When the Chabad rabbi in Vinnitsa, Ukraine arranged a weekend retreat for the Jews of his town, it was only natural that Shmuel and I came along. We envisioned a relaxing weekend of teaching, discussion, and rest. Boy, did we have something else in store for us!

Late Thursday night, over eighty people, on two charter buses, left Vinnitsa. We headed eastward to the Carpathian Mountain Range near the Hungarian border.

For many, this would be their first taste of Shabbat and an introduction to the beauty of Jewish life.

On the way, we passed by Mezhibuzh where the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, is buried. We stopped for some brief prayers and continued on our way.

Early Friday morning, we arrived at our hotel. We were bemused to discover that our hotel room had only one bed in it. The apologetic hotel staff exchanged our room for VIP suite #1 which had not two, but four beds! Well, the more the merrier. After lugging our luggage into our new room, we joined our fellow weekenders for breakfast.

After breakfast, we were scheduled to go on a tour of Vizhnitz, a town which was once the seat of one of the largest Chassidic dynasties. Just as we were about to hop onto the shuttle, a bellboy told us that there had been a mistake; they needed VIP #1 for a family of four, and we would move to VIP #2 which had only two beds. At this point, we were getting kind of tired of being VIPs!

After lugging our luggage (again!), and finally figuring out how to work the Ukrainian lock on our door, we dashed out to catch the buses leaving to Vizhnitz.

As we ran outside, we were able to make out the back of the last hotel shuttle, as it sped away down the mountain toward the waiting buses. We ran after it, but to no avail.

Just then, we noticed a few bikes and decided to bike down the steep mountain, hoping to catch the buses on the bottom.

After a moment's hesitation, we zipped off, careering down the mountain trail.

Suddenly, I noticed that Shmuel had ridden past me and was going fast ahead. He did not hear my calls for him to slow down. So I sped up after him, flew down a few roads, and suddenly, he disappeared, leaving me wondering where he went. Eventually, I gave up looking for him, and started the trip back up to the hotel alone. A good way up the mountain, I saw him crouching over a broken bike.

Shmuel looked up and exclaimed, "Why on earth did you bike off like that? I was behind you the whole time!" From his vantage point, he had watched as the buses rolled off to Vizhnitz, while I was wandering on side roads looking for him.

So there we were, ten kilometers from Vizhnitz with a broken bike. We decided to forage onward. A few words of broken Russian and some hand motions later, a kindly peasant helped us fix the bike.

After an hour of hard riding, we were in Vizhnitz.

All we had to do now was look for two big buses full of Jews, but alas there was none to be had. After wandering around for a bit, we borrowed a phone, called the rabbi, and found out that the group had already returned to the hotel.

We were very hungry, thirsty, tired, hot, and exhausted. I was feeling a bit down. At that point, Shmuel reminded me that we are Roving Rabbis and that odd things are supposed to happen to us. If we are here, it is for a reason. Heartened, I suggested that we go to the center of town to see what fate had in store for us.

We found two old men sitting on a bench and asked them if they were Jewish. They responded by pointing at a crowd standing a block away. As we approached on our bikes, the crowd of over fifteen people gawked at us with shock written all over their faces. Eventually, they broke out into smiles and began to speak excitedly in a babble of Hebrew, Yiddish, and English.

Turned out that they were taking part of a Yiddish convention marking the centennial of some event.

They were absolutely floored to see two flesh and blood Chassidim in the historic Chassidic town of Vizhnitz.

Shmuel put on Tefillin with a Jewish professor, while I found a nice boy from Jerusalem who excitedly laid Tefillin for the fist time since his Bar Mitzvah.

Two of the participants were from New Jersey and friends of my uncle who is a Chabad rabbi there.

What a small world it is!

With that invigorating experience behind us, we began the two-and-a-half hike/bike back up to the top of the mountain where we had an exciting Shabbat waiting for us.