We were literally in “seventh” heaven. The Sabbatical year in Eretz Yisrael was almost too good to be true. My husband was enjoying a rare break from his hectic schedule of teaching and administrating and was thrilled to be able to instead sit on the other side of the desk, quenching his perpetual thirst for knowledge. The entire family felt blessed to have so much heretofore unheard of quality time with Abba, while living in the Promised Land and participating in frequent exciting family activities and touring opportunities with the program. We unanimously agreed that our proverbial cup had indeed runneth over.
Like everything else in life, however, this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience came with a price tag. Soon the time came to pay the piper. We loved living in the Holy Land and had sacrificed much over the years to realize that dream. Now we had to sever our ties and uproot ourselves from the land we so passionately adored and the life we had so painstakingly built there. The cost of this solitary year of blissful existence was extremely high. Like our forefathers throughout the generations, we made a commitment to leave our sacred land and start anew in a foreign city.
According to the program’s terms, we were required to remain chutz la’aretz a minimum of three years. Consequently, as the fantastic and memorable shenat Shabbaton began to wane, my husband accepted a principal’s position at a kindergarten-12th grade Modern Orthodox day school about a two-day’s drive from New York.
Before moving there with our seven children, however, my husband and I flew to our new city for a whirlwind visit to prepare the infrastructure for our relocation. Aside from hosting us during our stay, the school’s wonderful executive director and his lovely wife were indispensable in assisting us with our critical and accelerated house-hunting campaign. With their help and support, we were able to locate a beautiful spacious home in their neighborhood that would suit our family’s needs perfectly. We agreed on a price, signed an agreement with the middle-aged owners, and returned to Israel to pack and prepare for the major transition.
Then we got a call. The homeowners were contrite and apologetic in the extreme, but admitted that although on a practical level they no longer needed a house that size, the woman’s sentimental attachment to their home remained as strong as ever. Despite the fact that their children had grown up, married and moved to homes of their own, their mother decided that she could not bear to part with the beloved house where she had raised them. In short, we were once again without a place to live in our destination city. And now we were over 6,000 miles away with the clock ticking audibly, counting down to the big move.
The school’s administration valiantly mobilized to save the day. We were sent dizzying home videos of some prospective homes they had toured for us and detailed descriptions of others. Finally we felt compelled to take a leap of faith and select a house to purchase, long distance and sight unseen.
Baruch Hashem, the executive director and his wife had chosen well. After we landed and were taken to see our expensive surprise purchase, we were very happy with their decision and pleased with our new home. All was well in the world – well, almost.
Because of the delay in buying a house, we now found ourselves having to wait a month until we could assume title and take occupancy. The nine of us were left effectively homeless.
Understandably, we were depressed enough to have forsaken our homeland; this was certainly not the warm welcome we had hoped for and anticipated. We had no family for many hundreds of miles and could not afford to stay in a hotel for a month, even if that were feasible. And who in his right mind would host nine strangers for a solid month?
The answer was not long in coming.
A couple of malachim descended to earth to rescue us in our time of need, opening their beautiful home and their magnificent hearts to total strangers with infinite warmth and grace. And contrary to all logic, they were not laid-back “blaganistim,” whose home resembled the aftermath of a tornado. Indeed they were possibly the neatest, cleanest, most organized people we had ever met. Not to mention that our hostess was an outstanding cook and balabusta.
We still cannot be totally certain that they were in their right minds when they extended their magnanimous invitation; even if they had been, it was unlikely that they would remain so after four-plus weeks with seven lively youngsters invading home and hearth.
Despite our justifiable apprehensions, our month’s stay flew by like a dream. But in subsequent retellings over the years, our delightful host, z”l, often stretched the number to two or three months, with his trademark wink and incomparable sense of humor.
Homeowners and invited guests survived unscathed, which in itself exceeded our wildest expectations and conceivably qualified as a nes nigleh. Remarkably, when our new home was ready and moving day arrived, instead of rejoicing and fervently reciting “birkas ha’gomel” and “baruch shepetarani” there were sincere heartfelt wishes on both sides that we could extend our stay.
A month earlier, we had entered their home and their lives as complete strangers. A few short weeks later, we had succeeded in forging an enduring and infinitely precious lifelong friendship.
Now, 18 years since that fateful initial encounter, we bless the seeming misfortunes that ultimately rewarded us with that priceless gift. And we marvel at our eternally regal and extremely beloved hostess who finds time for us on virtually every one of her frequent visits to the Holy Land. Those brief reunions are like rare and valuable gems, and are eagerly awaited and savored.
We consider ourselves truly blessed that we can call this remarkable woman one of our all-time favorite people and a genuine friend. May we, and all who are fortunate enough to know and love her, continue to learn from and emulate her incomparable example. May she see nachas and berachah from her wonderful mishpacha until 120 – and beyond.Naama Klein
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