As we heard our flight announced canceled, Mr. Safek sprang into action, heading to check on whether or not we could catch a later flight. I kept on knitting, working on a baby blanket for the next little one that would come along in our new community. I didn’t yet know we were about to head off on another wild adventure, but I felt strangely calm given that we were at the airport to get a flight to Newark, NJ, to then travel to Brooklyn to meet with the Beis Din.
For those new to this story, a Beis Din is an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical court. They handle all kinds of matters, but the one important to us is conversion. Our last meeting with a Beis Din had been 6 years ago and we were hopeful that this meeting would be the last one we’d have before we’d be approved to convert. Our particular Beis Din has on it Rabbis that spend part of their time in other countries, so scheduling had been a little tricky, but we had a meeting for that following morning and my husband had booked a flight for the night before, to give us plenty of time.
Or so we had thought.
After a lot of confusion and rushing around, it became clear that the airline had rebooked us for a flight…the next morning. It was for a time a few minutes after our meeting would have been. There was no way we’d make it to the meeting if we took that flight and there was no time to get on another at another airport. My husband took out his phone and quickly pulled up maps and found that we MIGHT be able to drive it. If we left immediately and everything went perfectly, we could arrive at our meeting with 1 hour to spare, but that would not account for any stops or traffic or potential construction or issues. It was a long shot.
We looked at each other and nodded and he went to get our checked bag back while I texted the Rabbi in charge of our Beis Din, our Rabbi, the couple watching our children, updating them all on the change of plans. We began what would be a 15 hour drive, across the rest of the continent with high spirits. Friends and family were saying Tehillim (psalms) for us. We laughed a bit…it seemed fitting that we would have to drive halfway across North America since my husband had already driven the other half less than a month ago, moving our belongings from Alaska to our new home.
The GPS had a clock that said when we would arrive. I watched that clock as I drove, striving to shave every minute off I could. Every minute I saved that night meant a little more for when we would hit NJ and NY, which would be right around rush hour. We’d need every minute we could squeeze out for anything that might come up. We took turns driving and when we would stop for fuel, we’d take turns using the restroom. We ate whatever kosher snacks we could find along the road. I couldn’t sleep at all even when I wasn’t driving…I was too anxious that we make it in time.
I took the second to the last driving shift, the mountains through Pennsylvania at night. Mr. Safek slept so that he could be alert for driving in the city. As I drove, I reached construction, one lane roads with fog winding through mountains. I gripped the steering wheel and remembered just months before driving through the mountains near Denali, in Alaska, during a snow storm. I told myself that if I was able to do that safely, Hashem would help me do this as well. It was the time of night when even most truckers are not on the road, instead bunched up in rest areas, sleeping until dawn. I kept driving, my mind repeating, “I look to the mountains, where does my help come from?” I remembered all the people we knew who were cheering us on. Finally, the sun began to rise as the mountains turned to foothills.
We switched drivers. The clock on the GPS told us that we had bought back about 20 minutes to add to the hour we had. It had cost us a speeding ticket in Ohio, but we now had a chance of making it to the meeting on time. My husband drove through NJ and then we began to hit heavier traffic. My heart sunk as traffic inched to a crawl, but the GPS clock only ticked a minute or two forward on our arrival time.
As we neared the bridge to Brooklyn, I began to feel a different kind of anxiety, no doubt fed also by the lack of sleep. There were so many people and cars! I began to feel almost claustrophobic as we crossed the bridge, a kind of irrational fear gripping my heart. I had rarely seen so many people in such a small area. We drove on, finally finding the place we were staying, not far from where the Beis Din would meet and I kept trying to use reason against this fear.
We changed clothes quickly and tried to freshen up. I’m afraid we both probably looked like we’d been driving all night, but we were ready to go. I wondered how I would answer any difficult halakhic questions they would give us. Would I remember the bracha for each food? Would I remember how to make tea on Shabbos? What if my mind just blanked? We drove around, looking for a parking space and finally found one, then we walked in the muggy July heat. The city was preparing for July 4th, the next day. Our minds were so far from anything like that. We passed by a man shouting to himself, obviously upset and not quite sane and another man talking to himself about how crazy it is to talk to yourself. My husband remarked about the irony there and we both tried to smile a bit.
We made it to the Beis Din meeting on time, despite so many obstacles and odds.
I had no idea what I would say or how it would go, but I was so proud of us just for making it there. I tried to slow my heartbeat and to force my mind to form a coherent thought. I tried to breathe. Mostly, I tried to remember why we were there and find the words to clearly express that to the Rabbis.
Meanwhile, we waited, hoping for answers to our life as a question.