It was obvious to my husband and I that we would spend part of our honeymoon in Israel, despite having traveled there together just a year before. We both agreed that spending a week in Israel right after our wedding would really elevate our spirituality as a married couple. Really, I think we both just craved the place. This was to be my 20-something trip to Israel, but the first one as a married woman. People looked at me like I was crazy for choosing a place we have both been so many times and someone even commented, “You’ve made it through so many trips there and have come back safely, isn’t it enough already?!” No, it is never enough. Thank you for your feedback.
After spending an incredible week in Greece, we boarded our El Al flight from Athens to Tel Aviv. As expected, tears rolled down my face after the flight attendant greeted me with a big smile, incredible ponytail (seriously though, how do these women achieve such pony tails?!), and a warm “Shalom.”
We found our seats and after a short flight we landed in Israel. We proceeded to pick up our rental car from Shlomo Sixt, laughing and talking about all of our memories from the year before in our car also rented from Shlomo Sixt that for whatever reason we named “Cleo.”
We drove three hours north to check into our first hotel, the Setai Galilee. The place was everything I was hoping it would be. That night, after a perfect dinner, complete with all of the Israeli pomp and circumstance that comes along with a night at Decks in Tiberias, we confirmed with my husband’s little sister that we would meet her for dinner the following night in Tel Aviv. My new sister-in-law had just completed her Birthright Israel trip, and as it was her first time in Israel, there was obviously no way that I would miss seeing her. Even if it meant driving six hours round trip on my honeymoon.
The next morning, we woke up to rain. It was very strange to see this rain in June, and so set in a very real, terrible gut feeling about something I couldn’t place for the rest of the day. We had breakfast, I enjoyed the spa, and by mid-afternoon, the rain had pretty much disappeared. My husband and I walked to the Kinneret, picked some shells, and walked back to our room to get ready for the long drive to Tel Aviv. I distinctly remember thinking and telling my husband that, despite the rain, if this happened to be my last day on earth, it would have been perfect. I’ve never had or spoken a thought like that before.
There were at least three times throughout the afternoon that I told him about the strange feeling that washed over me, specifically as it related to the drive. We were both surprised by my feelings, as we had spent 10 days driving around the country in our rental car “Cleo” just a year before and came back without incident. He asked me if I wanted to cancel and I said of course not. It wasn’t until much later that night that my husband admitted to me that he too had a strange feeling about this particular drive.
We got in the car, stopped at the gas station to fill up the tank, purchased a large bag of Bamba, and were on our way. My outfit for dinner was packed in a tote in the back seat and I explained that I would change somewhere quickly before we entered the restaurant, and then after dinner, I would change back into my comfortable “car clothes.” If I was going on a long road trip on my honeymoon, I was not going to be doing it in pants with a zipper.
On the way, I shared with my husband for the hundredth time how much I have always admired Chabad, specifically Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, topical as we passed no fewer than 50 billboards, highway signs, and flags featuring the man. We finally got to the restaurant in Tel Aviv, I scrambled to change, and we walked in to meet my sister-in-law and cousin. It was incredible to see her in Israel, hear the details of her Birthright trip, and feed off of her first-timer buzz. For the first time all day, the strange feeling seemed to disappear.
We finished dinner, said our goodbyes, and got back into the car to head three hours back north. I hadn’t stopped to change, so we decided that I would do it in the car. I was able to successfully change my shirt and then took a break before getting to work on the rest of my outfit. Really, thank goodness that I did. The fact that I took that break probably saved my life.
About a minute after we started driving on Highway 20, I was mid-sentence with my husband about how happy I was that we went in the end, despite the strange feeling, and how worthwhile it had been to put in the extra effort, even on our honeymoon. I posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram using the caption, “We wouldn’t miss you for the world.” One moment I was sharing that sentiment and the next, we had been struck by a vehicle, seemingly out of nowhere, spinning in our rental car on its axis, screaming that we loved each other, and bracing for the final moment of impact. The car spun at least a full 360 degrees before ultimately slamming into the median on the highway.
I don’t know if it lasted for one second or 30, but the moment where I didn’t know if I was alive, if my husband was alive, if we were paralyzed, or whatever else, might as well have been a lifetime. The forever moment passed and we were miraculously both relatively okay. We crawled out of the car and made our way to the median. The car was in the middle of the road facing the opposite way it should have been, totaled, and I am still amazed that another car did not strike us while we were getting out of the car (which would have cancelled out said miracle of having survived). By the time we got out, which again could have been seconds or minutes, we were completely surrounded by a barricade of Israelis who stopped and protected us as they waited for the police and Magen David Adam to come to our rescue.
I will never forget one man in particular, the one with the leather jacket, on a motorcycle, who, for whatever reason, had a spare stethoscope in hand ready to examine me. My husband, an interventional cardiologist, thanked the man for his kindness and did that job himself. He stuck around making sure we were taken care of, using his best English, because we were in no shape to try our hand with our average Hebrew. The man, along with what seemed like 50 people at the time, stood around us, waiting, until help arrived.
Every single car that passed rolled down their window and yelled, “Hakol Beseder? Is everything okay?”. It felt like an eternity but after what I was later told was only four minutes, Magen David Adom arrived to take us to the hospital. Every single person that saw our car told us that it is a miracle we survived. Coming from Israelis, this put things into perspective.
I took a ride in a Magen David Adom ambulance, painted with the names of generous donors from Canada while my Jewish medic Daniel calmed my nerves. At the hospital I was treated primarily by Arab doctors, an experience I had not had on any of my previous trips to Israel. I spoke to one about how much he appreciates being able to practice medicine in such a medically advanced country.
I kept remarking to my husband that I felt like this should have been or could have been the “worst night ever.” It wasn’t the best, but it provided me with several perspectives that I would not have gained first-hand otherwise.
The first is that I have now seen how truly calming and caring the Israeli people are in an emergency situation. Tragically, they are always prepared for the worst whether that means getting family members to bomb shelters in enough time to avoid being hurt or killed, the stabbings, the bombings, or any of the other long list of occurrences that too rarely make the American news. We were truly surrounded with love by strangers in our emergency situation. The day before we landed in Israel and as usual the customs lady said, “Welcome home,” to which I thought “I wish.” The moment when we crawled out of the car and were greeted with kindness by the man on the motorcycle with the stethoscope, and many others, is one I will never forget. The Israeli people as a whole, and in my mind, specifically, the man with the stethoscope, really embody what it means to love thy neighbor when it counts. I thought back to my moment at customs and thought, “This is what she means.” I thank you forever, man on the motorcycle.
The second was really seeing the value of philanthropic dollars at work. Having worked in fundraising myself, I am familiar with the details of hundreds of projects taking place in Israel. Physically experiencing “dollars at work” in a personal way is something entirely different. I remember staring at the ambulance thinking how incredible it was that someone made it possible for me to receive the best possible treatment I could en route to the hospital. I imagined what this ambulance had done for thousands of Israelis who had experienced so much worse. I might be married to a Jewish doctor, but having a Jewish medic care for me in that ambulance was very special. I trusted him immediately and felt safe after the traumatic event.
Once we were at the hospital, he left for 15 minutes or so to fill out paperwork. I wanted to thank him and my husband said that it was possible that he wouldn’t be back to say goodbye. I knew that was not a possibility as I could tell how genuinely he cared about my well being. Everyone we had encountered from the moment we stepped out of the car felt like extended family. Lastly, being cared for by Arab Israeli doctors in the emergency room was profoundly moving. I was grateful to see that it really is true that Israel educates and employs minority professionals as I have always heard and read that they do.
This Thanksgiving, as I look around the table and see my parents, my brother, my new in-laws, and husband, I will remember all of the faces that helped us that night in Israel. I am forever grateful that it was not the worst night ever. I will never be the same, but am grateful to have gained new perspectives in the land that I love. And while it may seem crazy, I will think of the Rebbe, whose English yahrzeit happened to be on the night of our accident. Luck, with the help of the incredible bystanders, medic, Arab physicians, and from my point of view, the Rebbe, helped me get through a terrible night. Only in Israel some might say.
While we will never be renting a car in Israel again, we will be going back for more, despite the fact that there are so many new places to see. In the end, this experience did elevate the spirituality of our new marriage. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful to have experienced and survived a moment in which I truly learned that everything can change in an instant. Always wear your seatbelt and if you require a wardrobe change for a long car ride, do it before you hit the road. It might just save your life.