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February 4, 2023

Rabbi Mendel Liberow: Why I’m thankful for my Israel trip that wasn’t

I was supposed to be in Israel today.

To be precise, this morning, I was going to wake up in a quaint hotel near the Old City of Safed, enjoy a delicious breakfast al fresco while taking in the mountaintop views, tour the Artists’ Quarter, and then head over to nearby Tiberias to visit the resting place of Maimonides, the legendary Jewish scholar. 

Instead, I’m home. And I couldn’t be more thankful. 

You see, the past week or so has been anything but typical for our family. Early last week, when I got out my passport in advance of our planned trip to Israel, I discovered—much to my chagrin—that it expired on what was to be the final day of the trip. No good.

So I called the San Francisco Passport Agency and tried to make an appointment for an expedited passport renewal. They had one available appointment—in one hour. I was an hour away. So I scrambled: I asked my brother to fill the application for me, asked a friend in San Francisco to spot me the cash and asked my wife to meet me at the passport office with my documents—if I’d go back home for them, I wouldn’t be able to make it in time. 

For a little bit, it seemed like against all odds, I’d be able to pull it off. But then, 15 minutes away from the passport office, I got the call. The call everyone dreads. 

My wife Chani had been heading down the 280, but the bomb cyclone had left the freeway slick and riddled with puddles. The car hydroplaned on a particularly large one and spun out of control, slamming into another vehicle. 

The ambulance was on its way. 

They rushed Chani and the baby to the hospital, where I met them an antagonizing hour later. A battery of scans determined the baby was unhurt, thank G-d. My wife needed a few lacerations to be stitched up and she broke her arm; she’d need surgery to reset the bone and allow it to heal properly. 

As I waited for Chani to go into surgery last Wednesday, I was pained by her pain. I was concerned for her. But I realized that I wasn’t actually disappointed. 

Our long-awaited trip to Israel wouldn’t be happening. My wife had a broken arm—she was about to be operated on. Our kids were with a succession of babysitters, friends and relatives who volunteered to step in in our time of need. 

Our life had been upended in a moment—but I wasn’t disappointed. I felt thankful. Thankful for my dear wife’s life—we’ve all seen what can happen when a car spins on the highway—and thankful that our baby was unhurt. 

I don’t know why G-d orchestrated it so that Chani would be on that slippery highway that morning, and I may never know why. 

But Chani—and baby Musya—got a new lease on life that day, and I am forever grateful for that. So yes, I might have to wait a little longer for that mountaintop coffee in Safed, but I’m thankful to G-d for the blessing of life, of health. I’m thankful for the blessings we understand and for those we don’t.

And maybe one day, I’ll understand why.

Rabbi Mendel Liberow is the director of Chabad South County Jewish Center in Morgan Hill, which offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For information, visit JewishMH.com. Please be in touch with any comments, questions or feedback at [email protected]

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