My father Paul has an astonishing way of teasing out the hashgacha pratit, Divine Providence, from every situation. The miraculous coincidences he consistently spots in his own life appear to him as readily as invisible ink under a blacklight, and my siblings and I have always wondered what supernal zechut, or merit, allows him these rare glimpses behind the Divine curtain. It is believed that when you are on the lookout for God you will find Him. My father is a God-spotter, and I would have never believed his latest sighting had I not seen it with my own eyes.
This story both begins and ends in a small synagogue on Staten Island. Thirty years ago, my father observed that a particular patch of the island was populated by a sizeable Jewish contingency without a local synagogue to unite them in their Jewish identity. He enlisted a longtime rabbi friend to institute one, and the shul still stands today, flourishing as ever.
Though my father lives in another area of Staten Island, he has been intermittently involved with this synagogue since its inception. One instance that my father has never forgotten occurred about one year after the synagogue’s provenance. A member’s daughter was perilously ill, and the synagogue’s rabbi appealed to the Staten Island Jewish community for help. My father decided to donate $5,000 towards the ill girl’s medical treatment. However, before my father sent out the check, the young girl had unfortunately passed away.
One evening shortly after he heard the news of the young girl’s passing, my father, troubled that he never had the opportunity to give the charity he had designated, received a call from his brother, who was in Canada at the time. “Paul,” my uncle said, “I just met a man who flew in from Israel to have his sick baby treated. The little boy has an incredibly rare disorder, and his only chance at survival was with this experimental treatment. The baby’s father is now left with medical bills he can’t pay, and he is desperate. Can you help?”
Upon hearing this, my father went into God-spotting mode — he saw God nudging his intended charity in a different direction. And so, he donated the $5,000 to a baby he had never met.
Years went by and my father never heard what had become of that fated check. Recently, upon retiring from his business, my father has found more time to spend at the Staten Island synagogue where his friend still presides as rabbi. My father relishes in revisiting old friends and making new ones as well. During one of my father’s Jewish outreach brainstorming sessions at the synagogue, he met Chaim. A young Israeli expatriate who had recently moved to the United States, Chaim knew nothing about Staten Island, and moved there based on a coworker’s recommendation. He Googled local synagogues (of which there are many), purchased a home which was close enough to one of the Googled synagogue results, and became a member of the shul, which happened to be the same shul my father had originated many years before. When the rabbi, my father’s old friend, began to face health issues, Chaim offered to be the rabbi’s caretaker, and took on the role of driving him to speaking engagements and medical appointments.
Though they are a generation apart, my father and Chaim shared an immediate, inexplicable connection. They both shared an interest in Jewish outreach, and began making plans to benefit Jewish students in the local community college.
One night, after an evening of volunteer work, my father came home to a few missed calls, and a frantic voice message from Chaim. “Paul! Call me back. I can’t believe this.” It was past midnight, but my father called his friend back. Chaim was choked up, struggling to get out the words. “I went to a wedding tonight and saw my father,” he managed. “He came in from Israel, and brought a few things to show me. He pulled out a check and pointed to the name on it. My father asked me, ‘Do you know this man from Staten Island? He saved your life.’ Paul! The check had your name on it!”
My father did not understand, and Chaim continued. “When I was born, twenty-nine years ago, I had a very rare medical condition. The doctors told my parents the only hope was to go to Canada and try their luck with a new procedure. My parents were desperate. I had no chance otherwise.”
My father was stunned.
Chaim continued his story, unearthing decades-old miracles. The experimental procedure, which turned out to be the first successful surgery of its kind, left Chaim’s parents with a financial burden they had no way to relieve. Until Chaim’s father happened to have met my uncle, who decided to call my father for help.
“Chaim,” my father said slowly, when the full scope of the story’s narrative dawned on him. “Do you realize this only came about because of the rabbi’s appeal to his synagogue for that young girl? And now, you are taking care of the rabbi, repaying him for how he saved your life as a baby? Don’t you see why God sent you to Staten Island, to the shul where it all began?”
My father, the God-spotter, has spent decades searching for Divine Providence. When you look hard enough, he has learned, you will find Him.