here is story #2:

Later that day, on the way to someone’s house, we needed to stop at a gas station. After adding some air to the tires, I was about to get into the car, when a man walks by and gives me a hesitant “Shalom.” That was my cue. “Are you Jewish?” “Why yes, but I’m not a good Jew,” he says as he shows me his tattoos.

No worries,” I said, “you’re still Jewish!” Now he became excited, and expressed his amazement at meeting a fellow Jew in the gas station parking lot. We spoke a little about divine providence, and I told him that this would be a perfect time to put on tefillin. He looks at me and says, what, a mitzvah? Tefillin? WOW! No way . . . Right here? Now? But I don’t know how!

It turned out that while he did have a bar mitzvah, it was in a temple, where all they did was have him memorize some Torah and read it, but he had never put on tefillin. So I helped him put on the tefillin, and told him that we’ll recite a short prayer called the Shema. He says, “Shema? You mean Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod, Boruch Shaim . . .” He starts saying the Shema, but soon he said all he remembered, and then we read the rest from the card I have handy. He was very moved, and couldn’t express his thanks and the feeling he had in his heart from doing this mitzvah.

Soon his friend pulled up and he had to leave, but before he left he told us that if he ever encounters anyone who doesn’t believe in divine providence, boy does he have a story for them!