By Moshe Levi, Community Shaliach
Friday, March 31, was already a busy day in the Global Connections department. We had two Shabbatonim (weekend retreats) taking place for our teens – one for the Project Gesher teens and the other for Diller. I came in to the office in the morning to make sure everything for the weekend was ready and that our groups would enjoy an exciting Shabbat.
While I was sitting with my colleague Justine Reuben, finalizing last minute details, I got a call. On the line was Zohar Maimon, the regional director of the Jewish Agency for the Northeast. She needed our help...
She explained to me that a group of 11 teens and one staff person, a delegation from Rechovot, Israel, was stuck at Newark Airport, on their way to Minneapolis. There were complications with their paperwork and they were not able to make their connecting flight. She asked if there was any way we could find the group a place to stay as the next flight they could get was after Shabbat.
My first thought was, where will I possibly find a place for 12 people to stay on a Friday at 11 a.m., a week before Passover. But then a second thought came into my head – I’m in GMW, the world champions in home hospitality and hosting visiting delegations. I said to Zohar, “Give me an hour.” So my colleague Randi Brokman and I hit the phones. Our first call was to Cantor Caplan of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell to ask if he thought that people from his community would be able to help. His answer confirmed my feeling – he said, “Of course we’ll help. It’s a mitzvah!”
With a bit of a plan in place, I called the Israeli group leader. She sounded exhausted. She told me the kids were disappointed and were very nervous to go to strangers’ homes. And to make things worse, they had just found out their luggage was on its way to Minnesota and that they had nothing with them. I promised her that her teens would have wonderful time and suggested that they make a quick stop at Jersey Gardens to get some basic clothes. Meanwhile, Justine and I headed to Costco to pick up snacks, Randi picked up a meal for Saturday afternoon from Jerusalem Restaurant as they were closing for Shabbat, and we met the group at 5 p.m. at Agudath Israel.
We had four families to host the entire group. As we took the kids to their temporary homes, you could see their anxiety lift as they realized they were in good hands. The Rose, Eisen, Gurland, and Brokman families (who have all been involved in our Global Connections Living Bridges programs) provided them with Shabbat dinner, a place to sleep, anything they needed, and a warm welcome. When I returned to check in on them the next day, it seemed like they had always been here. And by the time they were ready to head back to Newark to move on with their journey, they were sad to say good-bye to their new friends and said they considered themselves part of the Greater MetroWest family.
For me this incident was even more personal because my first Shlichut position was in Minneapolis. For two years I served there as a youth movement Shaliach for USY, so I have a warm place in my heart for that community.
After the kids were settled and I went home to get ready for Shabbat myself, I got a text from the partnership coordinator in Minneapolis. She wrote, “I understand you helped our group, thanks for everything.” For me it was a nice way to start my Shabbat, connecting the two places I served as a Shaliach. But more than that it showed me the strength of our community and the powerful message we send on the eve of Passover – “Anyone who is hungry, let him come and eat, anyone who needs to, come and partake in our celebration” – these are the words we will all read when we sit at the Seder. What a great reminder of our tradition as we enter the Holiday of Freedom and Hospitality.