Monday morning, my mobile beeped, and the message flashed up:
“The Rav is going down to Eilat today.”
Rav Berland has been going down to Eilat a heck of a lot recently – something like once a week. Many of the visits are publicized, but some of them aren’t. Each time, he gives a load of classes in people’s homes there, prays in the shuls, meets the public for blessings and advice, and then in the morning, at dawn, he holds prayers down on Eilat’s North Beach.
There’s a separate beach there (who even knew that existed, in Eilat of all places?) and in the parking lot behind, the Rav and his followers pray. If you know Eilat at all, the North Beach is located a few metres past Herods, the last of the ‘mega’ hotels on the seafront, and a few short metres away from the Jordanian border with Israel.
So, I got that text yesterday, and I called my husband and asked him:
Do you want to come with me to Eilat? I don’t know why, but I’m having a very strong urge to go and pray with the Rav there, tomorrow morning.
I’d seen a bunch of texts about previous trips to Eilat come and go, but this time, I felt pulled to go down. My husband, wonderful man that he is, agreed he could do his work in the car on the way down (and on the way back up), so we set out at around 10.30am.
The sky was overcast and almost purple, and it was a stunning contrast with the orange, yellow and pink rocks that line Route 90, the road that takes you past the Dead Sea and then down to Eilat.
About 2 ½ hours in, we had to come to a halt behind three cars in front, as a massive river suddenly burst through the scrub on the right of us, and gushed across the highway.
30 metres of the road was flooded, and it was a spectacular site. It just came out of nowhere, and then, there was a river.
It says in our benching that the Jews will return to Israel like ‘streams in the Negev’, and if that’s true, then the aliya will be swift, unexpected – and massive.
So, we reversed, drove over the top of the mountains via Route 25 instead, and got down to Eilat around 5pm.
The texts kept pinging at us all night – the Rav was doing mincha and maariv also on the separate beach, then he went to give a shiur in someone’s home, then he went to fix a mezuzah up at a business, and then on to another shiur….
But by that point, we were too exhausted to join in. We’d got to the hotel, which I’d found last minute on line, and which sounded fab-u-lous (and cheap…) And while the room was nice, the non-stop buzzing noise that made the ground literally vibrate almost had me throwing up after spending half an hour there.
My legs had literally turned to jello, and I told my husband I’d rather sleep in the car than endure that for a whole night. So, I did something I never did before, and went back to reception to see if they’d switch the room. They did, and the new room was more quiet, and only had neon flashing lights from the massive shared pool complex beaming in through the windows.
But even after we’d moved room, I still felt like a rung-out rag.
Everyone in the hotel seemed to be 70+, and no-one could find their room. Every time the elevator opened, it would disgorge another bunch of confused people asking if anyone knew where room number 2019 was.
The hotel complex was so big, it was also hard to find the reception. And the dining hall. And the exit. I was wondering around that place like someone with incipient Alzheimers, so the Lord only knows how the alters were managing it, in their motorized wheelchairs, and with their walkers and canes and hearing aids.
Maybe that was the hotel’s main appeal:
It had elevated finding the room into a type of attraction, an escape room with the added twist that you actually wouldn’t get a bed for the night unless you figured it out.
So, after spending 15 minutes trying to find the exit, we then spent an hour wandering around the boardwalk in Eilat trying to find somewhere kosher, and after finally tracking a place down, I asked my husband:
Why did we ever used to think that coming to Eilat was a ‘fun’ vacation? What was wrong with us?
The next morning, we were up at 5.15am to head over to the beach for prayers with the Rav. As we approached the separate beach, I saw the ‘Rav Bus’, that had brought in tens of the faithful from Jerusalem; and a bunch of other private cars, and my heart gave a little skip.
A lot of the people there were familiar faces from Jerusalem, and I felt a deeply satisfying twang of actually belonging to something meaningful.
I belonged with this group of crazy people who were mad enough to drive down to Eilat for a day, just to pray netz with the Rav on the beach. And that was such a good feeling.
I stood near to the Rav’s crowd for about 10 minutes, then went to walk around the deserted boardwalk to do my hour of talking to God. I noticed how run-down so many of the hotels are starting to look; how ‘empty’ and soul-less the place felt; the shocked look on the locals’ faces, who came for their early morning jog all neon-lycra’d up only to head slap-bang into 300 Shuvu Banim and Rav Berland, all praying very loudly.
Next, I noticed how the border between Israel and Jordan consists of just a small army base located down on the seashore, plus a wire fence that runs out a few meters into the water, topped with barbed wire.
Then, I noticed how the Rav seemed to be deliberately turned towards Eilat throughout most of his prayers, seemingly trying to ‘sweeten’ it, and then how he turned in the opposite direction, facing Jordan, to read Megillat Esther, as part of the Purim Katan celebrations.
Nothing our Tzaddikim do is random or happenstance.
Who knows what danger the Rav can see lurking in Jordan, and the Gulf of Aqaba?
Just as the megillah reading was finishing up, we got a call from my kid’s teacher to say she’d cut class, and they had no idea where she was. I freaked out, called the oldest kid – and discovered that the younger one had had a meltdown, and could no longer ‘do’ her ulpana anymore.
This wasn’t such a shock, but the timing was awful.
I’m in Eilat right now! Why did this have to happen today – now?!
Then, I got some texts from the teacher which put me in a worse mood, until I realized that it was time to stop beating around the bush, and to tell the teacher that my kid needed to leave the ulpana ASAP.
The year and a half long experiment had come to an end.
The whole four hour drive back to Jerusalem, I was fretting over how best to handle things, what to do next, what sort of mental torture the next few weeks would hold, until we found the kid a more suitable place to go to.
But when I stepped through the door of my apartment, I found a calm kid, a spotless house, and a surprising update: the kid had spoken to her teacher, ironed out their differences, and the school was now trying its hardest to help my kid find a good place without rancor or blaming anyone for what was going on.
This is an open miracle.
It was another small taste of how many blessings come into my life, when I try and stay close to the Rav, and to be a small part of his work in the world.
If I’d been in Jerusalem instead of in Eilat when things blew up with the school, I know it wouldn’t have ended so well. But this way, I was out of the picture, out of touch, and God took care of things perfectly.