It’s not everyday that you stand on the side of a highway, a car pulls over, you get in, and moments later the driver says you’re an answer to prayer.
It was November 5, 2010, and up until this car stopped, the day had been full of disappointments. I had left Jerusalem that morning and gone to Jericho to meet a friend, but that meeting didn’t materialize.
I then walked for an hour and a half with my full packs from the center of Jericho toward the Jordanian border, only to reach the Israeli checkpoint on the edge of town and hear that I couldn’t traverse the next 400 meters to Highway 90 on foot, that I would need to walk about three hours by another route to reach this spot only five minutes in front of me. Thankfully, after asking if I could walk a couple hundred meters south of the checkpoint and then walk around it through a field, two soldiers agreed (outnumbering a third who didn’t). “I’m not trying to be an asshole,” said one of the agreeable soldiers, and then, “Do you need water? Do you need food? You still have two kilometers to walk.” And so I left the checkpoint with a bottle of water and an apple.
Finally, at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, I was told I had arrived five minutes too late; it was closed until tomorrow morning. “But the government website,” I pleaded. “It says the border is open until 3:00 p.m.” To this the sympathetic Israeli border policeman replied, “I know, we’ve asked them to correct that but they haven’t yet.”
And so at 2:30 p.m. I stood on the side of Highway 90, hoping to hitch a ride an hour and a half north to another border crossing that was still open. I had been standing only two minutes when the car stopped.
The driver was a 20-year-old woman named Tehila, and in the passenger seat was her friend Richi, a young man studying at a yeshiva. They were religious Jews on their way from Jerusalem to a kibbutz in the northern Jordan Valley to celebrate Shabbat. I thanked them for picking me up.
Surprisingly, Tehila said they should thank me, too. They had been listening to a Hassidic Jew named Avraham Fried talk on the radio. Fried told the story of how one night he had been in his car listening to Jewish songs when, in tears, he pulled over, “praying to fulfill the commandment”.
“God, I really want to follow your commandment to love your neighbor as yourself,” he prayed. Soon thereafter, a man knocked on his window asking for gasoline. It was an answer to his prayer, someone he could actively love. Listening to this story, Tehila told Richi that they should do this too. Richi then prayed, asking God to present them with an opportunity to love their neighbor. Moments later they saw this guy standing on the edge of the desert highway and came to a stop.
I had planned to go to Jordan this day. Instead, I accepted Tehila and Richi’s invitation to join them for the Shabbat meal at the kibbutz, called Tirat Zvi. Since nobody on the kibbutz would be driving until the end of Shabbat, I ended up spending the next 36 hours here, embraced by people who would take in a wandering stranger, feed and house him, listen to him and teach him. “We are happy for your accident,” one man said at the kibbutz, referring to my having arrived too late at the border crossing, which precipitated the events that led to me eating in his home.
The average reader of this blog, like this writer, is not a religious Jew. But all of us can appreciate the transformative power of active love, just as we can show such love to others in our own journeys. Thank you, Tehila and Richi, for wanting to love God and your neighbor both. You modeled part of what it means to travel well.