For 10 years, I prayed for the same thing everyday. When you’re married with children and one of your closest friends is still single, every simcha you are blessed with feels incomplete as you wonder, when will it be her turn to have these blessings in her life? My friend is an accomplished woman; professionally successful, lots of friends and always busy doing something. She was never one to focus on being single. And yet, I knew she was ready to move on to the next stage of life. Every man I met who was tall and smart (she’s tall and smart) was immediately bombarded with questions to determine if he would be a good match for her. Maybe he’s the one, I would hope.
So when she called me this summer and told me she was seeing someone, I began to eagerly daydream about the wedding. I couldn’t wait to see her glowing, happy face under the chuppa, beside the man who saw all the wonderful things in her that I did.
Finally, the big news. Although I had known it was coming for several months, the engagement brought so much excitement. Finally, it was her turn. With my plane ticket booked, the countdown began. The wedding was right after my winter break, which was not a great time to take off from work. My daughter’s bat mitzvah was three weeks after the wedding, which wasn’t a great time to leave the country. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t missing this wedding.
A wedding on Monday in Israel left me limited options of how to get there on time from Charleston. I planned to leave for New York on Friday morning, spend Shabbos with my parents and then leave for Israel on Motzai Shabbat so I would get to Israel a day before the wedding. I knew the winter was a risky time to take a Friday flight, and my flight itinerary left little wiggle room for delays, but I hoped for the best.
Then we heard there was snow in the forecast. In Charleston, we maybe see a glimpse of flurries once every four years so snow is a huge deal. But because it snows so rarely and forecasts are often wrong, we didn’t really believe the predictions. When they canceled school for Wednesday in anticipation of bad weather and the grocery stores were crowded with panicked customers, I laughed. Typical Southerners, freaking out because there’s a chance it might snow a little.
The joke was on us. Wednesday saw a real snow storm, the likes of which our city had not seen since 1989. My kids, some of whom had never seen snow, stood by the window watching heavy white snowflakes fall, with mouths agape. Many adults in Charleston had never seen snow either. 5 inches. No one could believe it.
When they canceled school on Thursday and then again on Friday, I started to get a little nervous about my flight. But after all, the snowstorm had ended Wednesday afternoon, the airport couldn’t possibly be closed on Friday. Right?
Wrong. On Thursday night, after spending much of the day on the phone with JetBlue with them assuring me my flight was on time, I received the message: cancelled. Cancelled? How could I possibly get to the wedding in time? In a panic, I called JetBlue and explained the situation. I could not miss this wedding, I told them. She was a very close friend, I had waited so very long for this. A very understanding representative changed my flight to a Sunday morning flight to Boston. It would get me to Israel an hour before the wedding, which didn’t thrill me but at least I would be there.
All Shabbos long, I dreamed of the wedding, so excited that I would soon be dancing with my friend. Then a friend showed me that morning’s newspaper: Charleston International Airport was still closed. Closed four days after the snow?! How could that be? According to the newspaper, the airport didn’t have any equipment to clear the snow and was waiting for Mother Nature to take care of the ice and snow on the runway. I got nervous but tried to stay calm: surely by the time Shabbos was over, the airport would be open.
Shabbos ended and the airport had good news: one runway was finally open! After being nervous for hours, I was giddy with excitement! I was going to Israel!
I became suspicious when the system didn’t allow me to check in for the flight but chalked it up to nerves, especially when JetBlue assured me the flight was on. Ten minutes after I hung up with the airline, I received the email: cancelled. It seemed the airport was only open for flight arrivals but was closing for departures. More panic. More hours on the phone with JetBlue. I was desperate. I will drive anywhere to catch the flight to Boston, I told them, just put me on a flight that I can drive to. They were very nice and put me on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, just 3 hours away from Charleston. I was thrilled. I was going to the wedding.
I woke up at 5am on Sunday, ready to leave for Charlotte to catch my flight. Before leaving, I randomly checked my emails and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw an email from El Al. They had delayed my Boston flight to Israel by a day. I would miss the wedding. I was shocked. Not again! It couldn’t be. I called El Al in tears. I explained the story. In minutes, the representative had me on another flight, flying from Charlotte to JFK and then to Israel. The only problem was that it would land an hour into the wedding, which meant I would miss the chuppa. I asked her to check Toronto flights, Newark flights, anything that could get me there on time. She did. There was just no way to get me there earlier. I was upset and so was my friend but there was nothing to be done. Baruch Hashem, she was getting married. That was the real simcha, whether I was there to see it or not. And maybe I would get there for some of the wedding.
But even that was not assured. JFK was apparently a wreck after the snowstorm and while driving to Charlotte, I received another email from El Al: my New York flight was now also delayed by a day. It would arrive the day after the wedding. Four flights cancelled or delayed?! I could not believe it. Did Hashem not want to be at the wedding? What was the message He was trying to send me?
My friend really wanted me to be at her wedding and reached out to her travel agent, who found a route flying through Germany; El Al who had been working so hard to find a flight for me happily made the change. Amazingly, the one flight that could get me to Israel on time was actually leaving from the airport I was driving to, surely hashgacha pratis. Thanks to this fifth flight itinerary, I landed in Ben Gurion an hour and five minutes before the wedding.
Ben Gurion security helped me get through quickly when I explained where I was going and thanks to friends who were waiting for me at the airport, we got to the wedding on time. I got to see my friend married to a most wonderful tall, smart and most importantly, kind man, her face aglow, and I got to witness her happiness, which meant so much to me.
There was so much I learned through this experience. I learned you can’t fight Mother Nature. I learned that as hard as we try, we just aren’t in control and sometimes after putting in our best efforts, we have to accept defeat. I also learned that sometimes when we least expect it, Hashem makes things work out. When Hashem wants something to happen, no storm in the world, no odds stacked against you can stop it. I wondered if perhaps Hashem made it so hard for me get there so I could appreciate it all the more, similar as to how Hashem hardened Paroah’s heart in this week’s parsha so that all of Egypt would see the hand of Hashem so much more, through great miracles. Whatever the reason of why this trip had to be accompanied with so much stress, I am so appreciative that Hashem made it all work out.
But in addition to the wedding, I am also so grateful for something else I got to witness: the kindness of others. Four separate times, JetBlue and El Al rebooked me at no extra charge, only wanting to know what time the wedding started so they could find me a flight that would arrive in time. Each time I spoke to El Al, the representative wished me mazal tov and assured me that Israeli chuppas never start on time. When the airlines were being bombarded with calls from thousands of frustrated passengers, these people were able to take a moment out of their hectic day to hear the pain of a woman who so badly wanted to be at her friend’s wedding. I can’t even say what their empathy meant to me. Even when El Al couldn’t help me find a flight and I thought I would miss the chuppa, they tried to comfort me. In the grand scheme of things- did it matter so much that I couldn’t be there? I am sure airline representatives speak to people who are in far worse situations. But despite how trivial it may have seemed to them, they felt my pain and did whatever they could to help. I can’t begin to count the amount of friends who immediately started looking for alternative flights for me, who offered to drive me to Boston or Charlotte- including one friend whose flight was also canceled and who ultimately was unable to go. The friends who started a whatsapp group called “Get Ariela to Israel”, who drove my getaway car to the wedding. I can go on.
Above all the lessons I learned, for me this story was about the power of empathy. About taking a step out of our bubble and whatever is going on in our own lives to feel the pain of another, of going out of our comfort zone and doing just a little bit more to ease the burden of another. Important lessons I need to implement in my own life in my interactions with others.
Indeed, it was a wedding to remember. But the acts of kindness that enabled me to be there and the lessons learned, were perhaps just as memorable.