I’ve Gotta Tell You This Story

A few weeks ago, we went to NYC for the weekend. We took the bus up on a Friday and got to spend a whole extra hour in traffic. I don’t know what I was thinking leaving at 3:30. Actually, I was thinking maybe I’d make it out of DC before the traffic. Nope.

But at least I wasn’t driving. We had WiFi on the bus, snacks, and a bathroom if needed, and the trip went smoothly. We got to Manhattan and had dozens of options for places to eat dinner within steps of the bus station.

Manhattan wasn’t our destination, though. We were meeting up with some other people in Queens in the morning and I thought it would be easier to get there the night before. So we ate and then made our way out there.

Is Queens a suburb? I don’t know. My dad was born in New York and lived there until he was about 16, but it was never my home and I’ve been only a handful of times. In any case, they had free-standing houses there and fewer skyscrapers and a giant indoor arcade where we played for hours the next day.

But this story is really about what happened when we went to The Statue of Liberty. It’s The Statue of Liberty, you know? I’ve heard of it. Who hasn’t heard of it? But I’d never been there.

We had reserved tickets weeks in advance and so we went to get in line for the ferry at our appointed time. We were ushered through security where I was asked to remove sunscreen and water from my backpack and my belt from my pants, but was allowed to walk through with a metal bracelet. Go figure.

On the other end of security we were waiting with some kids in our party while their parents and their parents’ bags and sunscreen and water were being examined more closely. We were told that we couldn’t stay where we were because we needed to move on once we were through. I explained that we were waiting with the kids while they waited for their parents.

The security guard and I had a long conversation about whether I could be in charge of the kids while the parents finished up, or whether the kids could stay with the parents… We thoroughly examined all the possibilities until the parents were cleared (what a coincidence that we finished our conversation at that exact time!).

We took the ferry over to the island, ate lunch, went through another round of security at the statue, and walked up 200 steps or so to the pedestal. We got great views of the skyline, the water, and each other. It was lovely weather and so much fun!

But we had a 4 pm bus to catch, so I thought we’d better leave the island by 2:00. We started to say our goodbyes, but, it took longer than expected. That’s okay. It’s only a 15 minute ferry ride back. We retrieved our checked bags and went to get in line for the ferry.

It turned out the line was right in front of us. It stretched more than a block from the ferry and wasn’t moving. Uh oh. I called the bus company to find out our options. They had one ticket on the 5:00 bus, one ticket on the 6:00 bus, and the same for the 7:00 and 8:00.

We had to make the 4 pm.

Looking back, I guess I could have cut in front of several hundred people, just saying excuse me and explaining that we had a bus to catch. That works with New Yorkers, right?

But we stood in line, drinking fresh squeezed lemonade and having an extended visit with the rest of our party who had joined us in line. For an hour.

Okay, so we were on the ferry at 3, we’d be back in Battery Park by 3:15. We wouldn’t be the first ones seated on the bus that left from Penn Station, but I really did think I could count on others to switch seats so I could be with my child.

But the ferry back isn’t 15 minutes. The ferry “back” first stops at Ellis Island. We got off the boat at the southern tip of Manhattan at 3:35. And as soon as we did… said child announced that she desperately needed to pee (oh, that lemonade!).

And before I tell you what happened next, I want to ask you these questions:


I could have just told the story like this: Once we were running for the bus.

It’s the same story, kind of. The background gives you more to relate to, though. You hopefully even want to know what happened next. And the same is supposed to be true in the Torah. This week we read the first part of the book of Deuteronomy. It starts like this:

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan¬†— that is, in the Aravah¬†— opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

And then there’s this:

This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

Get it? DC, NYC, traffic, Queens, Statue of Liberty, buses, lemonade…

These days it might be easier to relate to lower Manhattan than Dizahab, or to kids with full bladders at inopportune moments rather than Og, King of Bashan. But the idea is the same. These details are here to give context. So here’s my radical idea:

If these details don’t give you context, skip them and move on.

But don’t stop. Just like you wouldn’t stop reading every book in the world if you came to one that didn’t speak to you, or never watch TV again because of not liking one show, just move on. But don’t ditch the whole thing. Because like with books and TV, you’d miss too much.

And here’s what happens just after getting oriented in the book of Deuteronomy. One of the things that Moses says to the Children of Israel is: “…behold, you are this day as the stars of Heaven for multitude.”

Thanks to reading past King Og and King Sihon, I got to see that sentence. And that one has a ton of meaning to me. Because many generations before Moses said that, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of Heaven.

And whether you believe in God or that promise or not, it’s a nice reminder that sometimes things take a lot of time to come to fruition. God had promised that to Abraham a couple of hundred years earlier. Abraham wasn’t there to see it, but it happened.

I literally cannot wait a couple hundred years to see something come true. But I can have confidence that what I do in my lifetime can impact the lives that come after mine, and that even if I don’t live to see it, what I do now matters.

We know that, right? But sometimes it’s nice to have reminders. Especially because waiting can be so hard.

Well, that day in NYC, we didn’t have to wait for the bus. We ran off the ferry and out of the park to the nearest taxi. We hopped in, full bladders and all, and the driver started toward Penn Station. He asked what time the train was, and I told him we’re actually taking a bus that leaves from 30th and 7th at 4:00. It was 3:42. And Google Maps said we’d be there in 25 minutes.

I called the bus again, but the woman at the switchboard had no contact with the driver. We pulled up to the corner at 3:59. I said a silent prayer of thanks for 1. our lives — we made it that fast safely, and 2. having cash in my pocket – if I’d had to pay with a credit card it would have taken too long.

We raced out of the taxi and up to the bus and my foot touched the step at 4:00 exactly. We boarded and went to the back. Indeed someone switched seats so that we could sit together. We dumped our bags on the seats and went straight to the restroom. Thirty seconds later, the engine went on, and we were on our way home.

About the Author
Esther Goldenberg is the founder of Out-of-the-Box Judaism. Her books The Out-of-the-Box Bat Mitzvah: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Milestone and A Story Every Week: Torah Wisdom for Today's World is available on Amazon.com and at other online booksellers. Join the conversation at http://bit.ly/OutoftheBoxConversation
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