Have you ever had trouble with Waze? Like it somehow translated the name of the city to which you were headed as the name of the county, and took you to another location about an hour further than the expected destination? How about in a foreign country where you don’t really speak the language? What’s more, what if you are a religious Jew who won’t drive a car on Shabbos and this all falls in place about a half hour before sundown on Friday? Yup, true story.
Some context is necessary. I just recently turned twenty-one. At this age in the yeshivah system, some of the students are chosen for a year of shlichut — a mission to strengthen and propagate Judaism. Many of my friends were sent — from the central Chabad yeshiva in Brooklyn — to yeshivot with younger students to help mentor, motivate and inspire. I was sent, with a group of friends, to Mexico City, but our mission is with a bit of a twist. We were sent to turn the local Chabad House into a Yeshiva where we study together most of the day — by ourselves and with the community — as well as put in an effort to build and spread the values of the community with the broader public.
We have — with the help of G-d — made many new friends and acquaintances here in Mexico. One of these friends and a staple of the Chabad community is a young Israeli man who has been working in Mexico for about five years. Let’s call him Ellie.
Ellie had a vacation and he felt it appropriate to spend the longer weekend with some of us yeshiva students/shluchim. We mapped out the weekend and the plan was to spend Shabbos in the small Mexican very-American retirement town of S. Miguel de Allende about four hours out of Mexico City. A young Chabad couple had just opened a Jewish center there and we were to spend the Shabbos in their gracious company. Because kosher items are easier to come by in the City, they had requested of us to bring along a couple bottles of wine. Armed with the bottles, and a bit of snacks and pastries for the way, we drove off in Ellie’s car on noon of that Friday. Ellie, a yeshivah friend and I.
The drive wasn’t that eventful. Conversations, learning about each other and listening to music. For some reason, the Waze had the time of travel at 5 hours. That was okay because we had six total until sundown. Some heavy traffic ate up another half hour. No need to panic, we would arrive with enough time to shower at the hotel and walk over to the Chabad. Everything is peaceful.
Until we arrived at the Waze destination. And trust me, it wasn’t an American retirement town. A little panic seemed to be in order at this point. Upon further analysis of the Waze, it turned out that we had arrived at a location in the larger county of S. Miguel de Allende. In a city an hour too far. Perhaps a little mistake in the copy/paste of the address led the app to assume this to be the desired location. I am not fully certain. I do know though, that the Jewish law was only granting us a half hour to drive, and our destination was an hour away. Uh oh.
First, we turn around and start heading in the right direction. Second, I message the rabbi that there were some complications and we might not make it. We were hoping to get close enough before Shabbos to walk the rest of the way. As I’ve written in the past (Why I Love Shabbos) I’ve done some long Shabbos walks before. But time was closing in on us. Seven minutes to Shabbos and we weren’t making up the lost ground. Plan B: We began looking for any hotels or motels on the side of the road. Two minutes later we spotted it: Motel S. Pedro. We fly into the driveway, somewhat frantically, and begin unloading our things before knowing anything else. We just knew that we had to have our stuff out of the car before the sun sets. (The reason actually being a somewhat extraneous technicality; opening car doors turns on and off the car lights. We had about three minutes to spare upon arrival.)
And there we were in the driveway of this motel, surrounded by belongings when the sun set on Mexico and in entered the Shabbat. The phones were turned off and left in the vehicle. And again, all is peaceful.
Ellie, with the decent Spanish he had picked up from his time in Mexico, “explained” our situation to the woman who had come out to investigate. The best part — he couldn’t pay her right away, he’d have to wait until after sunset on Saturday. There was a bit of back and forth as she attempted to comprehend, and then she led us, albeit suspiciously, into our humble quarters. (We actually took three rooms as it was one bed in each.) We all dressed up for the Shabbos and then gathered for the traditional prayers and songs. Followed by a Kiddush — with the wine we just “happened” to bring along. Succeeded by a Shabbos feast on danishes. All in the joyous spirit of camaraderie. We were really together that Shabbos.
The next morning began with some studying and prayers followed again by Kiddush and the Shabbos meal — this time on the widely-acclaimed Bissli. We received a bottle of tequila from the motel, wished each other a heartfelt lchaim, and headed out to “tour” in the surrounding village. And just like that, the Shabbos was over.
After shabbos concluded we had a chat with the elderly couple who owned the motel. This was the first time they had encountered Jews in their lives, and they were inspired. They had spent the Shabbos reading up on Jewish culture and religion to comprehend what it is that had so unexpectedly pulled up into their driveway (literally). They actually thanked us for the refreshing spirit that we had brought to the motel and the senior woman, quite emotionally, committed to bettering her conduct in the spirit of her faith. And they invited us to stop by the next time we would find ourselves in that tiny village…
Honestly, I enjoyed the Shabbos. Truly. It was a fresh inspiration to myself; to do something so out of the norm, because it was a mitzvah to which I was committed. And to spend those hours with no worries, in the middle of a nowhere. I guess it was worth it; it invigorated my commitment, touched the elderly couple, and I hope the story will stir just a little something in those it reaches. I also hope it will never happen again.
Originally published at www.athinkingkid.com on January 10, 2019.