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Tuesday
Oct152019

Hoshana Raba in the Australian Outback

By Mendy Dickstein  •

 – 1 –

There are Chabad Houses that seem to churn out moving stories that sound like they were taken from stories of the holy Baal Shem Tov recounted on motzoei Shabbos. The following story comes to us from far away, from the Chabad House for Hebrew-speakers in Melbourne, led by the shliach, Rabbi Dudu Lider.

Erev Yom Kippur:

R’ Lider, his family and a group of young mekuravim to his Chabad House, prepared for the holy day.  An air of calm and seriousness could be felt.

Suddenly, the door opened and in walked ten Israeli tourists. They wanted to stay at the Chabad House for Yom Kippur. At first, R’ Lider thought they were just a group that happened to be passing through the city but he found out that they actually lived and worked in Mildura, seven hours away. Although they were not religiously observant in everyday life, they decided they could not allow Yom Kippur to pass like any other day.

They informed their bosses that they were going on a two-day vacation without pay and they boarded a bus to Melbourne to spend Yom Kippur in a place where they could feel the holiness of the day. They had given up nice money but spending Yom Kippur in a Jewish place was more important to them.

They spent Yom Kippur in heartfelt prayer, and right after breaking their fast they went to the bus station so they could get to work on time the next day.

Their mesirus nefesh greatly moved R’ Lider. He decided that if they sacrificed for the mitzva, he had to have mesirus nefesh for them. He wanted to surprise them.

One of the last days of Chol Ha’Moed Succos, R’ Lider and his people built a mobile succa on a flatbed truck belonging to a contractor in Melbourne who provided his personal vehicle for this purpose.

Late in the evening, R’ Lider and his team traveled to Mildura, intending on reaching their destination early in the morning, before the Israelis went to work.

The nighttime trip wasn’t easy, not only because they were tired but mainly because of kangaroos that are out and about on the roads at night.

The many roads that cross the Australian desert are bitter enemies of the kangaroo. Every year, hundreds of kangaroos are killed by passing vehicles and dozens of people are killed in these collisions. The kangaroos tend to jump out suddenly, in the dark of night, because the noise and lights of cars arouse their curiosity.

Indeed, that night, as they drove, the shluchim had a big kangaroo jump out right in front of them. It was a miracle that saved them at the last second from a fatal collision.

The shluchim had to stop; it took them a long time to recover from the traumatic episode. At first, they considered returning to Melbourne but then they decided to continue. They really wanted to bring the Yom Tov to those Jews.

 – 2 –

The nighttime drive was exhausting and boring as they crossed the monochromatic Australian desert. After every hour of driving, the shluchim stopped to refresh themselves (which included dancing around the vehicle with music for Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeiva).

At seven in the morning, as planned, the shluchim arrived in Mildura. They parked the vehicle with the mobile succa opposite the hostel where the Israelis lived and waited for them.

Two minutes later, the door opened and the fellows came out yawning. Some of them rubbed their eyes and some were looking for some wakefulness in their coffees. They walked across to the bus stop to wait for the transportation that would take them to the farms around the city for another day of work. The physical and spiritual distance were so great that none of them remembered that it was Succos.

Then suddenly, there was a succa, a real succa! And the Chabad guys and Chassidic music! It seemed like a dream to them. They were so excited! Some of the tough young men who worked at hard physical labor on the isolated farms even shed a tear. Those days, fifteen years ago, before the era of communications as we know it today, which can remind a person with a voice, picture and video … They had nothing to remind them of the holiday and then, out of nowhere, a succa appeared.

In the meantime, the drivers of the Australian vans arrived to pick up the Israelis and bring them to their jobs but this time, they did not hurry to get on board. The drivers began honking impatiently to get them to hurry.

Then, as though on an assembly line the dozens of Israelis entered the succa, one by one, took a lulav and esrog, said mezonos and “leisheiv ba’succa.” Only after a “shehakol” over a cup of l’chaim did they head off to their ride while finding it hard to remove their gaze from the succa and the Chabadnikim who remained behind and who had come especially for them.

When they had all left, the Lubavitchers dismantled the succa so they could drive home more quickly, but Hashem had other plans for them.

 – 3 –

A moment before heading back, one of the bachurim stuck out his head and shouted out the window, “HaRav Dudu, we have a flat tire!”

A flat tire isn’t a big deal. They got off the vehicle to fix it but they quickly discovered that that day was a national holiday in Australia and all the stores, including flat repair shops were closed.

The situation, which began with an unpleasant but tolerable and solvable mishap, began to unravel until it was feared that the guys wouldn’t make it back to Melbourne by evening. It was a distance of seven hours in the Australian desert and they would be missing from the Chabad House on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, which was out of the question since they were a central part of the big simcha.

Having no choice, they began knocking on doors of nearby homes to find out whether anyone had a spare tire. They were even willing to buy a tire at any price, the main thing being to get home before Yom Tov but either nobody answered the door or they opened the door and couldn’t help them.

Two of the shluchim tried their luck further down the street and knocked on one of the doors which was opened by a middle-aged man. Before they could say anything, he looked at them and said, “You’re from Israel?”

When they said yes, his face lit up and even before hearing their request he said, “Since you are Israelis, I want to help you.”

“Why?” the surprised shluchim asked.

Instead of responding, he invited them in and showed them a picture on the door of the fridge in the kitchen. It was a picture of a woman and two girls. “This is my wife and two daughters,” he said proudly. “My wife is Israeli and in honor of your holiday, she took the children to Israel to visit her parents in Rechovot. This is the reason that I feel a deep connection with Jews, coreligionists of my wife.”

Then he asked, “How can I help you?”

The two of them told him about the punctured tire and how all the stores were closed. He led them to the garage attached to his house and took out a new tire which he gave them as a gift. Although the tire was for a regular car and did not fit the van which they were using, they didn’t have many choices. They decided to set out with the new tire in the hopes that when they exited to the main highway they would find an open place that would fix the tire before they got on the never-ending desert highway. They hoped that since this highway was so central to the region, the store would be open even on the holiday.

To their disappointment, they found that although the gas station was open, the tire shop was closed. When they consulted with the gas station owner, he looked at the tire with the eye of a not quite expert and said he thought it would take them to Melbourne.

The shluchim decided to rely on him. As they drove off, R’ Dudu asked, “Why? Why did Hashem give us the flat tire?”

The tmimim had no answer.

“Just a minute,” he said. “Maybe we have a shlichus here. Maybe the owner of the gas station we just left is Jewish. Maybe all this unpleasantness we experienced was for us to meet him?”

Thoughts like these are meant to be acted upon rather than simply pondered. He turned around at the earliest possibility and returned to the gas station where he went into the office and asked, “Are you Jewish?”

The man smiled. “No, I’m not Jewish, but since you’re asking, I know a Jew, the only Jew in the entire area. He lives nearby,” he said pointing toward a house.

The shluchim parted with a handshake and went to the house and knocked.

“Who is it?”

“Emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” they said.

“What?! The Lubavitcher Rebbe?” The door was flung open by a man about 60. He invited them in and urged them to make themselves comfortable in the living room and quickly produced a document that turned out to be his genealogical tree. The shluchim were astonished to discover that the man was related to the Rebbe’s family.

Of course, they had him shake the lulav and before they left they took his information and promised to be in touch.

Some time later, the rav of the community in Melbourne, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, went to visit the man several times. The connection, started by divine providence on Hoshana Raba, was maintained.

The shluchim got a late start heading back home. They made it back safely, despite the challenges of driving on a tire that did not fit. They celebrated Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah at the Chabad House with great joy, and of course the story of the trip was at the forefront of their minds.

 – 4 –

Half a year later it was seder night. Around the festive tables in the Chabad House sat dozens of guests. At “Shulchan Orech,” R’ Dudu got up with a bottle of wine in hand. He began to pour l’chaim to the participants while getting to know them.

“Are you Rav Dudu?” asked an unfamiliar woman. The woman introduced herself and said she was the wife of the man who helped them in Mildura by giving them a spare tire. She said that after she returned home with her daughters from Eretz Yisrael, her husband told her about the visit of the Chassidim to their home a few days earlier. When she heard this, something in her heart moved and she began to feel an inner disquiet; something was bothering her and she didn’t know what, until she realized it was her neshama crying out. After much thought, she decided to return to her roots, to Judaism and Eretz Yisrael.

She had separated from her non-Jewish husband and was celebrating Pesach in Melbourne on her way back, for good, to Eretz Yisrael with her daughters.

***

“A few days ago,” concluded R’ Lider, “I went to visit my parents in Lud. One day, as I was davening in the Chabad shul there, a bachur with a beard came over to me. He was wearing a hat and jacket and he shook my hand warmly.

“Do you recognize me?” he asked.

R’ Lider tried to remember but couldn’t figure it out. “Do you remember that Succos when you came with your friends to Mildura with the mobile succa?” R’ Lider nodded. How could he forget?

“My name is Sholom. I was one of the guys who worked in Australia. You should know that from the day that I said the bracha over the lulav and esrog and sat in the succa, my soul gave me no peace.  A short while later, I quit my job and left Australia. I returned to Eretz Yisrael and began to seriously look into learning Torah. I went to a yeshiva for chozrim b’teshuva,” he said with a big smile.

“Today,” says R’ Lider, “he is a Chassidishe young man in every respect.”

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