Since 1986, Rabbi Mendel Katzman and his family have been the Chabad emissaries to the state of Nebraska. My friend Avremel and I were fortunate enough to spend several weeks this summer assisting them, reaching out to the Jews in Omaha, Norfolk, Kearney and Lincoln.

We had already made the hour’s drive from Omaha to Lincoln once, and met some of the nice Jews who live in the state’s capital. In the interim we had made some more phone calls, and scheduled appointments with other Jewish residents of Lincoln. Excited at the prospect of We called ahead to confirm the day’s appointmentsconnecting with these Jews, we headed out bright and early. Without any traffic to contend with, we reached our destination in record time.

We called ahead to confirm the day’s appointments. Jason answered right away, but told us that he was absolutely swamped. He apologized profusely: there was just no way he would have time to meet us. We got David’s voicemail message stating that he was currently out of town. Sam’s phone went straight to voicemail as well.

Our first reaction was disappointment, especially since they had all seemed so welcoming during the initial conversations. But my friend and I have been involved in Chabad work since our early teens, and experience has taught us that when one door closes, another usually opens.

We decided to drive around in search of an area with lots of people, where we felt there was bound to be a Jew or two. Almost immediately we passed a strip mall and, grabbing our tefillin, we ambled from store to store, inquiring if anyone inside was Jewish. No luck in the first few stores, but it wasn’t long before we met Elon, the Israeli manager of a shoe shop. He greeted us warmly, and mentioned that many years ago he lived in Texas and was in contact with the Chabad rabbi there.

We offered tefillin, which he politely declined. Still, it was apparent that Elon was happy to have met us and to connect on some level with his Jewish identity. We took down his contact information, and made our way to the next store. No Jews, it seemed, but the staff was very interested in hearing about the Seven Noahide Laws. A customer walked in during the animated discussion.

“Are you Jewish?’ we asked, hopefully.

“No, but I do have some Jewish background. My mother was raised Christian, but her Elon was happy to have met us and to connect on some level with his Jewish identitymother was Jewish, died young, and my grandfather remarried. My mom doesn’t consider herself Jewish at all.”

“Listen, you don’t have some Jewish background. You are Jewish—as Jewish as the two of us!”

This gentleman, who introduced himself as Jeremiah, was visibly moved and excited by this life-altering discovery.

“Jeremiah, would you like to do you first mitzvah, now that you know you’re a Jew? These are tefillin, and a Jewish man puts them on every weekday to remind himself of his connection to G‑d.”

Despite the fact that Jeremiah had never seen tefillin before, he agreed without skipping a beat. We helped him put them on and say the blessings. We gave him his first Jewish books: a siddur, and a Tanya that had actually just been printed in Kearney. After exchanging contact information, we wished him well and returned to our car, satisfied with the way our day turned out.

It no longer mattered that our prior commitments hadn’t panned out. Now it was clear as day that this all had been orchestrated from Above, so that one more Jewish soul would be able to discover the beauty of his heritage.

And for further confirmation, in our e‑mail exchanges with Jeremiah, he keeps thanking us, and writes how this encounter has changed his life on every single level.