April, 2014–one year ago:

It was a typically busy day at the headquarters of Passover Australia when we received the following call.

“Hi, this is Rabbi X from Sydney. May I please speak to whoever is going to Cairns for Passover?”

The phone was handed to me, since I, along with Yosef Kasle, had been assigned to Cairns.
“Hi, how can I help you?” I asked.

“I know someone there, a woman named Rhonda, he explained. “If you could, I’d like to give you her number so you can get in touch with her, maybe even visit her.”

At Passover Australia, it’s quite the common occurrence to be contacted to check in on someone’s friend or relative in the remote and desolate parts of rural Australia. We took down Rhonda’s contact information and promised to do our best.

Unfortunately, once we arrived in Cairns, we weren’t able to meet up since Rhonda was busy dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Ita, which had ravaged the state. Our time in Cairns ended quickly, and after the Seders we flew back to Melbourne, without having met Rhonda.

The next twelve months passed by, and Passover Australia was once again preparing to reach out to many of their Jewish brethren in the remote parts of Australia, who otherwise may not have any Passover experience. I was once again assigned to Cairns, this time with Shmuly Lezak.

As we looked over our contact list, we saw Rhonda’s name. We tried phoning, but couldn’t reach her. We thought she may have changed her number, so we decided to call Rabbi X and see if he could help us. He didn’t have Rhonda’s number, but gave us her father’s number. We were able to get in touch with him, and we learned that he was from Brisbane and a proud member of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation. After a few moments, we asked him about his daughter, and immediately his cheerful tone turned into one of pain and pessimism.

“Ah, Rhonda,” he sighed. “She was such a good girl, but…you know how it is, they feel the need to rebel against conventional thinking. We argued, I screamed, she ran away...last I heard she married some non-Jewish Aussie bloke and lives on a remote property outside of Cairns. I wouldn’t waste my time on her if I were you; she rejected all the Judaism I tried to teach her. I’m sorry to say she’s a hopeless cause.”

Despite his pessimistic predictions, we asked for her new number, and told him that when there is life, there is hope; a Jew can always come back. Rhonda answered on the first ring, and after her initial surprise she graciously invited us to come over, provided it was at a time when her husband, Johnny, wouldn’t be home. She gave us her address, and we promised to see her soon.

Thursday morning, the day before Passover, we hopped into the car to drive to Rhonda’s house. I typed her address into the GPS. “That’s weird.” I told Shmuly. “It’s two hours away and there are no other homes nearby. Do we have the right address?”

We checked Google Maps and saw that it was indeed a very remote area. It would be an adventure just getting there, via a long and windy road, surrounded by endless forests. Her father had meant it when he said she had run away.

At last we reached Rhonda’s home, and she happily invited us in. After the usual introductory chit-chat, she started to open up. She explained how her parents didn’t appreciate her growing up, and that the Judaism she was exposed to felt stale and dry. Plain and simple, she didn’t see G‑d in Judaism, only books, rules and restrictions. She ran away to Cairns and met Johnny, and they were married shortly thereafter. They moved out to this property because she wanted to see the spirituality in nature. Clearly, she was searching for meaning, and the spark of G‑dliness within her was still burning…

We started discussing some Jewish concepts with her, as well as the upcoming holiday. We presented her with a mezuzah, and she became very emotional, and broke down into tears when we gave her some matzah. When she composed herself, she inquired on how to affix the mezuzah, asking us to detail the intricate laws of mezuzah placement.

We still had lots to prepare for the Seder, so after exchanging contact information and promising to keep in touch, we took our leave of Rhonda. Over the long drive back, we reflected on the visit, and how true our earlier conversation about the Rebbe guiding his emissaries had proven to be.

This was just one of the many visits we made while in Cairns for Passover. We felt privileged to witness the Rebbe’s message affecting and inspiring Jews, even in a place that defines remote. We truly believe that these Jews will continue in their growth, and help fulfill the Rebbe’s mission, the speedy revelation of Moshiach.