Photo Credit: Jewish Press

My husband and I like to plan our vacations to venues that have a strong Jewish connection. On our list was Salonica, a city whose famous port was closed on Shabbat in deference to the Jewish majority that lived there. In fact, in the 16th century the city boasted the largest Jewish population in the world!

We had Googled the regular touristy information, including Hop-On Hop-Off buses, archeological sites, Jewish museums, shopping and more. We also noted the warnings against unscrupulous taxi drivers and pickpockets.


We were excited to join Helena, our Hebrew speaking Russian-born guide, married to an Israeli from Bet She’an, who led us in a tour of the Jewish highlights and other sites. The morning weather was pleasant with light intermittent showers and the streets and markets were not crowded. As we entered the dimly lit entrance to one of the markets, I helped an elderly lady navigate a broken step. Moments later, a woman in our group called over to me that my small backpack was wide open. How could that be? I never left it open! I was always so careful! I lowered the bag from my shoulder and immediately searched for my wallet. Gone. I emptied out the meager contents on the bench and verified my loss. Stolen! One man in the group berated me for carrying it on my back, instead of in front. But others in the group comforted me, telling of their own pickpocket misadventures in Turkey, India and Prague. Someone offered me money, since my cash was stolen. An English speaking couple offered to get us a taxi to return to our hotel. I didn’t need this assistance because my husband was at my side, but I appreciated the concern and compassion.

I made light of the loss. I produced a wan smile and announced to my caring Israeli group, “Gam zu l’tovah.” My passports were safe in the hotel, and 140 Euros was not a fortune. I drank some water – at least the thief didn’t steal my water bottle – but I was shaken. Such a chutzpa he had! And such a fool I was to fall into the trap of helping an elderly lady while her partner helped himself to my wallet.

That, unfortunately, was our first surprise.

We took a taxi back to the hotel and reported the theft to Barbara, the sympathetic receptionist. My husband immediately cancelled my credit cards and ordered replacements. Then I sat down over a cup of coffee and chocolate, made a short list of the stolen contents of my wallet, and tried to figure out how to get replacements. The driver’s license would be easy – just order it online. Same for my Health Fund card. I would have to go in person to a nearby office to replace my RavKav bus ticket, but the money on it would be transferred automatically to the new card. Anyway, I would be happy to have a new photo taken because I looked awful on the stolen card. The cloud over my head was slowly dissipating as I realized that things could have been so much worse. After all, I wasn’t mugged or injured. Even the wallet itself- the zipper was broken and anyway I had intended to buy a new one while on vacation.

But that dark cloud returned, accompanied with a shower of tears that I had stoically held back until then. I realized that my teudat zehut, my Israeli ID card, had been in my poor wallet! Replacing that would cost me a lot of time, aggravation, and 150 Shekels. I couldn’t bear to face the long, long wait for an appointment with the Ministry of Interior, then another long wait inside the cavernous ancient building along with dozens of anxious citizens straining their ears for their numbers to be called. I suffer an allergic reaction every time I go near that building!

To cheer me up, my husband shlepped me out to the local shul for mincha/maariv. As I davened from a siddur I picked up in the shul – with annotations in Ladino and an introduction in Greek – I prayed in the language of my heart for help. A kappora on the money – but I need my cards!!

On our way back to the hotel my cell phone rang. It was a local number. Who in Greece could be calling me? It was Barbara, the hotel receptionist, who told me that I must come right away because two men were waiting for me in the lobby.

Within minutes we arrived and met Micha’el, a Jewish Greek guide and his Israeli pal, Yigal. We sat down as Yigal unfolded his tale. The two friends had just been walking in the market when Yigal noticed something dark blue with Hebrew letters in the gutter. He thought that maybe his teudat zehut had fallen out of his pocket! But when he opened it, he saw the photo of a woman. He showed it to Micha’el who noted that since the woman was wearing a head covering, she was probably staying at the Astoria Hotel where the Chabad Center is located. They phoned the hotel, and sure enough, I was registered!

Barbara and I hugged each other in glee as my husband thanked Micha’el and Yigal profusely and gave them a mini-shiur on the importance of the mitzvah they had just performed.

And that, fortunately, was my second surprise!

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Zelda Goldfield is freelance writer living in Jerusalem for over 40 years.