There are times when the mitzvah that you set out to do doesn't end up being the one that you accomplish - and when you end up getting more from an experience than you gave. And that was the night that I had last night.
While visiting Stella in the hospital last night, I heard that someone in the next room needed a ride. Yes, ironically, one of Stella's chemo nurses is a patient on the ward as well, and one of her visitors needed a ride back to the Gush. We live about 20 minutes (35 in annoying traffic) from the hospital, so this woman was thrilled to hear at 8:30 pm that someone was going towards her home.
I was happy to comply and had planned to bring the visitor to a stop where she could find another ride for the second leg of her trip.
And then I met her.
Yaffa is close to 80 years old. As we started to leave the hospital, I asked her how she had planned to get home if I hadn't been there. It was a cold January night, and here was this slightly stooped over, albeit energetic, 80 year old woman visiting the hospital.
"Oh, I would have taken a bus to Gilo and then hitched a ride home from someone."
I had to giggle and shake my head.
Needless to say, I took her directly to her door, but along the way I received a great deal more than I gave.
Yaffa, it turns out, made Aliyah from Brooklyn in 1971 and moved to Alon Shvut (one of the neighborhoods of Gush Etzion) in 1972. She was one of the first 50 families to settle in, what she referred to as, a Dust Bowl. There were virtually no people in the area where we today live with over 30,000 residents, and they were pioneers returning to the land that Jews had been forced to leave in 1948.
She told me about the vision that those early settlers had, and about the joy at seeing her children playing each day on Jewish land, even if it was dusty land. She said, with great pride in her voice, that her daughter was one of the first 12 members of the 8th grade graduating class from the school where she now teaches, and where all of her own children have completed their education.
"If that's not coming back home," she remarked, "then I don't know what is."
I often joke with Josh that I feel like every older person in this country is a walking, talking history book. That they all have amazing stories to tell of the Shoah, of life in pre-state Israel, of the early days of Aliyah, of the creation of a State.
Josh laughs that some old people here are just, well, old.
"Nah," I always say, "Can't be." And I enjoyed being proven right last night.
As we drove home, I looked over at this older woman with awe, respect and delight.
As we reached Alon Shvut, I asked her if she's recorded her life story for her grandchildren. "Hell," I said, "for me!"
She said she hadn't, but that it was definitely a good idea.
As she left the car, I thanked her for giving me a future here in Gush Etzion and for reminding me tonight to appreciate the present that we have as well.