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English Blog

Our Encounter with an American Black Bear


We spent last week vacationing at Hunter Mountain, a beautiful area just two hours away. We rented a house on Airbnb, packed up everything we would need for the week (no easy feat!), and headed off, upbeat and excited, to spend some quality family time together surrounded by glorious views and raw nature.

A friend of mine owns a summer home in the area and warned me that there are plenty of bears roaming the woods (more than usual, this year), and cautioned us to be careful since, although by and large they stay away from people, they can be dangerous.

My kids heard me listening to his voice note, and they were struck with fear—a fear I struggled to relate to. Growing up in South Africa, wild animals, rough nature, hiking—it’s all second nature and I enjoy every second of it. Now here we were, in this wonderful place, surrounded by forests, hiking paths, brooks and lakes, not to mention the incredible views, and my kids could think only of the bears.

I had to coax and almost beg them to go on hikes, which they enjoyed, but at all times they were on the lookout for those scary bears. They couldn’t relax. They armed themselves with big sticks, although I’m not sure exactly what they thought they would do with them…

They locked the doors of our house every night, double and triple checking them, and they were rigorous about picking up every scrap of garbage or food so as not to attract any bears.

Despite the obsession, at the end of the week we still hadn’t spotted a single one—not even during our rainy, four-mile hike to shul on Shabbat morning. Soon the kids were questioning if in fact there really were bears in the area at all.

But as we packed into the car to head home, I noticed that the two garbage cans at the end of the driveway had been ripped apart. Decimated. The owner of the home had warned us to make sure the bins were locked at all times so the bears can’t get to the food, and we’d been extremely careful to do so, but they’d gotten in anyway. A closer look showed they’d eaten right through the plastic.

We may not have seen the bears, but we saw clear evidence of their existence.  

Such is the story of our lives...

We know that G-d exists. We know He is out there. But we cannot see him.

Nevertheless, when we open our eyes we can see clear evidence of His existence.

Look into the eyes of your newborn, and you will see G-d’s hand, clear as day. That person you just happened to meet the other day? That was G-d directing you to your soul mate. Look carefully at the job you were fired from and you will see G-d’s hand directing you to a better one. The house that just fell through? That was G-d, too, directing you away from a neighborhood He knows you would not be happy in. When we examine our lives with this lens, it’s impossible not to see G-d’s footprints wherever we go.

With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner, when we coronate G-d as our King once more, this is the perfect time to start re-evaluating how we view the world and our experiences. So open your eyes, and start looking—really looking.

I Lost My Passport

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 15.06.16.pngThis summer, my ten-year-old son went to overnight camp in Montreal for the first time, and my wife and I booked tickets so we could see him on visiting day.

I asked my travel agent to use my global entry number so that we wouldn’t have to wait on line at the airport, and for that he needed my passport number. But when I went to get it, my passport was not where I usually keep it.

I searched the house, the car, my office, and anywhere else I could think of, but there was no sign of the errant document.

When I asked my wife if she’d seen it, she had me think back to the last time I used it—when I went to Israel a month ago. “And where did you put it when you came back?” she prodded.

It was then that I realized I had never unpacked it, and it was still in the suitcase I traveled with. Unfortunately, that very same suitcase was now with my son, in camp, in Montreal…

A problem, indeed.

So I phoned the camp, and lo and behold, the staff member who answered happens to be my nephew! Perfect.

I asked him to check my suitcase, but he explained that all the suitcases are stored away for the summer, and finding mine would be quite a task. Fortunately, we have a particularly bold tag attached that makes it easy to identify quickly, and he was able locate it and send me a picture of the passport. Whew! At least now I knew that it was definitely there. Progress.

My next step was to arrange for a FedEx pickup but the next day was July 4 th so there was no movement. The following day (Thursday) I called FedEx to follow up, and they explained that the earliest they could get it to me would be Monday, since the camp is remote and would require a special trip. That was a problem, because my flight was scheduled for 5am Sunday. Monday would be too late. I spent several hours on the phone with them, but we weren’t able to work anything out.

At this point, I turned to my trusted Whatsapp group and sent out the SOS signal. Within minutes, I had:

1. A driver willing to go to the camp and bring my passport back to the city.

2. A guy travelling from Montreal to Brooklyn on Friday, who was happy to deliver it.

3. A friend who offered to pick the passport up from Crown Heights and bring it to me before Shabbat so that I would have it ready, in hand, at 5am Sunday morning.

So despite much drama and stress, thanks to good friends and helpful strangers I was able to be on that early Sunday flight with no hiccups.

Naturally, all this passport business got me thinking…what’s the deeper lesson here?

This Shabbat we bless the new moon for the month of Elul, a time when we scramble to look for the “Jewish passports” that we may have misplaced during the year.

What is a Jewish passport?

What is the purpose of any passport? Without it, how would I prove to the Canadian border officials that I am who I say I am? And how would I prove to the American border officials that I am entitled to come back into the country? Passport is proof of identity.

Our “Jewish passports” are our very identities and it’s vital that we proudly carry that with us at all times. When we do business, we do business as a Jew–with honesty and integrity. When we travel, we don’t shirk our Jewish responsibilities. Anywhere we go and anything we do, we represent the Jewish people as a whole.

As we enter the month of Elul, let’s look inside and make sure we are proud to project our Jewish identity and represent our people with pride and dignity at all times.

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