My husband and I thought that we were going up north to see the bird migration in the Hula Valley. Hashem had more in mind.
Years ago we had traveled with the family to see the birds in the Hula Valley, but we had heard from a number of people about a new and innovative tour at the bird-watching center. Abe made reservations for the fall, when there is a tremendous bird migration.
Twice a year, 390 species of birds pass through the area on their way to Europe or Africa. Over 500 million birds pass through the Hula Valley each year! About 35,000 cranes arrive in the autumn months, and approximately 15,000 stay in Israel for the winter.
In order not to scare away the birds, there are tractors which pull a “theater-like” structure that is open on one side. The birds are accustomed to seeing tractors working the fields around the lake, so it seems that the “theaters,” filled with spectators, which slowly wind their way around parts of the lake, do not alarm the birds.
The late afternoon that we went was a busy one, with a number of tractors pulling the enthralled tourists. Each vehicle had a tour guide. The scene of thousands and thousands of cranes, as well as other birds, was awesome. I thought that would be the climax of our three-day trip up north.
To save money, we stayed at the vacation home of close friends instead of at a hotel or B&B. I had told my husband that on this trip, I didn’t want to cook, but to dine out. He agreed. (We usually eat out only twice a year – to celebrate our anniversary and our birthdays, both in July.) So while planning our trip, I had looked into kosher restaurants in the area.
One in particular had drawn my attention. It is a community restaurant that offers inexpensive dining. Its aim is to provide the town’s inhabitants, especially the younger crowd, with an inexpensive meal in a down-to-earth setting. Several times a week there is musical entertainment. I doubted that Abe would be interested in going to this restaurant because a bar featured prominently in the photo. To my surprise, Abe acquiesced. Before going there, we called to make reservations.
When we arrived, we understood that reservations were not needed. At first we were the only diners. What caught my eye upon entering was a young woman, dressed in a very short skirt, who sat at the end of the bar. I wondered what her story was.
The place was furnished with odds and ends. Sort of like what you might find left by a garbage dumpster or at a second-hand store or a garage sale. We chose a table and sat down.
One of the young men at the restaurant brought us the very limited menu. We ended up both choosing the same pareve dish. The woman who was sitting at the bar got up and came over to our table. It turned that she was the waitress. I asked her for her name. She told me that her name is Rivka Ginzberg.* I knew that she had to have come from a religious family because her parents would not have given her such a biblical name if they were not frum.
She continued, “You may have heard of my father, Akiva Ginzberg.” Immediately I thought of the murder of this tzaddik. “He was murdered on his way to [daven in a synagogue] when I was only six.”
Now I was beginning to put the pieces together and to perhaps understand what had driven Rivka away from a religious way of life. I told her that of course I knew of her father. My heart went out to her, and I engaged her in more discussion. She told us that she is the black sheep of her family.
She went to the kitchen to give in our order. The food was tasty and satisfying. At one point I left my husband to speak more to Rivka. She was outside on the restaurant’s roof, which serves as a dining area in warmer weather. Since there were few diners, she had some time to speak to me.
We had a heart-to-heart talk. She really opened up to me. She told me that she had spent time abroad and had been involved with non-Jewish men. She was now studying at a local college and working some evenings as a waitress to sustain herself. Several times during our conversation, we hugged each other.
We spoke about the existence of G-d. She told me that there isn’t really a difference in G-d’s eyes between Jews and non-Jews. I told her that it is true that all people are Hashem’s creations and all have a Divine spark in them, but that the Jews are Hashem’s chosen nation, the Am Segulah. I told her about some of the miracles in my own life.
She confided in me that just that day, she had been feeling really down. She told me how she often talks to her father, whom she barely knew before he was so barbarically slain by Arab terrorists. She told G-d that she wants to know if her father hears her and if He hears her. She told me that my presence that evening and the messages I had relayed to her had been a godsend.
Before we left, I asked Rivka for her phone number. We hugged each other again. I promised myself that I would keep in touch with her, despite my busy life. For several months I would call or text her. Once I sent her a video about how we Jews are a special nation. I have been davening for her that she return to a Torah way of life. (She told me that she has cousins in my vicinity, and so I asked one of them for Rivka’s mother’s name.)
To my dismay, since Chanukah, I have not heard from her. She neither answers my calls nor my SMS messages. Now, all I can do is daven that Hashem’s lost sheep returns home.
*Identifying details have been changed