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The Right Stop

Costa Rica is a picturesque tropical country, wooded and lush with natural beauty. Natan and Avi, two yeshivah students in the Central Lubavitch Yeshivah in New York, spent one summer in Costa Rica as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. During the weeks they spent there they visited local tourist attractions and met with Jewish visitors, helping them to put on tefillin and sharing thoughts on Torah and Judaism.

On the last day of their stay in Costa Rica, Natan and Avi intended to visit the coastal city of S. Teresa. Their flight back to New York was scheduled for Monday evening, and on Sunday morning they left the capital city for the beach town. They knew that they had a long trip ahead, and they had to arrive there before evening because people in Teresa tended to go to sleep early. The town was rather undeveloped and there were no street lights. They would need to hurry.

But on their way to S. Teresa, the two lost their way several times on the crooked, partially paved roads of Costa Rica. Late afternoon, they realized they would not make it to their destination. They were stuck in a massive traffic jam. Drug enforcement police had set up roadblocks to capture traders who were attempting to cross the border into nearby Panama.

"Apparently we are not going to reach S. Teresa today," said Natan. Having no choice in the matter, they decided to extricate themselves from the traffic jam at the nearest exit, before sunset. The first sign they saw was for the village of Montezuma. "Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get in a few hours in S. Teresa," said Avi.

At the center of the village they stopped their car to ask a passerby where they could find suitable lodging. A young man, "Pedro," with dredlocks, earrings and tattoos came to their aid. He did not look like a native Costa Rican. He ran a roadside stand selling products from the East, together with a local young woman.

"I'm sure you thought I was Israeli, right?" Pedro asked in fluent Spanish. Indeed, the Chabad students had taken him for an Israeli. "It's okay, you're not the first ones to think that," he laughed.

"Are you Jewish?" asked Avi.

"No," answered Pedro. "Actually, I'm not. But if you're looking for a place to spend the night, try that hostel over there," he said, pointing to a building across the road.

"So, are there any Jews in this village?" asked Natan.

"You know what," said the young man. "I have a Jewish grandmother. My mother's mother was Jewish. Although my mother raised us as Christians, I still feel a connection to the Jewish people."

At this, the two Chabad yeshivah students blurted out, as if on cue, "That means that you're Jewish!"

"What do you mean?" he asked, confused.

"Listen carefully," said Avi. "Your mother was Jewish, and that means you are too. Judaism is determined by the mother, and this is something that does not change, regardless of the lifestyle you lead. You are Jewish in every sense."

While Pedro tried to digest this new information, Avi looked up at the sky and decided to make use of the last few minutes remaining before sunset. He hurried to the car and pulled out a pair of tefillin. "You now have the opportunity to fulfill one of the most important mitzvot in Judaism. I don't have time to explain in detail, because the sun is about to set and then you won't have another chance until tomorrow morning. Give me your left hand, and I will wrap the tefillin around your arm, facing your heart, and around your head. Inside these boxes are verses of the Torah which remind us of our connection to G-d."

Pedro looked at Avi somewhat dazed, and like one hypnotized he stretched out his arm.

People in the street stopped to stare at the strange site of Pedro wearing straps on his arm and around his head attached to black boxes. Apparently he was a well-known figure in these parts. However, Pedro was overcome with an emotion that he had never before felt in his life.

After he had taken off the tefillin and calmed down somewhat, Pedro explained that  in his life he had visited many cults and performed many religious ceremonies, but had never felt such a sense of belonging as when he put on tefillin. Pedro, who just moments before had no idea of his Jewishness, suddenly developed a strong thirst for more information about Judaism. Avi and Natan were naturally happy to oblige and provided him with material in Spanish. 

The next morning, Avi and Natan made their way to S. Teresa. They found out that the village where they had spent the night was only ten minutes away from their original destination. "If we had known yesterday what a short distance there was, we would have stuck it out despite the traffic jam. But G-d sends us on our ultimate mission, and we ended up exactly where we needed to be to light this Jewish spark."



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