It was a beautiful winter day in 2004 as I walked out of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. Since it was 3½ years into the Second Intifada, I was careful; I didn’t take buses; I took taxis to go wherever my next cell phone call or email took me – crisscrossing the country and speaking with survivors of terrorism as I worked on my doctoral dissertation research.
“Take the first taxi in line,” my regular cab driver, Shuki, told me as I started to hop into his cab for the short ride to a last-minute appointment at Alyn Hospital. A ten-minute drive – not my usual hefty fare to faraway Haifa in the north or Beer-sheva in the south. Disappointed, Shuki played by the rules that day and sent me to the cab at the front of the line.
My new driver – Jonathan, according to the tag on the doorpost – greeted me in a familiar accent. “So are you from America?” I asked.
“I was born in Far Rockaway, New York, but I came to Israel when I was ten years old – 32 years ago.”
“Oh, I grew up in New Jersey,” I answered, instead of “I am from Detroit,” where I had lived for over thirty years, thereby serendipitously turning the conversation in an unanticipated direction.
“My grandparents were from New Jersey,” he responded as if it was nothing.
Even though there are probably over a hundred thousand Jews in New Jersey, I then asked, “And who were your grandparents?”
My heart skipped many beats then – and every time I tell the story – as he answered: “Chana and Azriel Gerstein.” My Rabbi and Rebbitzen; he married us; they’ve known me most of my life and were dear, dear friends of my parents in New Jersey and in Jerusalem, where both couples had made aliyah.
There are 2,000 taxi drivers in Jerusalem, 20,000 in Israel, and this is the one that I got into that day – and every day for the rest of that visit. I knew that the Rabbi had passed away and that 96 year-old Chana had memory loss and had moved, but I didn’t know where. Jonathan told me that she now lived in a different apartment on French Hill with a full time caregiver.
A few days later, Jonathan was driving me around the country and at the end of the day I asked him, “Can you take me to see your grandmother?”
“Dina’s daughter,” she exclaimed as Jonathan and I entered her apartment. Although she no longer knew her grandson, Chana immediately recognized me. We talked together. We remembered old times. It was just unbelievable! I wondered if it was a miracle? A coincidence? Serendipity? Fate? Luck? Chance? Synchronicity? Bashert? Meant to be? Or the hand of God?
That was the last time I saw my dear Rebbitzen – she died shortly thereafter; and the last trip that I shared with Jonathan, who moved on from driving a taxi after only a short, and synchronously timed, stint as a taxi driver.
There have been many other occasions in my life when I knew that I was meant to be in a certain place or to say just the right word in order to make a connection; and each time it reminds me of that moment in time when God’s hand turned me to Jonathan’s taxi on that beautiful day in Jerusalem and reunited me with his grandmother – my Rebbitzen.