When Heshy arrived at Bais Simcha, the doors were locked. A note was taped to the front door:

We had a last-minute emergency and can't be here for Shabbat. We're very sorry. —Rabbi Levi

Heshy's stomach began growling. It was a prodigious stomach housed in a massive belly, supported by his 300-pound frame. All day, the 45-year-old man had imagined sitting at the meal that Rabbi Levi and his wife, Rebecca, set out on Friday nights in their home, following services. In his mind, he pictured the freshly baked challah, still warm from the oven, followed by the homemade gefilte fish, tangy and supple, not like the tasteless factory concoctions in jars. Then there would be a generous bowl of chicken soup with perfect matzah balls, not too heavy and not too soft. The main course—and what a main course!—would be baked lemon-pepper chicken and sliced juicy roast beef, with three kinds of vegetables and two salads. As for the desserts—oh the desserts!—the rabbi and rebbetzin could surely win a prize in the culinary arts for their exquisite chewy cookies, sweet cinnamon cakes, richly crusted fruit pies, all made without milk, but tasting even creamier and sweeter than those that are.

Yussie was wearing one of his threadbare checkered jackets above striped pantsWhile Heshy was standing there, swept in his daydream, Yussie Yablonski peddled up on bicycle, his 55-year-old knees creaking in unison with the rusty chain. He was wearing one of his threadbare checkered jackets above striped pants, and sporting the clashing colors of purple, green, and orange.

Yussie parked his bike and walked up to Heshy, nodding a silent hello. Then he tried the door, overlooking the note. He shook the door in and out, and then shook it again. He was on his third shake when Heshy interrupted him. "It's locked," he said, sadly.

"Locked? What do you mean locked?" Yussie asked.

"Read the note."

"I can't, Heshy. I don't have my glasses."

"The Rabbi had an emergency. He's not going to be here for Shabbat."

"What? Not be here? How can that be? The rabbi is always here on Shabbat."

"Well, this Shabbat he's not going to be here."

"But it's his job to be here on Shabbat! I'm always at my job. Why is the rabbi not at his job?!"

"He said he was sorry," Heshy said apologetically.

"Sorry?! He said he was sorry? What is sorry? Sorry is bubkes. Sorry is gornisht, absolute nonsense."

"Well, he did say he was very sorry, Yussie," Heshy apologized again.

"How are we going to pray without the rabbi?" Yussie wondered aloud.

Or eat afterward, Heshy wondered to himself, as his stomach let out an angry growl like a hungry lion on the barren African plains.

Startled, Yussie's eyes flew to Heshy's midsection. "What in G‑d's name was that!?" he asked.

"Excuse me," Heshy replied, his face growing red. He placed his massive hands over his belly so it could hide quietly behind them.

Yussie went back to shaking the doors. "This is not fair!" he exclaimed, and started beating the heavy doors of Bais Simcha with his fists.

He wondered if G‑d paid much attention to what was happening outside a synagogueHeshy watched as Yussie pounded on the doors and shook his head. He looked Heavenward and wondered if G‑d paid much attention to what was happening outside a synagogue. He knew He paid special attention when ten men were praying inside a synagogue, but outside? Was it still as holy? Heshy closed his eyes and waited for an answer, and when he had one, he opened them again.

"Yussie, you should stop pounding on the door," he said firmly.

Yussie turned and faced the large man and shot him an angry look.


Heshy pointed one plump finger to the sky, and his huge, sad eyes followed its direction. Then, he looked back into Yussie's fiery eyes, then once again upward.

Yussie understood what he was trying to tell him on the second look.

"Sorry, G‑d," Yussie said, gazing upward as well.

"Baruch Hashem, thank G‑d," Heshy added.

There was a long, silent moment while the pair stared at the locked doors.

"Well, what do we do now?" Yussie asked.

"We'll wait," Heshy answered. "Some of the others will arrive and know what to do."

"I hope so . . . I really need to pray tonight," Yussie added.

And I haven't eaten a decent meal in two days, thought Heshy.

After ten agonizingly long minutes, as the sun began to set, indicating the imminent arrival of Shabbat, Michael Fein, the president of the synagogue, appeared in the synagogue parking lot. Beside him hobbled the synagogue caretaker, Avraham Fingerboard.

Michael waited for Avi to shuffle up to himMichael Fein straightened his hair as he approached the synagogue door. He smoothed his brand-new Pierre Cardin cashmere jacket, and turned to the 75-year-old caretaker, who was rubbing his arthritic knees after their little walk.

Avraham Fingerboard, or Avi as everyone called him, sported a snow-white beard—the older he got the whiter it became. Avi had a set of keys in his hand, a hand so stricken with arthritis that his fingers bent in different directions and the joints were swollen to twice their normal size.

Michael waited for Avi to shuffle up to him, and then led him to the front doors of Bais Simcha.

"Hello, Yussie. Hello, Heshy," Avi said, nodding his head.

"Hello, Avi," Heshy and Yussie said in unison.

"The rabbi left me a message to open the synagogue," Avi said.

Everyone stood aside as Avi, with shaking hands, fumbled with a key, muttered under his breath, then tried another key. He muttered again, and tried a third and the final fourth key. None of the keys worked.

"Let me try it," Michael Fein offered, taking the keys from Avi.

Michael went through the same motions as Avi, but when he arrived at the fourth and final key, he forced it so hard that it bent and almost broke inside the lock. He tenderly straightened it out and pulled it from the lock.

"Did the rabbi change the locks?" Michael asked, handing the keys back to Avi.

"You know, I think he mentioned something about the old lock getting stuck all the time and putting in a new one," Avi said.

"And he didn't give you the new key?" Michael asked.

Avi turned red and looked down.

"Yes, he mentioned it, but I forgot. I forget a lot of things, these days."

Michael Fein sighed, and placed a hand on Avi's bony shoulder. "It happens to all of us. Don't pay it any mind, Avi," he said.

"Well, what are we going to do now?" Yussie asked.

When Heshy shrugged, as did Avi, everyone looked to Michael.

"Pray out here," Michael said.

"Out here?" Yussie asked, surprised.

"Where else?" Michael asked.

"Maybe we should go behind the synagogue?" Heshy offered.

"So who is going to lead the services out here?""I don't like it back there," Avi objected. "There are wasp nests, and if I get stung, I'll blow up like a balloon."

That idea was dropped.

"So who is going to lead the services out here?" Yussie asked.

"I will," Avi volunteered.

The other three men nodded in agreement.

"Does anyone have a siddur, a prayer book?" Avi asked.

"What, you still need a prayer book?" Michael asked, surprised.

"What, Mr. Fancy-Shmancy attorney, you think at 82 you also won't need a siddur? Some days I can barely remember my name."

"I thought you were only 75." Michael shot back.

"So I lied. My wife is 75, and she doesn't like old men."

Yussie grew impatient with the discussion.

"So does anyone have a siddur?" he asked.

Heshy shook his head. Michael shook his head.

"Oh, boy! What a group!" Yussie said under his breath.

Yussie sighed. "Okay," he said. "I'm going to close my eyes and pray. Those of you that want to join me, well, you can join me."

As Yussie prayed, a few more members of the congregation arrived, each wondering what the men were doing outside the synagogue. Avi quietly explained their predicament. When Yussie opened his eyes again, he counted the new arrivals—they were still one man short of a minyan, a quorum of ten men required for prayer.

"Now what?" Yussie asked Michael Fein, who had just completed the same head count.

Michael shrugged.

Heshy spoke up, surprising even himself. "Let's wait and see what G‑d provides," he suggested. "He's been doing pretty good so far."

Suddenly there was a bright flashing light!Excitement welled up in the small congregation. What had started out as a calamity suddenly seemed fresh, real, and full of wonderment. G‑d was revealed, and He could do anything. Miracles could come at anytime.

And suddenly there was a bright flashing light!

The men looked at the bushes in front of Bais Simcha to see if they were bathed in "the fire that did not consume," like the fire G‑d had shown Moses more than 3,000 years ago.

But the bushes were not aglow.

Instead, the blinding red flashes of light were coming from a police car that had pulled up at the curb.

"So, look now, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou, at what G‑d provided," Avi said, poking Heshy in his empty belly.

A policeman stepped out of the car. He was nearly as tall as a basketball player and his shoulders and arms rivaled Arnold Schwarzenegger's. He was holding a nightstick in one hand and a heavy-duty flashlight in the other.

"What's going on here?" the policeman asked in the deepest bass voice anyone in the congregation had ever heard.

Not one of the congregants replied.

"Can someone explain to me what's going on?" the intimidating man asked, shining the flashlight on the men, one after another. "I received a call about a disturbance in front to the synagogue."

Avi poked Michael Fein in the ribs. "Talk to him," he whispered.

"Why me?" Michael whispered back.

"Because you're the lawyer, dummy! You're supposed to know how to handle these things."

Hearing the whispers, the policeman shined his light on Michael Fein. Michael hid behind his hands.

Michael put down his hands and smiled weakly"Hey, you!" the policeman ordered. "The one who's covering his face. Yeah, you! You look familiar? How do we know one another?"

Michael put down his hands and smiled weakly. When he spoke, his voice made a squeaky sound. He stopped and cleared his throat.

"I'm Michael Fein."

The policeman studied him, and then smiled. "Call the Fein Law Firm – the Feinest Law firm in town," the policeman sang, in perfect harmony with the jingle that played at the end of Michael Fein's commercials.

"Yes, that's it," Michael answered red-faced.

"Well, what's going on here, Mr. Fein?"

Michael cleared his throat again, and explained, "Our rabbi was called away on an emergency, and we're locked out of the synagogue."

The policeman nodded silently, and then shined his light on the front door. "Would you like me to get these doors opened for you?" he offered.

"Could you?" the shaken attorney asked.

"Sure, my partner could do it."

"Hey, Miguel!" the burly policeman called to the man sitting patiently in the passenger seat of their car. "Could you bring the pouch and get this door open?"

"Hang on!" Miguel called out through the car window.

Seconds later, Miguel appeared with a small leather case, and began working the lock. A moment later, the doors sprung open, and eight men rushed inside while offering their thanks to Miguel. But Michael Fein remained on the steps.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Fein?" the policeman asked.

Michael looked at the policeman's nametag: Officer Jeff Miller.

"Yes," Michael answered. "Are you Jewish?"

The officer thought for a moment, before replying, "No. My grandmother gave up her religion long ago, and it wasn't important to my parents."

"Wait!" he shouted. "Officer . . . please, wait!""Well, thanks for your help," Michael said as he turned away to join the other men inside the synagogue. He didn't get far before he stopped dead in his tracks. He hurried back to the policeman just as he was about to drive away.

"Wait!" he shouted. "Officer . . . please, wait!"

The policeman jammed on his brakes. Michael rushed to the squad car and bent down to talk to the officer through the open window.

"You said your grandmother gave up her religion. What religion was she before she gave it up, Officer Miller?"

"Well . . . I was told she was Jewish."

"And this grandmother was on your mother's side, or your father's?"

"What's the difference, Mr. Fein?"

"The difference is this. Jewish tradition dictates the children inherit their mother's religion, therefore, you are Jewish."

"But I don't have any religion, Mr. Fein."

"We believe you don't have a choice in this matter, Officer. It's simply in your blood."

The policeman studied Michael Fein's face as Michael studied his. The lawyer watched the policeman's expression change from one of mind-your-own-business . . . then to curiosity . . . then to something else...

Rabbi Levi and Rebecca returned on foot to Bais Simcha as the congregation was nearing the end of the Friday night service. Rebecca hurried to their house behind the synagogue to set out the Shabbat meal she had prepared early that day. Rabbi Levi saw that his note was still taped to the front of the synagogue, but the doors were wide open.

He counted the men as he walked toward the front of the synagogueHe walked inside and saw Avraham up front, at the dais, reciting the Shemone Esrei aloud, something only permitted with a minyan. He counted the men as he walked toward the front of the synagogue.

"Rabbi?!" Avi said, stopping immediately.

"Hello, everyone," Rabbi Levi said. "Sorry I couldn't be here, but there was a very bad accident and the medical team wasn't sure if the people in the car would make it or not . . . my wife and I were called, and, well, I'm happy to report . . . everyone is alright, thank G‑d."

"Thank G‑d," the congregation repeated.

Thank G‑d, Heshy repeated to himself a second time, as his stomach growled in anticipation.

Avi stepped aside and the rabbi finished the prayer service. Moments later, the rabbi whispered to Avi, "Are we counting only nine for a minyan now, Avi?"

"No, we had ten, Rabbi," Avi whispered back. "Didn't you see the big guy in the back?"

Avi motioned with his eyes to the rear of the synagogue. The tall policeman was standing alone in a dark corner holding the nightstick in his left hand while his right hand covered his eyes.

"Him?" the rabbi asked.

The rabbi stepped quietly over to Michael Fein, nudged him, and then pointed to the policeman in the back.

"He's Jewish?" the rabbi asked quizzically.

"His grandmother . . . on his mother's side," Michael said with a smile.

The rabbi completed the service, and everyone shook hands, bidding "Good Shabbos" to one another. The policeman vanished as soon as the service was over. Heshy and Yussie went out the rear door to the help the rebbetzin with Shabbat dinner.

A large hand tapped him on the back, nearly scaring the life out of himRabbi Levi escorted the other men to the front door and accompanied them to the sidewalk. It was a quick Jewish goodbye—it took only a half hour. The rabbi turned and went back to the synagogue. As he was locking the front doors, a large hand tapped him on the back, nearly scaring the life out of him.

The rabbi whirled around and found himself staring up into a face that looked like it had heard every lie and had seen every foul deed known to man.

"Uh, Rabbi . . . could I speak with you a minute?"

"Sure, Officer . . . Miller," the rabbi said, reading his nameplate.

The rabbi waited patiently while the large man stammered and shook, then finally mumbled, "Rabbi . . . this was my first time . . . I mean, I've been in a synagogue before, but never really been in one like tonight."

"Well, it was our pleasure, Officer, especially since I'm told you completed the minyan while I was called away."

The policeman looked around, as if to make sure no one was listening, and then he said, "My parents had no use for religion, Rabbi . . . and well, I've never prayed . . . never. But tonight, tonight I prayed . . . I didn't know how to do it, so I covered my eyes . . . and I opened my heart to whatever Higher Power is out there . . . I didn't know what else to do."

"Opening your heart is a very good beginning," the rabbi explained.

"You think so? Well, Rabbi, the thing of it is this. I'm at a point in my life where I need to . . . I need to believe . . . to believe there is something good underneath what I see - some days, it looks like everything is falling apart … people are so disappointing.... I need to believe that someone or something good put everything here . . . that there was a purpose, an intention, for man to be good. And if G‑d did this, I want to talk to Him . . . but I don't know how. Do you think I could come here again on a Friday night . . . and pray. . . when I need to?"

"We would be honored if you would join us, Officer Miller, and if you want to ask me questions afterward, it would be my honor to try to answer them."

The policeman sighed as if a heavy load had just been liftedThe policeman sighed as if a heavy load had just been lifted from his massive shoulders. He extended his hand to the rabbi—it was a hand that was as big as a baseball glove.

"Good Shabbos to you, Rabbi," he said, a big smile on his face.

"And good Shabbos to you," Rabbi Levi said, taking his hand in his.

And it was a good Shabbos, even though the Rabbi had been out, and it was even better when he returned.