MAROONED ON A FARAWAY ISLAND
October 20, 2015
Beis Moshiach in #992, Shlichus Stories

The story of two sisters, young girls who took a flight from Eretz Yisroel and instead of arriving at the Rebbe for Rosh HaShana, landed in Newfoundland. * A first-person story told in two installments about shlichus on the way to the Rebbe

By Nechami Genuth

This story happened fourteen years ago. When my sister and I chose to fly to the Rebbe on 23 Elul in 5761, we considered it a problematic date, but did not dream that this day would be historic.

We got a bargain flight on a Belgian airline with a short stopover. It was nearly a week before Rosh HaShana and we knew that since we were leaving early, it was almost certain that we would be the only Lubavitchers on the flight. And since this was the first time we were flying not on an Israeli carrier, we were a little worried about how we would manage.

When we arrived at the airport, we still hoped that we would find other Lubavitchers, but were disappointed. As we waited at the stopover in Belgium, we expected that all the additional passengers would be non-Jews and we were almost correct, but then we noticed one tall bachur. He wore a black yarmulke, had a little beard, wore a colorful mesh shirt and jeans. He did not look Israeli and it was only later that we learned that he was from a Chabad family.

On the flight to the US, most of the passengers were not Jewish, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that most of the Israelis were concentrated together in the front of the plane. At a certain point, we noticed that there was a Chabad Chassid in the back who must have boarded the plane at the last minute in Belgium, but we did not attribute much importance to this at the time since we were sure that the hardest part of our trip was behind us. Little did we know, we were at the beginning.

27 PLANES LANDING ON A SMALL ISLAND

It was almost one in the afternoon, American time, and we were supposed to land in about an hour when we heard someone say, “Oy, we escaped terror in Eretz Yisroel and now terrorism has pursued us to America!”

I did not understand what was going on (English is not my strong point and the stewards spoke in English and French), but I saw that the people around me were very upset. Unfortunately, we were used to news of this kind in Eretz Yisroel, which had experienced nonstop terror that year, and many of the Israelis on the flight were there because they wanted a break from that atmosphere.

We soon learned that the 9/11 terror attack which had occurred in America directly affected us. Plans had changed and we could not enter the US. Passengers were asked to put on their seatbelts because we were landing.

Twenty minutes later, the plane landed, I had no idea where. The doors opened just to air out the plane. There were no stairs and we could not go out.

The moment the plane landed, people surged for business class. This was because in business class there were phones, which were not available in the regular section. The people returned disappointed.

“We can’t make calls, the system is down due to the huge number of calls being made.” I realized that something very serious had occurred but still did not know what happened and what our next move would be.

“So what do we do now?” I asked the lady behind me, an Israeli in her fifties who seemed to fly frequently.

“It looks like we will have to return to Belgium.”

“Then why did we land here?” I asked.

“Because the plane has to refuel,” she explained.

“How long will it take?”

“It can take a long time because we are in a very tiny airport and there are another twenty-seven planes waiting just like us.”

The plane was abuzz. People were having a hard time remaining in their seats. Most of the passengers got up, moved around, looked for someone to talk to ease the tension, and a babble of languages could be heard. We still did not know what happened.

Like everyone else, we walked around the plane and tried to glean information about what happened. I suddenly found myself facing the American guy with the yarmulke.

Our eyes met, we were quiet, but he was convinced we had approached him especially to ask questions. He uttered the following line in Hebrew, in a heavy American accent accompanied by pantomime, “A plane went into the Twin Towers.” We realized this was an evil terrorist attack and not an accident.

WHAT DOES HASHEM WANT OF ME NOW?

We continued walking around on the plane and I met an Israeli woman who was bent over a map.

“I am trying to find where we are now.”

“Where are we?” I asked curiously.

“We are on an island,” she said, surprising us.

“Really, an island where?”

“We are at the airport in S John’s, the capital of Newfoundland.”

Who would have believed we would get stuck on an island! I thought of all those thrillers I had read about forsaken places, from stories of the Baal Shem Tov to modern stories like The Lost Children of Tarshish. I felt like we had landed deep in an exciting plot and had instantly become the heroines of an adventure book.

“What do you think – why did this happen to us?” my sister asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, and I quoted the verse, “the hidden things are to Hashem, our G-d,” which popped into my mind.

“So what does Hashem want of us now?” we wondered.

We tried to strengthen our emuna, to believe that everything Hashem does is good and if we came to this place, it was with His divine providence. We had read stories from the time of the Baal Shem Tov in which he sent people to faraway places. It was only for them to arrive at some brook that had waited since the Six Days of Creation for a Jew to come, wash his hands in its waters, and recite a bracha. And now, here we were …

We decided that the best thing to do was to learn Chitas. We opened to the week’s parsha and began reading the portion for Tuesday in Parshas Nitzavim. It was very short and ended with the verse I had quoted, “the hidden things are to Hashem, our G-d, and the revealed things are to us and our children forever to do according to everything the Torah says.”

That was exciting. I had been learning Chitas every day for years, but I had never had anything like this happen before; it was inspiring.

AN IMPROVISED CHASSIDUS SHIUR

“How about we learn the maamer Chassidus we learned before?” my sister suggested. Before we left, we decided to take along material to learn on the flight to the Rebbe. We took some thin booklet so it wouldn’t be heavy to carry it. What we did not check out was how heavy it was in content… We took it without realizing it was deep and had abbreviations we did not know.

We had started learning and stopped in the middle. Now we decided to try a little harder. My sister suggested we ask the Lubavitcher we had seen earlier whether he knew the acronyms that were unfamiliar to us.

I agreed and that is how we became acquainted. We asked him to clarify the acronyms and he invited us to sit down in the two empty seats opposite him that were empty at the time, and he would teach the maamer to us. We agreed and he began to explain the maamer and managed to hold our interest. We had not noticed that we had drawn the attention of the passengers around us.

One non-Jewish passenger was so impressed by the surprising sight, as the entire plane was in turmoil, and there we were, sitting and calmly learning. He asked whether he could take a picture of us. It was only after we finished learning that the Lubavitcher introduced himself as Levi Yitzchok Garelik, and we realized he is the son of R’ Gershon Mendel Garelik, the shliach in Italy. He told us that ever since he married, he was living in Crown Heights.

R’ Garelik told us that he was returning from a family wedding in Italy and was on the way to a wedding of a friend in the US, but since he did not find a direct flight, he took this one. He said he is a mashgiach for kashrus and he flew often. As he spoke, he took out a treasure, his cell phone! He asked us for our home phone number and offered to call his wife, when calls could go through, and have her call our parents in Eretz Yisroel.

We took the opportunity to ask him some halachic questions connected with the flight and then went back to our seats with some sense of relief. For the past many hours I had been nervous – how would we inform our parents where we were? I was excited by the hashgacha pratis that the one Chabad Chassid on the flight was one of the few passengers who had a cell phone, and the fact that he was in Italy and had been forced to fly via Belgium just magnified the hashgacha.

We sat down and had no idea what would happen next. Nobody knew how long we would remain here, whether we would be able to enter the US that day or have to fly seven hours back to Europe.

WE REALIZED
WE ARE ALONE

An hour went by, and another. The sun was setting and it was only after being stuck on the plane on the ground for eight hours that we got the signal to disembark. We were also told that only women could take their personal belongings off the plane.

At that moment, the thought went through my mind to offer my help to R’ Garelik, but for some reason, I was shy. I tried to convince myself that if they said so, there was a reason for it. I assuaged my conscience by thinking that if R’ Garelik had something particularly important that he wanted us to take for him, he would ask us himself. I did not consider that perhaps it would be hard for him to do so and I did not realize that we had not given him enough time to reach us. All the Israelis around us quickly rose and hurried toward the exit and we were afraid to lose them. It was hard for us to separate from them; we had become friendly with some of the girls and in a Hebrew speaking environment it was much easier for us, so we hurried too.

We went outside where night had already fallen. It was dark and cold. Fortunately, we had coats with us, though we still joined the rush to escape the cold and we were among the first to reach the nearby building.

We walked into the small, one story structure that was not reminiscent of an airport terminal. We had to have our bags checked and then we were sent to a bus waiting outside. We boarded the bus which was already packed and immediately began moving. It was only when were inside that we realized that we were on our own, surrounded by non-Jews. Somehow, we had managed to lose everyone else.

We were very tense, having no idea where we were going, we understood nothing! Why were we taken off the plane? For how long? To do what? The most stressful thing of all was that we had nobody to ask. We were alone in a strange place about which we knew nothing. We felt like two little girls who were lost in the big, wide world.

After a short drive, we stopped. We entered a circular sports stadium which had big signs that said “Canada,” and I realized that this island belonged to Canada.

In the center of the hall were huge screens on which you could watch the terrible attack that occurred in New York. There were bleachers to sit in and in the outer circle was a circular hallway where tables were set up with food, fruit, bottles of beverages and dozens of phones which could be used to make free calls anywhere in the world.

We decided to call Eretz Yisroel. We spoke with our mother and she sounded calm. “I was very nervous until Mrs. Garelik called me. Now that I know he is helping you, I am relaxed.”

We did not want to make her nervous again by telling her that we had no idea where he was at that moment. There was a long line behind us waiting for a phone and we hung up.

WHY DIDN’T WE THINK
OF TAKING HIS T’FILLIN?

People slowly gathered and we met the Israelis from the flight once again and felt better. Then we noticed R’ Garelik walking with the tall American bachur and were somewhat calmer but not completely so.

R’ Garelik looked more concerned than he did on the plane during that long wait. He said to us, “You can take whatever you like from the fruit and water.” Then he said in a determined voice, “Wait here, I’m going to get my t’fillin!”

That one short sentence contained two messages. One, wait for me meant that from now on you are under my supervision, which made us feel relieved. We knew that we could not manage in this place on our own. Second, the t’fillin! Oy! How come we hadn’t thought of his t’fillin when we got off the plane? How could I forget R’ Garelik’s need for his siddur, wallet, kosher food, and t’fillin? It never occurred to me to help him with that.

I felt bad for not having done the right thing and wanted to ask him, why didn’t you ask us to take it for you, but he had disappeared, together with the American bachur and another friend that he had discovered there.

I had no idea how he planned on getting his t’fillin, but I noticed the determination with which he said it. He did not say he would try, he said he was going to get them! That’s an enormous difference. He was going to fight for his t’fillin and would not return without them!

Why didn’t he ask us to take his t’fillin for him?

And if he had asked, would I have been able to explain to a non-Jew who never saw t’fillin, what they are, and how precious they are to a Jew who uses them every day?

Well, we had hurried off the plane without thinking too much and now we were waiting, alone.

Would he be successful? I had a feeling he would be, though I did not know how. But he seemed convinced! But then I feared he wouldn’t be, and then I felt guilty again for not having offered help. Would he get his t’fillin back still tonight? Would he try again in the morning? How long would it take him to come back? We were anxious.

In the meantime, we waited and waited. We did not consider leaving without him. We had already had that helpless feeling when we went on the bus, all alone, and we preferred waiting for him.

Thousands of people passed by. Every few minutes the door opened and a planeful of passengers walked in. The Israelis had vanished long before, I did not know where to, and more and more people kept coming and going. We realized this was a way station but did not know where people went from here.

We sat in a corner somewhere and watched. The people around us looked under stress and not surprisingly, for all plans had been disrupted, baggage was taken from them, and they had come, against their will, to a place so different than where they had planned to go.

Among the hordes of people we could also see “our hosts,” the local people. They were giving out food and drinks and even blankets. They welcomed everyone with a smile and a compassionate demeanor that was so very touching. We waited there a long time and were given much caring attention. They came over every few minutes and offered some refreshments. Most of the food wasn’t kosher and we had to make do with bananas, oranges and bottles of water. We were really impressed by them.

The residents of the island managed to dispel the tension somewhat, but not enough, because time was passing and R’ Garelik still had not returned.

Another hour and another hour went by. We were tired after hours of no sleep, confused by the turn of events, and if the place hadn’t be so well lit up and bustling with people, we could have easily slept there.

We said the bedtime Shma and it was only by a miracle that we did not fall asleep, and then finally, we saw him.

RABBI GARELIK TOOK CARE OF US

R’ Garelik came back at 2:30 in the morning, accompanied by the American bachur and a frum guy whom he met who was invited to the same wedding, and some local non-Jews. The main thing is, he had the t’fillin and he was elated.

We relaxed. I was happy to see the t’fillin and I could dispense with my pangs of conscience. He was happy that we had waited for him.

He felt fully responsible for us, Chabad girls from Eretz Yisroel that he had first met on the plane, and was so glad we hadn’t disappeared once again. We did not ask him how he had gotten his t’fillin back and he did not tell us.

“There are some very good people here,” he enthused. “It’s a very small city. On an ordinary day, by 9:00 they are all home and in bed, but today …”

We went outside where a surprise awaited us, a magnificent limo. We were invited inside. The inside of the car looked like a living room. There were two very comfortable couches, one a seat for two and the other, longer one, could seat three. In the center was a coffee table and the walls were adorned with a homey display window and other decorations.

R’ Garelik looked amazed by it and he exclaimed, “Chassidim, l’chaim! Let’s farbreng!”

Upon getting his t’fillin his mood was elevated and he looked like one whose every problem had been solved.

The trip was short and a few minutes later we exited the limo and entered a large building whose function I could not discern. The building was nearly empty. Some young people stood in the entrance and next to them were exercise mats. They looked friendly and they asked us, “Which language do you understand better – English or French?”

R’ Garelik motioned to them to leave us alone because we only spoke Hebrew and that he would speak on our behalf. I was so happy that there was someone to replace me in that exhausting endeavor of trying to speak English, at three in the morning, no less.

He spoke to them for a minute or two and then two Canadian girls joined us and we all went to the second floor. We stopped at one of the rooms and they opened the door for us and we saw a piano and two mats. Each of us was given three new blankets. Then they opened the room next door which also had a large musical instrument alongside three mats where R’ Garelik and the men went.

We spread out the blankets, one as a sheet, one as a pillow, and one as a blanket. We did not change our clothes because our luggage remained on the plane, and we did not know when we would get it. Where were we? Why was there a piano in our room? When would we get our clothes? Where would we sleep the following night? None of these questions bothered us at that time. We were so exhausted that the moment we lay down, we immediately fell into a deep sleep.

To be continued

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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