Lighting the Path // Stories of Hashgachah Pratis in the world of kiruv

By Shterna Karp


After the tefillos on Rosh Hashanah last year, Rabbi Mendy and Menucha Blank walked four miles down to the pier at Shorebird Park in Emeryville, California. The Tashlich event scheduled for that afternoon was their first program in the area. The couple had packed up their small Crown Heights apartment and moved across the country only two weeks before Tishrei, so although Menucha had forwarded an invite on WhatsApp, emails and social media, the Blanks’ circle of contacts had yet to grow significantly.

If even two people showed up on the pier that afternoon, they would consider the program well-attended.

Up and down the hilly roads so common in Northern California, the couple dragged a cooler filled with apples, honey sticks, water bottles and Menucha’s homemade honey cake. Rabbi Blank carried his shofar in his hand, and every once in a while he offered to blow tekios for someone they met along the way.

The sun was relentless, especially for an hour-and-a-half-long walk. But it would be worthwhile when they reached the pier.

Menucha was grateful that they had changed the Tashlich location at the last minute. “Imagine if we were walking to the marina now!” she told her husband halfway toward Shorebird Park. Rabbi Blank had schlepped the cooler under a tree at the side of the road so there was something to sit on when he and Menucha escaped the sun for a few minutes.

The Blanks’ original plan was to host the Tashlich event at the marina a mile further on. Then they realized that there was a closer option and switched the venue. With the strong heat beating down on them that Rosh Hashanah afternoon, Mendy and Menucha were glad for every minute of walking saved.

When they made it to the pier at last, Cheryl, one of the Blanks’ neighbors, was the lone Jew there to greet them. She waved from across the dock as Mendy and Menucha continued to carry the heavy cooler. They reached the dock, out of breath—and a little disappointed that it was only the three of them. As realistic as they were, in the deep place that holds faith strong, they had hoped for a larger crowd.

Menucha peered down the empty wooden dock. There was no one else approaching. “Let’s give it a few more minutes before we start,” she told Cheryl. As the group of three waited, they chatted—about the Yom Tov, the beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the delicious honey cake that Cheryl had helped bake on Erev Yom Tov.

Time passed, and they looked down the shoreline during every pause in the conversation. “Should we start?” Rabbi Blank asked. The pier was still empty. No one else was coming.

Menucha passed out photocopies of Tashlich, and the three of them said it together word by word. Just beyond the white sands that stretched out from underneath the dock, the waves picked up speed and crashed down on the shoreline. A flock of geese took flight when the crashing waves reached them. They dipped and dove against the blue sky and white clouds, the sound of their honking drowning out the Tashlich tefillah.

Menucha watched the geese quiet down and fall into rhythm again. As one unit, they continued on, landing several feet from where they had taken flight. Where the geese had first stood on the shore, the Blanks could now see a middle-aged woman sitting on a cracked, peeling log. Her silhouette was still except for the slight rustle of the papers in her lap. Was she reading? Writing? They couldn’t tell.

The woman turned around when she heard the couple coming closer. She looked them up and down, stopping when she saw the ram’s horn in Rabbi Blank’s hand.

“Is that a shofar?” the woman asked.

“Are you Jewish?” Rabbi Blank asked.

The woman nodded and introduced herself as Anica. She tilted her head and her eyes widened when Menucha invited her to join them for Tashlich. “Really? I can join?”

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