This Yom Tov, when Eliyahu HaNavi visits every household, we share a collection of first-person encounters, tales of miraculous intervention by a mysterious figure
Project Coordinator: Rachel Bachrach
It’s a moment of desperation, and there’s no way out — when suddenly, as if Heaven-sent, someone appears.
You may never have met him before, and you may never see him again, but he provides salvation when you need it most.
Eliyahu HaNavi didn’t die. And in every generation, he comes to the rescue of his People in distress. This Yom Tov, when he visits every household, we share a collection of first-person encounters, tales of miraculous intervention by a mysterious figure
As told to Riki Goldstein
by Mr. Zalman Hoff
eptember 1944. The noose was tightening around the necks of the remaining European Jewish communities. The Nitra yeshivah in Slovakia, the continent’s very last functioning yeshivah, had closed, and as the Gestapo combed the area like bloodhounds sniffing out their prey, the Jews of Nitra scrambled for hiding places.
My parents, Reb Yaakov and Perel Hoff, hid in a cramped underground bunker with their two small children. They accessed the bunker through a hole concealed at the back of a coat closet, and food was provided by a local caretaker in exchange for steady payment.
One Sunday, they heard the caretaker’s wife return from church. She was voluble and excited as she recounted the sermon for her husband.
“The priest said the Jews are suffering for their sins against Christians and the savior, and anyone who helps them will go to hell and suffer the same end!” she said, adding that her conscience had been niggling at her about the Jews they were hiding. “I’m going to the Gestapo,” she concluded.
My parents trembled in fear — and then came the husband’s reply, a violent scream of rage.
“If you say a word about those Jews, I’ll kill you!”
The danger of being turned in by the devoutly Catholic wife passed, and the caretaker continued to hide and feed my parents. But soon, their money ran out, and they decided to reach out to Dovernik Weiss, a wealthy local Jew who was hiding in a nearby bunker and giving Yidden money to save themselves.
Mama borrowed a large shawl from the caretaker’s wife and draped it over her head and shoulders. She adorned her arms with bracelets and rings, gypsy-style. Around midnight, when she thought the roads would be clear, she climbed through the coat closet and out of the house. She crept through the streets of Nitra until she reached Weiss’s bunker — but when she got there, she saw the place was swarming with SS men. They had just discovered the rich Jew’s hideout, and poor Weiss and his family were hostages on their way to Auschwitz.
Before Mama knew it, she was surrounded by soldiers, who grabbed hold of her.
“She’s also a Jew!” one of them proclaimed.
At the Gestapo headquarters, Mama was questioned.
“Are you really a Jew?” a senior officer asked her disdainfully.
“What else are you going to accuse me of?! I’m a plain peasant woman!” Mama, the daughter of a rav in Pressburg, did not want to directly deny her Yiddishkeit, and she summoned all her wits and acting prowess.
He wasn’t convinced. Noting her smooth hands, he shot back, “The peasants around here have to work and have rough skin. You’re a Jew!”
“I’m a peasant!”
“What is your name?”
“Yulushka!” she said, giving herself a typical peasant name.
“What were you doing there, out at night?”
“I came to meet a friend at the nearby sweets company.”
“Where do you live?”
“Twenty Turcianska Street.”
The officer called an underling and barked the order: “Take her to 20 Turcianska Street and see if she’s telling the truth.”
Forcibly dragged through the streets by the young Nazi, Mama prayed desperately. Once they discovered that she wasn’t who she had claimed to be, would they torture her for the whereabouts of her family and other Jews? She pulled the gold rings off her fingers and held them out to the Nazi, pleading to be let go, but his face was hard and set.
Suddenly, a peddler appeared across the street, pushing his cart laden with wares toward them. Mama’s captor continued to drag her.
The peddler came closer. Then he looked at Mama and called out “Hello, Yulushka! What are you doing here?”
“Do you know this woman?” the Nazi barked.
“Sure I know her! Yulushka lives on my street, at 20 Turcianska.”
The Nazi abruptly released Mama, spun on his heel, and marched off. Mama turned to thank the peddler for saving her.
He had vanished into thin air.
Many more miracles kept my family alive. A policeman, moved by the plea of my four-year-old sister Esther — “Please, we want to live, don’t let us die!” — took us into his bunker. My family stayed there until Erev Pesach 1945, when the policeman heard his neighborhood had been targeted for Allied bombing.
On the second day of Pesach, the Russians liberated Nitra from the Nazis.
My parents helped rehabilitate the survivors who trickled back to the town. In 1948 they moved to Paris, then Manchester, to escape the Communist regime, rebuild their lives, and raise their children with Torah. The story of Mama’s encounter with Eliyahu Hanavi is passed down to all her descendants, repeated with wonder and thanks, especially on Leil HaSeder.
That short exchange preserved generations.
Mr. Zalman Hoff is a retired optometrist who teaches Torah in North West London.
One Night in Jerusalem
As told to Rivka Streicher
by Rabbi Shmuel Luger
was drifting through life. I’d been to yeshivah in Jerusalem in my teens, but in my twenties, I was back in New York, first searching, then stagnating. I tried to climb the corporate ladder — I got a job in an organization where I rose through the ranks quickly, but then grew tired of the position and resented the pressure. Eventually I found a job that required me to work just two days a week. I had few responsibilities and mostly hung around with friends.
In August of 2014, my mother passed away suddenly. My rav, Rabbi Eytan Feiner of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, New York, came to be menachem avel from Camp Simcha in the mountains. I was touched that he traveled to be at the shivah, and I uncharacteristically asked him a sh’eilah: “A bunch of us are going on vacation in California in a couple weeks. Can I do a trip like that during the shloshim?”
He looked at me and shook his head. “Don’t go now,” he said. “California will be there later.”
I hadn’t been going to shul regularly at that point, but I started going consistently and saying Kaddish for my mother.
Several months later, my friend asked if I’d come with him to Israel. I wasn’t interested, especially not in the dead of winter.
“Let’s go somewhere fun,” I said, but he pushed for Israel — he wanted to visit his grandparents there.
I still felt bad about the California trip — he and the others ended up canceling their tickets, too — so I relented.
We went in January. It was raining the entire time, even snowing at points, and from the moment I got to Israel, I wanted out.
Get me outta here, I want to go home, was all I thought.
Our plan for Shabbos was to stay together at my friend’s grandparents. We’d meet at the Kosel for Minchah and Kabbalas Shabbos, then go eat at the Golshevskys, whom I knew well from my time in Jerusalem a decade prior.
I was on my way to the Kosel when my friend called. It had started snowing, and the driver kicked him off the bus, because “We don’t drive in the snow!”
Oh well, I’d be doing Shabbos on my own.
At the Kosel, I took a minute to write a note to put in the Wall. What did I want? I was 27 and had stopped dating a while back. I was just having a good time, enjoying life. But deep down, I wanted something else.
Hashem, if You, and my mother, want me to settle down, let something good come my way, send me a sign. That was my note, my prayer.
I joined a minyan because I had to say Kaddish. I was always very aware of who else was saying Kaddish, and I noticed this guy in Yerushalmi garb saying Kaddish as well.
After davening, I lingered for a few minutes. I figured I had time; the Golshevskys usually start the meal late and finish around midnight. The Yerushalmi from the minyan came over.
“Who are you saying Kaddish for?” he asked.
“What happened?” he asked, and I told him.
“I’m Chaim,” he said. “Will you walk me home?”
I had time on my hands, so I went. He asked if I was dating, and I told him a little about where I was holding. Chaim told me how special I am — something he clearly couldn’t know. I shrugged and smiled and accepted the platitudes, half-wondering why I was walking him all the way.
Chaim took me to his home in Rechavia. I realized they were baalei teshuvah — he certainly didn’t grow up with this garb — and I was intrigued. He invited me for the meal, but I told him I was eating elsewhere. Before I left, his wife said that people who speak to Chaim about their shidduchim often find a shidduch soon after, and Chaim bentshed me, “If you want a shidduch and you’re sincere, you’ll find a shidduch soon.”
I said Amen, and asked if we could keep in touch.
“After Shabbos,” Chaim said.
I showed up at the Golshevskys in Zichron Moshe some time later.
“I’m here for the meal, am I too early?” I asked.
Rabbi Golshevsky answered, “Well, actually, I’m sorry, but you missed it.”
Somehow, by 8:30 they were completely done, and everyone in the house was sleeping except him. I knew that Rabbi Golshevsky stays up Friday night learning, and I asked if we could schmooze as we’d done in the past. I sat in the dining room, and inevitably we got talking about marriage, settling down, what’s important in life.
At some point, Rebbetzin Golshevsky woke up and came to the doorway.
“Gut Shabbos, Shmuel, how’s your trip going? How old are you now?” I answered her and then she went back to bed.
I continued talking with Rabbi Golshevsky. We spoke of my deepest values, and I was able to pull back the cover-up of my life, to articulate what I truly desired. With the candles sputtering against the dark night, I realized that I wanted a family, and that I wanted to raise my children in a place with values I cherished. Something inside me chafed at the gashmiyus-oriented upbringing of my childhood; I wanted something different for my kids.
I knew it was Eretz Yisrael.
But the Middle Eastern culture — how could I adapt to that? I’d never seriously considered living here. But I knew that if I wanted my future to align with my values, I’d have to trade in my current life, cushy job and all.
I said as much to Rabbi Golshevsky.
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” he responded.
After Shabbos I met up with my friend.
“Y’know what, buddy? I’m moving here,” I told him.
“But you hate it here.”
“True, but it’s the right thing for me to do. So, too bad, I’m staying. Will you?”
It was my epiphany alone.
I called two of my beis medrash rebbeim for advice.
“Yes, it’s time,” was the reaction of the first.
“You should come, but if you’re not here within six months it won’t happen,” said the second.
I thought the hardest phone call would be to my father. My mother had passed away a few months before, and even though I didn’t live at home, I lived close enough.
“Dad, I’m thinking about making aliyah,” I said.
“Do it,” he said.
It didn’t make sense; my entire family is in America, but I was being propelled forward.
When I landed in JFK, it didn’t feel like my place anymore; I was a tourist coming for a few weeks.
That first week back home, two things happened. I started filling out Nefesh B’Nefesh paperwork, and I got a message from Rebbetzin Golshevsky: A student of mine is in New York. I want you to go out with her.
She probably wasn’t for me — I didn’t think I was holding in the same place as one of the Rebbetzin’s students — but the Golshevskys have amazing Friday night meals, and I was moving to Israel. I didn’t want the Rebbetzin to be upset with me for not even trying.
We went out, and just like that, we hit it off. We went out a couple more times before she had to go back to Israel. I took her to the airport.
“C’mon, just get on the plane with her,” one of my friends said.
I followed shortly after (with a diamond bracelet in my luggage, just in case). We dated some more in Israel, and then we got engaged. After we got married, I sat and learned in kollel for a good few years — true to my conviction about living in Israel, living a different kind of life. Now we’re in Yerushalayim, blessed with a family, and I work in chinuch.
Sometimes, I think of how I got here. Rabbi Feiner, the canceled California trip, snow in Jerusalem, the fact that the Rebbetzin woke up while the Rabbi and I were talking that Friday night. And then there’s Chaim, the guy saying Kaddish in my Kosel minyan. His own journey, the brachah he gave me, and how within a week, my wife was suggested for me.
The strange thing is, I lived in Rechavia, I’ve walked nearly every street in the neighborhood — and to this day, even though I’ve searched and wandered, I’ve never found Chaim or his house. I think it was near Abarbenel Street, but snow was swirling around us on that long-ao night when I met him, and I may have been off.
At one point I was going to the Kosel every day for four years straight, but Chaim was never there.
Maybe it was Eliyahu Hanavi I met that night, clad in a gold beketshe. Maybe he was sent to detain me so I’d come late and have that heart-to-heart talk with Rabbi Golshevsky. Maybe the brachah I got was from the angel himself.
Rabbi Shmuel Luger is the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Veshachanti B’sochum in Yerushalayim, as well as a chinuch consultant.
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
August of 1974, my parents decided to spend a few days on a family vacation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We stayed at a motel a short drive from Kesher Israel of Harrisburg, where we could get a minyan. We arrived there late afternoon, and my parents said my older brother and I could go exploring until dinner.
The grassy expanse surrounding the motel amazed us Brooklyn-raised kids, and we enjoyed exploring the different areas. But after an hour, my brother got tired, so he returned to the room while I continued on my own.
In the motel’s backyard, I discovered a small shed full of lawnmowers and tools. I noticed an implement that looked like huge scissors on one of the shelves. Only Og Melech HaBashan himself could have lifted those, I thought.
I carefully climbed a rickety ladder to get a better look at the enormous clippers, imagining grabbing hold of the monstrous shears and cutting down a tree. I had just turned 15 and was filled with teenage invincibility.
I stretched out my hand to grab hold of the clippers, but as I touched the handle, the ladder gave way, and off I flew, slamming full force into the shed’s open door. As I regained my composure, I began to appreciate my predicament: I was a teenage boy rummaging around a shed I had no business being in.
I grabbed the door handle to liberate myself, only to find it sealed shut.
I panicked. I felt trapped in what was now, in my mind, a steadily shrinking shed where the heat was intensifying by the second. My bluster and bravado dissolved instantly, and in their stead, a whimpering, unnerved little boy took center stage.
I tugged, pulled, and yanked at the hermetically sealed door, but I was a prisoner of my own doing. From the small window above my head, I could see darkness descending. I sat on the sawdust-covered floor and began to cry.
Hashem! I poured out my heart, imploring Him to free me from my claustrophobic captivity. I promised I would be on time for minyan the next day and every day in the future. I assured Hashem that my childish habits of arguing with my parents for extra privileges were a thing of the past. I would be the perfect son and brother.
As the hours passed and I sat in the blackness, I finally arrived at the most obvious epiphany: Only Hashem could deliver me from darkness to light, from incarceration to freedom. The moment this truth permeated my being, I heard a slight movement outside the shed.
“Hey, anyone in there?” a voice called out.
Who could be outside the door, awake at chatzos halailah, but Eliyahu Hanavi? No one knew where I was, and all the motel’s occupants were no doubt sleeping comfortably in their air-conditioned rooms.
Slowly, the door creaked, at first just a few inches, and then with a final push, it swung open, shoving the ladder away. Who but Eliyahu could achieve such a miraculous show of strength?
A figure entered. He pulled the cord dangling inches from my head, and the shed was awash with light. My eyes adjusted, and I saw his dust-covered overalls and sun-stained baseball cap.
“What are you doing in here?” my savior asked. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I stammered. “Thank you for saving me. How did you know I was here? It’s so late!”
“Almost midnight,” he replied. “Go to your room immediately, your parents are very worried.”
I dashed out toward the main building to Room 208. I grabbed my parents tightly, tears streaming down my face as I apologized for my silly explorations and repeated the promises I’d made in the shed. Breathlessly, I related the saga of my imprisonment and how Eliyahu Hanavi had rescued me.
Suddenly, an overall-clad figure appeared in my doorway again. My parents and I stood silently and with a sense of reverence.
“I’m just checking your son is okay. I saw him and his brother go out a few hours ago, but only the older one come back,” he explained. “When I saw you looking for the younger guy, I decided to check the old toolshed. Kids tend to hide there.”
I thanked him once again, as did my parents, and I asked my liberator if he’d like a drink or half a kosher salami sandwich.
He declined and turned to leave.
“What made you go out and look for me?” I asked impulsively. “You don’t know me, and it’s late, and I’m sure you were tired.”
My guardian angel stepped back into our room.
“You know what, I’ll take that glass of water, please.”
After drinking, he asked if he could sit. My hero was much older than I’d initially thought; he must have been at least 70.
He cleared his throat, and tears slowly descended down his cheeks.
“You’re right, I’m always asleep by nine o’clock. I get up before five to brew the coffee and clean the lobby — I never venture out at this hour. But when you came, and I saw the little hats the boys were wearing — what do you call them? yarmulkes? — I knew you folks were Jewish.
“Later, when I saw you eating at the picnic table” — he motioned to my parents — “I noticed the little guy wasn’t there. I overheard the older boy say his brother went exploring. An hour later, you all looked worried. You were searching for the redhead. I was going to turn in for the night, but I remembered something that happened five years ago, in late June of 1969.
“A cousin of mine, Charles Scott, was killed in a race riot over by the Allison Hill neighborhood near downtown Harrisburg. He was just 18 years old, shot by a white cop, and for the next few nights, there were what some called the Harrisburg Race Riots. The mayor put a curfew on the entire ‘Hill’ area, and you couldn’t go in or out from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. I was in New York when the unrest began, but I lived and worked in Allison Hill. I couldn’t get a bus back home, and I knew I’d lose my job if I wasn’t back for the morning shift at 5 a.m.
“I got from New York to Old Route 15, a few miles out of town. There I waited hours, trying to hitch a ride, but no one would pick me up. Finally, a man stopped. He was wearing the same little hat you guys have on, and he drove me to the Hill. We got there after eight, the cops were blocking the road, but he said something to them, and they let us through.
“It was pretty rough on the Hill that night. Bottles were thrown. Lots of cops were there. Who knows what would have happened to me if this Jewish man hadn’t driven me back? He saved my job and my life.
“ ‘Why are you doing this for me?’ I asked him.
“He said he was on his way to Kesher Israel Synagogue in Harrisburg, so he didn’t mind helping me out. His rabbi’s father was a great man who went to Europe after the Holocaust and saved many children.
“ ‘By helping you, I’m following in the footsteps of that great rabbi, rescuing people in trouble,’ he told me.
“ ‘What’s the name of your rabbi and his father?’ I asked.
“ ‘My rabbi is David Silver. His father was Rabbi Eliezer Silver,’ he said.
“I thanked him very much and promised if I could ever help a lost Jewish kid get home, I’d do so. Today when I saw you were lost, I remembered my promise. That’s why I went to find you.”
We stood in awe of my simple savior. It was then I realized that I didn’t even know his name.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
My rescuer looked at me quizzically. “You know it,” he said. “You even called me by name before I entered the shed.”
“What is it?” I asked, confused.
“Elijah,” he said. “My name is Elijah.”
At the Wheel
As told to Esther Shaindy Leshkowitz
by Moshe Chaim Cohen
a chilly morning at the end of January, my alarm clock went off at 6:45. It was still dim, and my bedroom was shrouded in shadow. Through the window, I could see a scrap of sky — low and gray — filled with the promise of imminent snow.
It was a Sunday, I was 14, and it was under 20 degrees outside.
Nothing’s going to happen if I miss Shacharis in yeshivah. I’ll daven at the local shul.
But at 7:05, I had a change of heart; I didn’t want to miss Shacharis in yeshivah. I yanked myself out of bed — I had to hurry.
I usually took the B23, catching it at 52nd Street and 16th Avenue, but because it was Sunday, service was limited. If I wanted to arrive on time for davening, I had to make the 7:23 bus. If I missed it, it would be another 20 minutes before the next one came.
It was still dark when I dashed out of my house, and the wind chill was in the teens. I raced to the bus stop, but as I approached, I could see the back of the bus two blocks down. Disappointed, I started questioning my decision to get out of bed, but I pushed those thoughts aside.
I’ll get a minyan at Reb Menashe Klein, I thought, then I’ll go to Moti’s for some breakfast.
I turned to walk the single block to shul when an old green car the color of string beans pulled over. It was old even in the 80s — a late 50s or early 60s model with fins in the back. An older man with a trim white beard, plaid flat cap, and heavy brown coat rolled down the window.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
“Torah Vodaath,” I said.
“Hop in,” he replied. “I’m going the same way.”
I didn’t usually take rides from strangers, but it was freezing, so I accepted his offer. I’ll never forget how warm it was in that car. I also couldn’t help noticing the vintage interior. The radio dial was set into the console, flanked by two stainless steel knobs. The steering wheel was old style, with three spokes, and the seats were dark green vinyl, sewn with vertical lines.
He was quiet as he drove and asked me only one question: “What are you learning?”
“Masechas Pesachim,” I told him.
That was the extent of our conversation — he didn’t respond. I was grateful he didn’t farher me.
I kept busy by looking out the window. There was no one on the street — probably because it was so cold — and we made great time. We even passed the city bus at McDonald and Cortelyou. As we were waiting for the light at Ocean Parkway, I snuck a peek at the driver. He caught me looking and gave a small smile. Wrinkles creased his forehead.
When we got to yeshivah in time for Shacharis, I thanked my driver and got out of the car. I walked to the entrance of the yeshivah and turned around for one last glance at the stranger who drove me to school on that cold morning.
I watched the green car until it reached the elementary school about 100 feet from where I stood. Then it disappeared. I know this sounds impossible, but that’s what happened: One minute it was there, and the next, it had vanished.
I was spooked, and the feeling stayed with me throughout the day. Later, I mentioned it to Rav Nesanel Quinn ztz”l, the former menahel who ran Shacharis.
“I wish I would’ve been there,” he said.
Is this the typical Eliyahu Hanavi story? I wouldn’t say I was in a bind, but I’m certain it was Eliyahu Hanavi who made sure I got to yeshivah in time for Shacharis. And until today, when I think about what happened on that frigid morning, I get goosebumps.
Moshe Chaim Cohen is an independent life insurance agent in Monsey, New York.
Door to Eternity
great-grandfather, Rav Chaim Dov Keller ztz”l, passed away two years ago. At the time of his petirah, he had hundreds of descendants and thousands of talmidim. But if not for a single encounter, his life would have unfolded very differently. This is the story that changed the course of history for my family — and strongly impacted American Torah Jewry.
Elter Zeidy grew up in Bayside, New York, in the 1930s. His family was Orthodox, but in those days, everyone went to public school. Elter Zeidy was a studious young man and hoped to attend a prestigious university. However, he lost his mother at the tender age of 14, and he went to the minyan across town daily to say Kaddish for her. One of the regulars took an interest in him and offered to learn Mishnayos with him in her memory, an offer Elter Zeidy happily accepted. Seeing his potential in learning, the man persuaded Elter Zeidy to consider attending yeshivah after high school, going so far as to speak with his father to obtain his approval.
Sure enough, after graduating high school at 16, Elter Zeidy went to Yeshiva University. He began studying intensely for a degree in Classical Languages, with the goal of becoming a professor in languages at the highest level.
In those days, the Yeshiva and University were two separate programs, housed in different buildings. The Yeshiva program offered shiurim from several respected rabbanim, most notably Rav Yerucham Gorelick ztz”l, who gave the highest shiur. The neighboring University program offered secular college courses with just one weekly class in Talmud. Elter Zeidy joined the University program.
In the summer following his freshman year, Elter Zeidy decided he wanted to try learning Gemara on a more consistent basis. He hired a student from the Yeshiva to learn with him over summer break, and for the next six weeks, Elter Zeidy delved into the world of Gemara, learning Tosafos for the first time. So much did he enjoy the sweetness of Torah, that by the end of the summer, Elter Zeidy decided he’d join Reb Yerucham’s shiur while simultaneously completing his classics and English degrees.
His newfound chavrusa arranged for a bechinah, and before the following semester, Elter Zeidy climbed the steps of the Yeshiva building for the first time. He would be tested on his Gemara skills to determine whether he was ready for the rigors of the top shiur he wished to attend.
The bochen, Rabbi Mendel Zaks (son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim), received him warmly. However, after assessing Elter Zeidy’s learning skills, he suggested placing him in the shiur below Rav Yerucham’s, as he was just starting out.
Elter Zeidy took this as a polite rejection; he felt he was being told that he didn’t have a future learning Torah at an elite level. But he was extremely advanced in his secular studies, and he reasoned the best course of action would be to return to an area in which he excelled. Sad and dejected, Elter Zeidy made his way to the Yeshiva building exit toward the familiar University building, leaving his chance at a true Torah education behind, most likely forever.
As he reached the door, Elter Zeidy suddenly found himself face to face with his chavrusa, who just happened to be entering the building.
“What’s wrong?” he inquired, noticing the despair on his young protégé’s face.
Elter Zeidy told him what happened.
“Nonsense!” declared the young man. “Come with me.” He marched Elter Zeidy back into the office and announced to Rabbi Zaks, “This boy belongs in Rav Yerucham’s shiur! He may be new to learning Gemara, but he has unlimited potential. I know he will succeed!”
The young man must have had some reputation, because Rabbi Zaks accepted Elter Zeidy into Rav Yerucham’s shiur on the spot. A gifted student and a hard worker, it took Elter Zeidy all of three weeks to learn Yiddish and advance enough in his learning to understand the shiur. He became a close talmid of Rav Yerucham and remained in his shiur for the duration of his college years.
Upon completing his degree in classics and English, Elter Zeidy contemplated his future, strongly considering a career as an English professor. Rav Yerucham wouldn’t hear of it.
“Du darf zein a mushlam — you have to become a complete person,” he told Elter Zeidy, words that would ring in his ears from then on.
Rav Yerucham sent him to Telshe Cleveland, where he imbibed their approach to Torah, hashkafah, and mussar. The roshei yeshivah, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch and Rav Mottel Katz, remained his rebbeim for the entirety of his life. Even long after they were gone, Elter Zeidy would mention them constantly, often contemplating what their stance would have been on specific issues.
When he was in his twenties, Elter Zeidy had already distinguished himself as a talmid chacham and a gadol in the making. He married the daughter of the rav of Detroit, Rav Leizer Levin. The shadchan was none other than fellow Telshe talmid and close friend Rav Avraham Chaim Levin ztz”l, the brother of the kallah, Chaya Devorah, himself on the path to Torah greatness.
In 1960, Rav Mottel sent a young Rav Avraham Chaim to establish a branch of Telshe in Chicago. Elter Zeidy followed soon after. At the age of 31, he was appointed co-rosh yeshivah of the fledgling institution. He and his brother-in-law built the yeshivah, and indeed the city, which became a makom Torah, a beacon for the entire Midwest region.
Elter Zeidy remained rosh yeshivah of Telshe Yeshivah Chicago for nearly 60 years. In his tenure, he established himself as a fierce protector of the Torah and its values. He was a gifted orator and writer, using his talents to address Klal Yisrael time and time again, writing articles or delivering addresses when he felt kavod haTorah was at stake.
Often taking the unpopular view, Elter Zeidy refused to back down from anyone or anything if it meant bending the Torah hashkafah one iota. At the same time, he was the kindest, most caring man, showing an intense love and respect for all Jews, even when their viewpoints fell on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Elter Zeidy raised a large, beautiful family with children and grandchildren who followed in his footsteps, many of them becoming pillars of the Torah community. His thousands of talmidim span the globe, their tremendous accomplishments a credit to their beloved rebbi. All of this was made possible by the chavrusa who “happened” to be in the right place at the right time and cared enough to take him back into the office on that fateful day.
Elter Zeidy would remark that whenever he made the brachah of hameichin mitzadei gaver — He who guides the footsteps of man — he’d concentrate on that very encounter. If not for the series of Heavenly orchestrated circumstances, there’s no telling how drastically different life would have turned out for my Elter Zeidy and all those he impacted. What colossal impact his chavrusa had on so many lives, simply because he took a moment to acknowledge someone’s pain.
This is a story about my Elter Zeidy, but it’s really the story of us all.
Laizer Kestenbaum is the oldest great-grandson of Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller ztz”l. He lives in Yerushalayim, where he learns in kollel and is a freelance writer.
As told to Sandy Eller
by Yocheved Goldberg
someone had asked me to envision Eliyahu Hanavi, I never would have imagined him wearing a Nike cap, cargo shorts, Under Armour top, and running shoes. But that’s what Eliyahu Hanavi was wearing the day I met him on I-95 in North Carolina.
It was the crazy summer of Covid, in 2020. We were grateful to be arranging a wedding in Florida, though making a simchah in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t without difficulties. Things had been relatively quiet in our hometown of Boca Raton even as Covid raged up north, and we felt confident as we lined up all the pieces of the puzzle that would ultimately be Atara and Calev’s August wedding. We booked the hall, the band, the florist, the photographer.
But by the time July rolled around, Covid was rearing its ugly head here, while things appeared to be settling in New York, where our new mechutanim lived.
We decided to move the wedding there and started from square one. We were relieved when an August date opened up at a hall in New Jersey, and there was a sense of déjà vu as we made all the arrangements again.
This time, there were additional logistics; our change in venue spanned 1,200 miles and endless layers of pandemic restrictions, including a mandatory two-week quarantine. We needed to find a place near the hall where we could camp out for a few weeks until after the wedding, and we also had to find a way to get to New York. We made arrangements to fly up north, and I felt like everything was finally falling into place.
And then it happened.
The day before our flight, we discovered that there was a Covid outbreak in our daughters’ day camp. Both our 10- and 13-year-olds tested positive. Thankfully, the girls had mild symptoms, but there was no way we could get on that plane and potentially expose everyone on board.
Pushing past the initial moment of panic, we tried to think logically and come up with a Plan B, but fitting all of us, our wedding garb, and our suitcases into our car wasn’t realistic. We couldn’t wait to fly until the girls tested negative either, because the wedding was two weeks away, and with the 14-day quarantine requirement, we had to leave the next day. We were thinking about driving up in two cars when a local family saved the day, insisting we borrow their 12-seater Sprinter.
“It’s just sitting in my driveway — it would be the biggest honor to lend it to you,” the husband said.
That thing was more like a minibus than a van, and while my husband had never driven a vehicle that size, it seemed like the answer to our prayers. The trunk was massive, big enough to hold all our wedding gowns and suits and everything we could possibly need for the three or four weeks we’d be gone.
Equally important, given the size of the van, we were able to maintain somewhat of a distance from our Covid cuties, who were good sports about being relegated to the rear seat and dutifully wearing their masks.
The plan was simple — leave Boca Thursday morning and drive straight through the night, so that even with a 21-hour trip, we’d make it to our home-away-from-home in Monsey well before Shabbos.
We hit I-95 bright and early. We said Tefillas Haderech and made our way through Florida and Georgia blissfully and uneventfully. As we headed through South Carolina, we started noticing some vibrations.
At first, I thought it was my son tapping on the window, but it became clear he had nothing to do with it, so we got off at a rest stop to check it out. Nothing seemed amiss, so we pulled back onto the highway a few minutes later.
But the vibrations didn’t stop, and if anything, they seemed to be getting more pronounced. Once again, we pulled off the highway, this time at South of the Border, a massive Mexican-themed rest stop with colorful and pun-filled billboards known to anyone who’s traveled I-95 in the Carolinas.
Once again, we surveyed the Sprinter, hoping to pinpoint the source of the vibrations, and once again, we came up empty. My husband put some air in the tires, just in case, and we crossed into North Carolina.
But as the miles went by, indicator lights started popping up on the dashboard warning us that tire pressure was steadily declining into the single digits. The vibrations became so intense the whole van was shaking, and you didn’t have to be an experienced mechanic to know we couldn’t wait for the next rest stop to pull over. Sure enough, we got out of the Sprinter and discovered that the driver’s side rear tire was utterly flat.
We were only moderately concerned, because both AAA and our insurance company provide emergency roadside assistance. But our confidence crumbled after both companies told us that due to the pandemic, they’d pulled that service. We tried calling local tire stores to ask if they could make a highway delivery, but none of them had the tire we needed in stock. At that moment, it hit me that we might not make it to Monsey in time — so where exactly would we be spending Shabbos?
We’re stuck on a highway somewhere in the middle of North Carolina, miles from the nearest exit, with a carful of kids — including two with Covid, I thought. There are less than 24 hours to Shabbos, and we still have 600 miles to go.
There are no words to describe just how terrifying it is to be parked on the shoulder of an interstate with cars and tractor trailers whizzing by at dizzying speeds. The threat of someone in the family missing the wedding because we might catch Covid was looming ominously over our heads, and our kids were starting to lose it. Adding insult to injury, a story popped up on our phones about a serious crash involving a car stopped on the side of a highway.
“This is dangerous,” I said to my husband. Scared and desperate, we called 911. As we waited for help, we did the only thing we could: We said Tehillim, a carful of nervous wrecks, davening fervently for Hashem’s help.
And then Eliyahu Hanavi appeared.
Forget any visions you might have of Eliyahu Hanavi on a donkey; this was 2020, and he showed up in a pickup truck — white to be exact. We watched as he drove past us, then pulled over onto the shoulder and backed up. The bed of his truck was filled with something even more precious than gold.
We must have looked like those cartoon characters whose eyes pop out of their heads as we watched him inch closer. We davened like it was the last few minutes of Ne’ilah.
Please Hashem, let one of those big, beautiful tires be the right size for our Sprinter.
A door with the words “Truck Tire Service” painted on its side opened, and out stepped a slender fellow in cargo shorts, a baseball cap, and sneakers. He made his way down the shoulder to our disabled vehicle and sized up the situation immediately. Using tools from his truck, he located our spare tire in a spot in the Sprinter where we never would have thought to look.
The police came to our rescue as well, situating themselves in a way that provided our miraculous benefactor with a modicum of safety as he got down on the ground, hoisted our huge van up with his hydraulic lift, and swapped the flat tire for the spare.
The police officers were aghast when they saw what our tire looked like: It was literally shredded and flat as a pancake.
“Had you driven for even one more minute on that tire, you could have lost control of your van” — which, at highway speeds would have been disastrous, they said.
The spare, thankfully, was a full-size tire, and the police told us it would take us safely to New York, saving us from having to track down a new tire as the hours to Shabbos continued ticking down.
Mission accomplished, Eliyahu Hanavi headed back for his pickup. My husband chased after him, insisting on paying him for his assistance. But the hero of the day refused to take any money for his efforts, explaining that he enjoys driving around and looking for people who need his help.
“You don’t understand,” said my husband. “You’re like Elijah the Prophet. You came and saved us. Please let me give you something.”
Somehow my husband managed to press a few dollars into his hand as he got into his pickup. He eased back onto the highway, disappearing as quickly as he came, and we quickly piled into the car and got back on the interstate, as well.
Baruch Hashem, we made it to Monsey with plenty of time for Shabbos. We enjoyed our two weeks in quarantine, and we all came into our simchah relaxed and (thank you Hashem!) Covid-free.
To this day, we still think about how the entire scenario played out — how, after showing up at precisely the right moment, an average-sized stranger was able to jack up our massive, packed-to-the-gills vehicle and change the tire. While we never thought to ask the pickup driver his name, we didn’t have to. There’s no doubt in our minds who he was.
Yocheved Goldberg is the rebbetzin of the Boca Raton Synagogue, a shul in South Florida with more than 1,000 families.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 956)
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