A young woman walked into our community Purim party with her delightful children. As we chatted, I mentioned I’d be visiting Israel in a couple of months for my father’s yahrtzeit, and she asked a favor. “My great-aunt lives in Israel. Would you visit her on my behalf? She’d be thrilled to see you.”

I agreed, although upon closer consideration my agreement made little sense. Perhaps it was the result of the l’chaim I’d said; I had no doubt that on any other day I wouldn’t have agreed. Not because I didn’t want to visit this woman’s great-aunt, but because I was going to be in Israel for less than three days, and I wouldn’t even be visiting my own grandmother or my many aunts and uncles who live there, simply due to lack of time. So, how could I visit this woman I’d never met, who is the great-aunt of someone I had met only a handful of times?

But a commitment is a commitment, so before getting on the plane I took down the contact information for Mrs. Esther A commitment is a commitmentS. of Ramat Gan.

My second day in Israel was the eve of Lag BaOmer. My mother and I travelled to Meron, the resting place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, to celebrate the holiday with thousands of other Jews.

My return flight to Canada was to depart the following day at 1:10 PM. I left early in the morning, planning to stop and visit Esther to give her regards from her niece and other family members.

Unfortunately, as I neared the center of Israel, traffic became heavier and slower, and it quickly became clear that detouring to visit Esther would mean risking my flight. Traffic wasn’t moving, so I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Esther’s number. “Hi, it’s Rabbi Meir Kaplan from Victoria, B.C. I have warm regards for you from your family in Canada who are doing well. I was on my way to visit you, but I’m so sorry—traffic

is hardly moving, and I won’t be able to make it in time.”

“I’m expecting you, and looking forward to meeting you,” she responded, kindly but firmly. “Where are you now?” I realized I wasn’t really being given a choice . . .

“Okay, I’ll try my best,” I said. “I have your address, but I’m not quite sure how to get to you…”

“Don’t worry,” she instructed. “When you get to Ramat Gan, just park your car and take a taxi. I’ll pay for it when you get here.” I looked at my watch; it was 10:10 AM. Just three hours until my flight, and I was about to head in the opposite direction from the airport . . .

I knew how much this visit would mean to Esther, so I took the exit to Ramat Gan and began looking for an available taxi. “My friend,” I called through the window, “Can you show me the way to Tirtza Street? I’ll pay you when we get there.”

“Follow me,” the driver said, as he began weaving through the narrow city streets. In case I wasn’t already short on time, as we approached the next traffic light a driver making an illegal U-turn hit my car. After an initial bout of rage and yelling, the driver calmed down enough to take pictures and exchange information. Now I had an accident to deal with, but more importantly, I’d lost another 15 minutes of precious time!

Seven minutes later, I was knocking at Esther’s door. After a few minutes of silence, an elderly woman stepped out of the elevator looking concerned. “I’ve been waiting outside for you. What happened?”

“I’m so sorry,” I explained, “but I’m thrilled to be here now. I wish I could stay for longer, but I have only about “Do you know what today is?”10 minutes; my flight from Ben Gurion Airport leaves in just two hours . . .”

Esther led me to the kitchen and began talking. “I’m so excited. I don’t know where to begin,” she said. “Although I am not a religious woman today, this is not the real me. I suffered a lot, like many of the Jews of my generation, so I’ve walked away from my roots somewhat . . . But let me show you who I really am.”

She gestured to a pile of documents and photographs she had prepared for our meeting, pulling out an old newspaper. “Look, that’s me in the front row, soon after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen,” she said in a shaky voice. “I grew up in a chassidic family, and attended a Beit Yaakov school.” I looked carefully at the picture—Esther was part of a parade with other young women, holding a sign which read, Tziyon b’mishpat tipadeh v’shaveha bitzedakah—“Zion will be redeemed with justice, and its captives

with righteousness.” Then I read the Yiddish headline, “Big Lag BaOmer Celebration in Bergen-Belsen Camp.”

“Do you know what today is?” I asked Esther. “Today is Lag BaOmer! This picture was taken of you celebrating today’s holiday exactly 66 years ago!”

Esther’s face turned white, and tears streamed down her cheeks. She hadn’t realized the significance of the picture and our meeting on this day—Lag BaOmer. I, too, was overcome with emotion as I thought of the divine providence that led me to meet with Esther that morning, despite the many obstacles.

I spent most of my trip back to Canada lost in thought. The image of these young girls, who had lost their entire families and childhoods to the Nazis, marching with Jewish pride on Lag BaOmer on the blood-soaked soil of a death camp, stayed with me. Sixty-six years later, Esther is a true testament to the strength of our nation.