Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Tammuz 5764 - June 23, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Saga of a Returning Seminary Girl
by Debby Friedman

Part I

This true story happened many years ago, before the age of credit cards and modern telecommunications technology that would have settled this story without the drama. Though I am now a grandmother, I will never forget the Hand of Hashem that guided me safely home from my seminary year in Eretz Yisroel.

It was the end of August 1974. There I was, all of 18 years old, making my way back to Los Angeles. Feeling pretty miserable over leaving, since Eretz Yisroel had become so much a part of me, I made my way to the airport. The thought of not knowing when I would be back was pretty painful. Every possible second had been squeezed out before the inevitable departure. Now, responsibility required my presence in L.A. where I had been hired to teach.

My luggage consisted of two big suitcases, my 12-string guitar and a couple of duffel bags. Approaching the ticket counter, I handed my ticket over and awaited instructions. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

"I regret to inform you but due to the war in Cyprus, all flights are being rerouted through Europe," the ticket agent said.

"But my ticket says my flight is a direct one to Los Angeles with a stopover in New York!" I exclaimed.

"Miss," said the ticket agent imaptiently, "I don't care what your ticket says. There's a war going on and you will have to make your connections in Europe."

"Where exactly are you sending me?"

"Zurich. You can change there for your connecting flight. Just go to the El Al counter once you arrive."

My ticket was a special student's fare and I was a bit concerned that it wouldn't be honored in Switzerland. I when I expressed my fear, the agent assured me that there would be no problem and promptly turned to the next person in line.

Once aboard the plane, the thought that I only had $10 in my wallet flitted through my mind but it flitted right out with take-off. Watching the beautiful, beckoning landscape of Eretz Yisroel fade in the widening distance, my tears flowed freely.

After a while, I settled down and directed my thoughts to the future. This unplanned detour to Switzerland would just be something I would share later with my family and students. And hopefully, with Hashem's help, I would return to my beloved Eretz Yisroel in the near future -- preferably with my bashert.

Meanwhile, there was work to be done with a class of girls who would hang onto my every word (that's what I was dreaming of, anyway). Imagining the loving embrace of my family and visualizing official-looking notebooks, I fell asleep.

Several hours later, the plane landed in Zurich. Going to retrieve my luggage, I was horrified to discover that my guitar was nowhere to be seen. I filed a complaint and davened that before my next flight, it would be found. Then I handed the agent my ticket.

"What's this?" he asked me.

"My ticket," I answered, somewhat surprised that he didn't know what a ticket looked like.

"I see that it's a ticket. What do you want me to do with it?" he snapped.

"I have to get to Los Angeles. They told me in Israel that I would have no problem with it here." This was beginning to get a little unpleasant.

"This is a student's fare. There's no way you can travel to Los Angeles with this."

"Well, then, what am I supposed to do?" My eyes started to fill with tears.

"Try a different airline." And with that helpful piece of advice, the agent got busy with some paperwork, letting me know our conversation was over.

Having no choice, I approached every other airline, hoping someone would let me fly home on my ticket. But the answer was always the same, "No way."

By now I was thoroughly exhausted, ravenously hungry and ready to drink warm seltzer, which I never touched even ice cold. It also struck me that I was in a real pickle. Not having the slightest clue what to do, I asked someone if there was a place where one could make collect overseas calls. I was directed upstairs where an operator sat near some phone booths. She would help me place the call.

First I went to check if there was any news about my guitar. There wasn't. This detour to Switzerland was beginning to be very distressing. Finding my way to the operator, I asked if a collect call to Los Angeles could be made. The woman directed me to a booth and told me to pick up the receiver when the phone rang.

I waited with bated breath for my father to answer the phone in the office of his export company, located about a ten- minute walk from our home. Every day, my parents would walk home for lunch, leaving Louise, my father's loyal and very efficient secretary, in charge of incoming calls. Though I tried to wait calmly for the operator to signal me, the seconds ticked by and the phone remained silent.

"Miss! Miss! Your collect call was not accepted," the operator finally called.

"Whom did you speak to?" I asked, completely puzzled.

"It was a woman and she said that she did not have the authority to accept an overseas collect call."

That must have been Louise. Responsibility was her middle name. Looking at my watch and figuring out the time difference between Switzerland and Los Angeles, I realized my parents had probably gone home for lunch. I walked towards another booth and asked the operator:

"Can you please try another number for me?"


I stood in the phone booth for the anticipated ring and waited and waited.

"There's no answer, Miss," the operator called to me.

Exiting the booth and feeling very alone and lost, I did what comes fairly naturally: I cried. And because I was crying, I did not notice a family of four coming out from the restaurant that was situated right near the phone booths.

"Young lady," someone said. "Why are you crying?"

Looking up to see if anyone else was crying, I became aware of a very tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed man looking at me. Standing next to him was a very tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman with two similar looking children.

"Why are you crying, dear?" the woman asked me kindly.

Having nothing to lose, I explained my situation. A sixth sense told me not to mention Israel.

"I have been studying abroad and now must get home to Los Angeles for a job that starts in two days time. My flight was rerouted and I ended up here in Zurich with only $10. My ticket is a student's ticket and no airline will honor it. I tried to call my parents but didn't succeed in reaching them. I don't know anyone in Switzerland and I'm stuck." Though I tried not to, I started to cry again.

The woman spoke first. "Come to us! We're very wealthy, you know. I'll give you new clothing and lovely things. We'd love to have you as our guest."

This was, you must admit, pretty unbelievable. I was a little annoyed, though. Who did this tall, blonde lady think I was, some vagabond? I thought my clothing looked pretty nice! Besides, they were very obviously not Jewish, and the last thing I needed was to be kidnapped by people offering me new clothing and lovely things.

[Final part next week]


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