11 Cheshvan 5781 / Thursday, October 29, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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Just Three Days...

When we have the desire to perform a mitzvah for its own sake, Hashem can and will move mountains and worlds to enable us to fulfill it.


Sunday morning, three o’clock, Jerusalem
I quietly tiptoe to the kitchen, trying to remain calm while dialing the San Francisco number. I wait impatiently until a stranger finally picked up the phone in the hospice and gently informs me that my father’s bed has been vacated. Although the house is silent, my emotions are screaming.
On Friday afternoon, just a few moments before ushering in the Shabbos queen, I had been told it was only a matter of minutes. The rabbi had said that I was to begin sitting shivah the moment I would hear of my father’s death. Now, in the pre-morning stillness, I quietly tear my blouse to fulfill the requirement of kriah and begin sitting.
9:00 a.m.
Life, death, weddings… so much has happened in the last year.  Soon we will be marrying off a child, our third within seven months. Three weeks ago, I spent Shabbos in the hospital, helping my daughter give birth to my new granddaughter. Two weeks ago, we hosted a kiddush in shul. This past Shabbos was spent with the knowledge that my father was probably not alive. Next Shabbos I’ll be sitting shivah, and then, the following Shabbos we’ll be celebrating my son’s ufruf, and then Shabbos sheva bruchos.
Isn’t it strange how we measure time with Shabbos?
My husband returns from shul and informs me that after hearing a few details, the rav decided that I should begin sitting shivah from the time of the funeral. That would be Tuesday night Israeli time, late Monday morning Pacific time.
I phone a travel agent to ask if it’s possible to get to San Francisco in time for the funeral. While waiting for her return call, the children from the nursery school that I run begin arriving, and I am busy on my neighbor’s phone making alternate arrangements for them.
Is it insane to travel to the other side of the world for this mitzva?
10:05 a.m.
The travel agent returns my call. There is a flight leaving Ben-Gurion Airport for Newark, New Jersey, at 11:30 a.m. The ticket will be waiting for me at the airport. My connecting flight from Newark leaves at 6 p.m.; the travel agent, however, cannot issue me a ticket for that flight as there is less than two hours leeway.  During that one hour, I will have to buy a ticket and catch the flight to San Francisco.
My husband orders a taxi while I try to locate my American and Israeli passports. I notice that my American passport expires in another ten days.
Since I cannot use my Israeli checks or credit card in the United States, I need cash to purchase the ticket in Newark. I had $950 in cash to pay for the wedding hall. I stuff it into my wallet before grabbing an overnight case and stuffing in my pajamas and my husbands slippers (which looked as though someone had torn kriah already).
As I run to the taxi, my neighbor comes out with a bag of food for the way. But I cannot think of eating.
10:40 a.m.
We’re stuck behind a slow moving truck and I feel as though I’m about to burst. Doesn’t that driver realize that he’s slowing us up? I must catch that plane. Now I understand why an onen? a close relative of the deceased ? is not allowed to fulfill positive mitzvos such as davening or reciting a bracha. My entire being is so wrapped up in this one mitzvah that I cannot think of anything else.
11:00 a.m.
We arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport. I dash out of the cab, hoping my husband will be able to find me later.
I race to the check-in counter. They send me to the ticket counter. Pushing myself to the front of the long line of people waiting to purchase tickets (and hoping the people in that line will judge me favorably) I quickly explain to Rivka, the woman manning the counter, that the travel agent told me that my ticket would be waiting for me.
But there was no ticket waiting for me. For her to issue a ticket at such a late hour, I would need Yitzchak’s approval.
I sprint off to Yitzchak, only to find him deeply engrossed in a phone conversation. I try to catch his attention while not interrupting him.
Yitzhak finally finishes his conversation, and lets me know that he cannot give the approval – that’s Rivka’s job.
11:07 a.m.
Back to Rivka. She reiterates that she needs Yitzchak’s approval. My husband has joined me and together we jog back to Yitzchak while I explain the problem. Yitzchak finally finishes another phone call and tells me that it’s not in his hands. Only Rivka can issue a ticket. We return to Rivka.
Just before we reach the ticket counter, Rivka shouts, “I have your ticket.”
I took out my checkbook. “Pay the travel agent when you return. Go!”
11:15 a.m.
I race to the check-in counter, but they send me for a security check my one handbag. There’s a long line of passengers waiting for the security check.
“Who’s your boss?” I scream. My fellow passengers are angry with me for disrupting their check-in. I hear people whisper, “She could have come a little earlier.”
Someone sends me across the room to a senior security guard. But he refuses to check my bag at such a late hour without Yitzchok’s authorization.
Back to Yitzchak! My emotions are waving between jubilation that I’ll make the flight, to despair that I won’t.
11:24 a.m
Yitzchak is talking on the phone again. I am waiting for him to finish, not knowing whether to scream in frustration or just forget about traveling. When he finishes his call, he nonchalantly tells me that it’s too late for me to catch the flight. 
“Security and passport control takes at least half an hour, and the flight is leaving in less than ten minutes,” he explains.
“But if you took me through, it would only take a few minutes,” I plead.
He shrugs his shoulders.
My husband and I slowly return to Rivka. “Perhaps you can travel through Europe,” my husband tries to encourage me.
Rivka sees us and jumps up with eyes ablaze. “What a chutzpah! I’m going to try to get you on that plane!”
My emotions are careening.
11:28 a.m.
Rivka and I race through the airport. Security? I get pushed to the head of the line (let those people fume). It’s the end of December, and the airport is packed with tourists returning home after their holiday. We push our way through crowds, jumping over suitcases.
Both Rivka and I are panting as we finally reach the loading gate. Rivka grabs the personnel phone and orders a car to take me to the plane. Together we run down to await my car.
I do not know how to express my gratitude to this wonderful woman who put herself out in order to help me fulfill a mitzva. Tears spring to my eyes. Finally, I manage to catch my breath and thank her, but she just says that she hopes I will make my plane. As I get into the car, she says the traditional words of comfort said to a mourner:  “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
It feels like a balm to my soul.
11:35 a.m.
The car races across the tarmac. In the distance, I see the stairs being removed from the plane.  The car stops next to the plane and I run out, leaving my handbag inside, screaming “rega, reeegaaah!” (one moment) at the top of my lungs.
The army officer standing in front of the plane waves his arms and shakes his head to let me know that I cannot board the plane.
“That’s my plane! Let me on,” I scream at the top of my lungs.
“Forget it, it’s gone!”
“It’s not gone, it’s right here.” I argue.
“But lady, forget it. It’s gone. ”
“It’s not gone. It’s right here,” I repeated. “I see it with my own two eyes.”
“It’s gone. We’ve taken away the stairs. The door’s sealed. You cannot enter that plane.”
“I have to get to my father’s funeral. If I miss the plane I’ll never make it on time.”
“Lady, you can’t go. Catch another plane.”
I am desperate. I look the officer straight in the eyes and say, “You have an opportunity to perform an incredible mitzvah –chesed shel emet? if you allow a Jewish daughter can go to her father’s funeral. How can you not pass up such an opportunity? Just think of the reward you are letting slip through your hand by refusing such a mitzva!”
“Lady, you have  more  chutzpah  than brains. Go, and may G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
He radios for the stairs to be brought back and I am allowed on the plane.
11::42 a.m.
The plane takes off and I breathe a sigh of relief. I wonder if I will actually make it.
My mind goes back to the conversation I had that earlier that morning with my sister. She had told me how the entire family had converged in my father’s room right before he passed away. My niece had arrived directly from the airport.  My father’s wife had been home sleeping when a “wrong number” woke her up. The Rabbi just “happened” to walk in and say “Shema” with my father. And then, a few moments later, he returned his soul to his Maker, in the presence of most of his family. The hand of G-d was so very obvious.
11:46 a.m.
A strike closes Ben-Gurion airport, leaving a large number of holiday tourists stranded. The airport reopens twelve hours later. My flight was the last to leave.
The steward serves lunch and I request a glatt kosher meal. A few minutes later the steward returns and apologizes, “We only have one extra glatt meal. It’s fish.”
I only found out later that an onen is not allowed to eat meat.
5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (midnight Monday in Jerusalem)
The plane lands in Newark, New Jersey. I have one hour leeway before my connecting flight departs. But there is one major problem; as much as I try, I cannot remember the name of the airline with the connecting flight to San Francisco.
I arrive in a cavernous room mobbed with people waiting in a snake like line to get through passport control. It will take at least two hours to get to the head of the line.
I run to the woman directing people to the end of the line, and try to explain that I have to catch a plane so that can attend my father’s funeral. She, however, is unresponsive.  “EVERYONE’S gotta wait in the end of the line,” she bellows.
I stand in line and turn to the person standing on the other side of the rope of our snake-like line: “Please, excuse me, could I cut through. I’m afraid that if I wait, I’ll miss my connecting flight to my father’s funeral.”
I find myself being pushed towards the head of the line. AS I crawl beneath the ropes separating the lines, I hear the people above me explaining that I had to catch a plane to my father’s funeral. At one point the rope above me snaps and the room fills with flashing lights and sirens, but I am almost out the door.
5:15 p.m.Eastern Standard Time
Although I passed through passport control, I can barely move through the throngs mobbing the airport. Besides, I have no idea where I am supposed to be going. I cannot remember the name of the airline that I am supposed to be flying.
I look at the posted lists of flights, but there are no flights headed for San Francisco nor are there an information booths. I frantically run through the airport looking for someone to help me and notice a uniformed man standing near the train that connects the terminals.
 “S”cuse me,” I begin, barely able to breathe. “I have to catch a 6:00 flight ?at least I think it’s at six ?to San Francisco. But I can’t remember which airline I am supposed to fly.”
He asks to see my ticket.
“I have to buy it. But I can’t remember the name of the airline,” I try to explain.
The man is incredulous. “You don’t have a ticket and you can’t remember the name of the airline. Are you sure you want to fly to San Francisco?”
But when I explain the circumstances, his expression changes. “Let me make some phone calls for you,” he says as he walks over to the pay phone.
A few minutes later he tells me that there is a six o’clock flight to SF, but it is overbooked and reserved passengers are being bumped.” I decide to see if I could make it.
5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
I take the train to the proper terminal and dash to the ticket counter. I decided that id I would not succeed in traveling to San Francisco, I would remain in Newark and return on the next plane to Israel. But please, HaShem, I pray, let me make it.
Someone makes room for me at the head of the first-class line.  I race to the ticket counter, and explain that I need a flight to San Francisco, hopefully the flight that is scheduled to leave in less than twenty minutes.
The woman at the counter informs me that the cost of a round trip ticket is  $1,600. I’m shocked. “But I don’t have the money, and I must get to that funeral.”
“A funeral?” the woman asks. “I’ll speak to my superior and see if we can give you a bereavement ticket.” The bereavement ticket costs $945. When I left Israel, I had stuffed $950 into my wallet and I am now left with five dollars cash. With the flight overbooked, I am traveling standby.
6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Huffing and puffing, I arrive at the boarding gate. The flight is full and reserved passengers are being turned away.  I explain to the woman at the boarding gate why I must get on this particular flight. She boards the plane to do a head count, although according to the computer there were no extra seats. Several minutes later, she returns and informs me that there is one seat available.
The young Chinese woman sitting next to me starts a conversation. I tell her about the incredible Divine Providence that I am experiencing as I travel to my father’s funeral. She begins to cry, explaining that her family lives in mainland China, and she has always feared that if something were to happen to them, she would not make it home on time. My heart goes out to her.
I remember coming to Israel, just short of my eighteenth birthday. I wanted to build, to live in the palace, to be close to the King. At the time I was unaware of the difficulties of being so far away from my family ? of raising my children without aunts, uncles, cousin, and of course grandparents; of being so faraway and helpless in the face of old age and infirmities. Had I been aware of the difficulties, I am positive that I would have made the same decision, and remained in Eretz Yisroel. Yet I feel the pain of being so far away and helpless, and appreciate this young woman’s empathy.
10:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (Monday 8 a.m. Israeli Time)
My flight is scheduled to arrive in another hour. It is almost twenty-one hours since leaving Tel Aviv and more than twenty-eight hours since I had made that phone call.
What will I do when I arrive at the airport? The funeral is not until tomorrow morning and my father’s home is a two hour drive from the airport. I feel uncomfortable calling at this hour. I am sure that they are exhausted from their ordeal, just as I am exhausted from mine.
I certainly don’t expect anyone to be waiting for me at the airport.
11:20 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, San Francisco International Airport.
I begin looking for a quiet bench to spend the night when a young man dressed in black approaches me. “Nice guys wear black, Mrs. Shapiro. I am your escort and will take you wherever you need to go.” I am overwhelmed.
“A malach, a living angel,” I exclaim, “can I ever thank you?”
Yerechmiel is floored by my reaction.
Everything is a blur of exhaustion and emotions… Kisses, hugs, tears.  I bury my father and remove my shoes to begin the shivah.
Tuesday, 04:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time
I wake up after just a few hours of sleep. I am physically and emotionally drained. I spent the night in a luxurious hotel together with my niece.
I quietly get dressed to meet my airport shuttle. I am embarrassed to walk through the airport in my husbands torn slippers, so I don my leather shoes. Just as I’m about to tie the one of the laces, it tears in half. The woman at the reception desk informs me that the hotel is out of shoelaces. I have no choice but to wear my shivah shoes.
7:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time
The flight is scheduled to leave in one hour. I am seated on a chair, reciting Tehillim. When I look up, I notice a large group of middle age tourists seated comfortably on the plush carpet. I realize that if they could sit on the floor without embarassment, then there was no reason for me to remain on the chair. I lower myself (or perhaps I should say raise myself) to the floor.
9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Newark Airport
I feel so alone. I cannot wait to return to the warmth of my family. Shivah is not a time to be without family and friends. Although I am surrounded by people, there is no available to share my pain, to console me.
I board the plane. Just as I begin to get settled in my seat, the woman in the row ahead of me turns around to ask a question. She notices that I am a mourner.
“If you need to talk with someone, I am here, and if you wish to be alone, that’s fine with me,” she says.
I am overwhelmed by her empathy. She concludes with the traditional words of consolation ? May the Almighty console you amongst the mourners of Jerusalem.

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