A Fateful Meeting In The Middle Of Nowhere
By Shlomo Even-Rokeach

Mendy went to the public phone and called home. "Look in the phone book and tell me if there’s a shliach anywhere nearby." It turned out that the closest shliach was forty-five miles away. It was ten minutes before Shabbos...

Mendy nervously wiped his brow as he drove. He searched frantically for a sign of a familiar location. The Shabbos Queen was quickly approaching. What should we do, he asked himself with increasing trepidation…

A few days before, Rabbi Akiva Wagner, who taught at Oholei Torah at the time and is now rosh yeshiva in Toronto, had asked some bachurim to join him for the Shabbaton he was making in Tannersville, in the Pocono Mountains in upstate New York. "That way we’ll be sure of a minyan and you’ll be able to help out with the group who will be attending the Shabbaton."

On Friday, the group of talmidim went to Rabbi Wagner’s house in a rented car. They loaded up Rabbi Wagner’s car with boxes of food, and filled their car with disposable utensils and plates. Rabbi Wagner left immediately, but the bachurim went on mivtzaim as they always did on Fridays, and left later in the day. Rabbi Wagner gave them instructions – take Highway 80 towards the mountains and then take exit 20. From there you’ll easily find the way by following the signs. It should take you three hours," he added.

About four hours before Shabbos, the boys left in high spirits, little realizing what sort of Shabbos was in store for them. They easily found Highway 80, but hadn’t yet reached exit 20. Mendy Chanin, the driver, was the first to suspect that something had gone wrong. He looked at his watch and saw they had been traveling for over three hours and the names of the towns they were passing were completely unfamiliar.

Mendy said nothing to the others, continuing to drive with mounting concern. When he saw there was only twenty minutes until candle lighting, he stopped at the first possible place and asked passersby how to get to Tannersville.

People looked at him in surprise, for they had never heard of such a place. "There isn’t any such place around here," they said. It turned out they had left New York behind long before, and were deep into New Jersey. They realized there was no way they would get to the Shabbaton, and the question was whether they had time to get to a Chabad House, or at least to a place with a shul.

Mendy called home from a public phone and asked whether there were any shluchim in the area. The nearest shliach was forty-five miles away and there was nothing remotely Jewish nearby.

It was just over ten minutes before Shabbos.

"What should we do now?" Mendy’s mind worked feverishly. He drove the car into the nearby town. A sign greeted them: Welcome to Allamuchy. It was a small town where they found a cheap motel. They got a room and then raced over to the supermarket to get some food for Shabbos.

They found ketchup and mayonnaise with proper kashrus certification, bottles of beer, fruits and vegetables, as well as a large bag of soup nuts. Hunting among the disposable stuff in the car, one of the bachurim found a box of fish, which had been placed there by mistake, as it were, and a bottle of mashke. Then it was Shabbos.

The bachurim gathered in their small room and began davening. If there was no minyan or shul, they figured, at least the davening would be done right. They began singing a hearty "Lecha Dodi" when they were interrupted by angry knocks on the door. The neighbors complained about the noise, so the rest of the davening was subdued.

They spread the Shabbos meal out on the table, made Kiddush on beer, said l’chaim, and ate the quarter of a piece of fish each of them was allotted as well as soup nuts. Once they said l’chaim, all the warnings were forgotten and the singing grew boisterous again. Again they were interrupted, this time by the manager, who came to quiet them down and warn them, "If you don’t want to find yourselves another place to spend the night, pipe down!"

After the meal, the bachurim retired for a night’s sleep. Many of them had to sleep on the carpeted floor, as the room contained only two beds. The next morning, they got up to learn Chassidus, as they had plenty of sifrei maamarim and Likkutei Sichos. One of the boys said, half in jest and half seriously, that they had to find a mikva, because otherwise, how could they learn Chassidus?

Apparently he meant it seriously because he tied a towel around his neck and went out to find a mikva. After about ten minutes, the bachur returned with blackened skin. It turned out that he hadn’t found fresh water, but a filthy marsh.

They learned Chassidus as if they were in yeshiva. The Shacharis and Musaf that followed lifted their spirits a bit. They sat down for another Shabbos meal of mashke and soup nuts (the fish had been eaten the night before) and they went back to learning.

In the afternoon, one of the boys suggested they go out and look around. "We didn’t come here for nothing," he said. "Divine providence sent us here. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a Jew to talk to."

They all agreed and left the motel, some in pairs and some alone. Mendy went down the long street until he stood on the edge of the main road which divided the town. His train of thought was broken by the screech of brakes. "Vos tut a Yid in Allamuchy um Shabbos?" (What’s a Jew doing in Allamuchy on Shabbos) someone asked him.

Mendy, utterly surprised, peered at the car. An older woman sitting there asked how it was that a boy with a beard and Chassidic garb found himself in such a far-flung place. Mendy briefly told her how he and his friends had lost their way, and concluded with, "The Baal Shem Tov said that everything that happens is by Divine providence. Apparently I came here in order to meet you and to convey a message to you from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that Moshiach is about to come and we must add in acts of goodness and kindness to hasten and prepare for his coming."

The woman listened for a while as she sat in the car, and then abruptly sped off…

When Shabbos was over, the Tmimim quickly packed up and headed for home. There was a somber mood in the car as they thought of the Shabbaton, which was probably not that successful on account of their absence, and about their own bizarre Shabbos.

A year went by. Mendy and the other bachurim went off on shlichus to various points around the globe, and then returned to 770. Friends, who hadn’t seen each other for a long time, shared shlichus stories. Yosef Konikov (today a shliach in Orlando, Florida) returned from Sydney, Australia.

One day Yosef met his friend Mendy, and they reminisced about the Shabbos they had spent in the hinterlands. Yosef jumped up as he suddenly remembered something.

"One day a young Jew showed up at the yeshiva in Sydney who was very interested in Moshiach, the Nasi HaDor, and Judaism in general. He attended classes for a long time and made significant strides towards observing a Jewish life.

"One day I got into a conversation with him and I asked him what had inspired him to come to yeshiva. It turned out that a few months before, his mother had traveled through Allamuchy in New Jersey and had met a young Lubavitcher standing on the side of the road. He had told her about the Nasi HaDor’s proclamation about the imminent Redemption and the need to add in goodness and kindness. As it turned out, she was so moved by the encounter that she called her son in Australia and asked him to go to the nearest Lubavitcher center to find out more about the subject.

"What I learned from this is that we must do all we can to spread the besuras ha’Geula. Divine providence will then send us wherever we have to go."


Mendy Chanin
"We didn’t come here for nothing," he said. "Divine providence sent us here. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a Jew to talk to."


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