Monday, August 11, 2014

In the Merit of Hospitality: Another Love Story (names and details have been changed to protect privacy)

Suri was barely six months old when the doctors told her parents, Batya and Gil, that she needed surgery if she was going to make it to her first birthday. After consulting with medical experts the difficult decision was made. They would leave Israel and take their baby to The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. There was so much to do: arrange visas and flight reservations, receive funding from the health system, organize work leaves and accommodations in Milwaukee, and pack for, hopefully, just a month stay. Once the surgery was behind them Batya and Gil were certain they had made the right decision. What a blessing it was to see Suri smiling and healthy. They were even able to take the last week, while waiting for the final check-up, to do some sightseeing and buy souvenirs. 

So a year later when Gil was standing in line at the crowded supermarket one Friday morning he was wearing his Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous T-shirt.

“Excuse me,” a man’s voice behind him asked in English. “Are you from Milwaukee?”

Gil’s English was good so smiled as he turned around. “No, but I spent a month there. Why?”

“I’m from Milwaukee.” The red-haired man looked about the same age as Gil. “I made Aliyah three months ago.”

“Welcome,” Gil extended his hand and introduced himself.

“I’m Ron,” the man replied.

“Do you live in this neighborhood?”

“A block away,” Ron smiled.

“Me too, do you have family here?”

“No,” Ron shook his head. “I left behind two sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but none of them want to leave Milwaukee. They think I’m nuts.”

Gil laughed. “How about coming to us for lunch Shabbat? My wife makes a powerful cholent.”

“I’d love to come!”

Within a few weeks it seemed as if Ron and Gil had always been chums. Ron marveled at his friend’s unlimited hospitality. Batya explained to him that while they had been in Milwaukee they’d been recipients of boundless help. It was time for them to pay it forward.

When the high holidays grew near Gil made a call to his parents and mentioned his new friend.
“Can I bring him with us when we come?”

“No problem,” his mother answered enthusiastically. Rosh Hashanah was starting on Wednesday night and would go into Shabbat. There were a lot of meals to prepare but there was always room for one more. As she was talking to Michal, her best friend, and peeling potatoes at the same time, she mentioned that Ron was coming.

“Do you want me to take him off your hands for a meal?” Michal offered.

“Not a bad idea,” Gil's mother agreed. “We’re having the Marcus family with their five kids for first day lunch and I thought it would be a little tight around the table. Does that meal work for you?”

“Sounds great!”

Meanwhile Michal had a phone call from her second cousin’s daughter from America who was learning in a post-university seminary for the year.  She wanted to know if she could come for Rosh Hashanah and bring her friend, Leah.

“We’d love to have you,” Michal said sincerely.

Michal’s husband also invited some unattached guests for first day lunch so Michal’s table ended up being as crowded as Gil’s mother’s would have been. Somehow Leah and Ron ended up sitting across from each other. After just five minutes of conversation Ron felt as if he’d been hit by lightening and Leah was sure she’d finally found her perfect match. Six months later they were married.

If Suri has not been born with health problems her parents would have never gone to Milwaukee. If the good people of Milwaukee had not been so kind to them Gil might never have invited Ron to his home. If Gil’s mother was not so willing to welcome guests Ron may have never met Michal. If Michal hadn’t wanted to help her friend and also welcome seminary girls, Leah would never have come to her house. If Michal’s husband had not looked out for the three people having the holiday all alone, the table wouldn’t have been crowded and Ron and Leah wouldn’t have sat across from each other.

However, HaShem made all those things happen. Ron and Leah just celebrated their first anniversary. Thankful for all the little pieces of the puzzle that brought them together, they have vowed to always welcome guests into their home.

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