Hello from Fleming Island!

At first, we focused on the more “civilized” areas surrounding Fleming Island. But towards the end of last week we moved outwards, towards the outback, with its dirt roads and no GPS signal. Thank G‑d for iPhones!

According to our list, Mr. and Mrs. Joe R. lived at the house we were about to visit. We rang the doorbell and heard a very familiar sound – dogs barking. Usually, while we wait, we try to guess how many dogs are on the other side of the door. An older gentleman opened the door and greeted us with a smile.

“Oh, you guys are Jewish?” he asked. “How'd you guess?” we replied. “Did the glasses give it away?”

We explained how we ended up on his doorstep, and then Mr. R. proceed to tell us that he actually grew up in the Boro Park and Bensonhurst areas of Brooklyn , and he even remembered the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway which still operates at that location. Almost thirty years ago, after a series of blizzards, he and his wife went searching for warmer pastures and ended up in Middleburg, Florida.

After chatting for a while, we asked Mr. R. if he’d like to put on tefillin. There’s always that split second of bated breath where you’re unsure what the response will be. Fortunately, our new friend agreed and we helped him wrap the tefillin around his arm and head. We began to recite the shema prayer with him, but amazingly he was speeding through the words on his own.

When he finished the paragraph we just had to ask him, “How do you know the shema so fluently?”

And he told us, “Every night before I go to bed, I say the shema.”

Imagine, this is a man who is not surrounded by anything Jewish: no kosher, no Shabbat, and certainly no Jewish neighbors. But night after night, for thirty years, he has said the shema before retiring to be, connecting with his Jewish identity and expressing his spirituality. Wow!