The GPS had not been invented when Shelly set off on a Friday afternoon many years ago to join the Bnei Akiva camp in the English countryside. The organizers always managed to find a farmer who welcomed young campers under adult supervision; thus they set up their tents and during the week took the opportunity to learn the halachot of building an eruv. There would be no problems on Shabbat and they would be able to carry within the campsite.
Often they would have extra visitors over Shabbat. The cooks prepared as delicious a Shabbat meal as possible under the limited conditions, with as many trimmings as they could manage.
As a college student and senior member of the Bnei Akiva hanhalah, Shelly was meant to be one of those visitors. She set off early on Friday morning, but as time marched on she found herself deep in the countryside with just a vague idea of where she was going and the name of the farm – which no one she asked seemed to have heard of. Forget about no GPS; this was also way before cell phones had been invented. Shelly was totally out of contact with the campers.
She drove through one picturesque village after another, trying to follow her map’s route. Eventually, though, their quaintness began to wear rather thin and her panic started to increase. Although this was midsummer and Shabbat didn’t start until 8 p.m., she had no idea if she was even approaching the correct village and farm or was simply wandering farther and farther away.
The hours marched by and she realized that the chance that she’d find the camp before nightfall, and thus before Shabbat began, was becoming less and less likely. She was just going to have to spend Shabbat in the middle of the countryside. But where? There were no hotels, or even boarding houses, in these small villages – just the village pub (public house), always the focus of the local social life.
Shelly stopped at the next pub she saw and asked for a room to rent, where she could spend the night. Fortunately one was available, and after checking where the local grocery store was, she bought some fruits and vegetables, some tinned fish, and a few other kosher items. This would stave off her hunger pangs for the next day. She was sadly going to have to manage without challot and wine.
Upon returning to the pub, the helpful young man at the desk greeted her and told her to ring downstairs the next morning when she was ready for breakfast. Obviously she wasn’t going to eat any breakfast, but Shelly decided that a hot drink would be nice. She’d have to ask for it now, before Shabbat. “No problem,” the young man replied. “Just pick up the phone by the bed and I’ll send a hot cup of coffee up to your room when you wake up.”
“But I’d like to order it now for 8 o’clock – if that’s okay,” Shelly said.
“But why order it now; maybe you’ll sleep in until after 8,” he said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to wake you up. Call when you want it.”
Realizing that she would have to offer a reason as to why she was ordering the coffee now, Shelly started to explain that she was Jewish and that from sundown that night until sundown on Saturday night she wouldn’t be able to use the phone.
“Ah, I understand. Wow, that’s really interesting. Sure, I’ll make a note now to send you up the coffee tomorrow morning,” he said.
Shelly turned to go upstairs to her room, relieved that the episode was over and anxious to light the candles she had just bought.
“Umm, Miss…” the young man’s voice called up to her. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about being Jewish and all that?”
Shelly patiently turned around. “No, of course not. Go ahead.”
“You see, I’ve always been a bit interested because my grandmother was Jewish. But I’ve never met a real Jew, you know, someone who practices being Jewish.”
Alarm bells went off in Shelly’s head.
“Which grandmother would that be? Your mother’s mother or your father’s mother?”