This past weekend, two Jewish high-school girls Bracha Katz and Rivkah Moshe from Miami, Florida, joined their classmates on a school trip to Orlando. During the weekend, on Shabbat afternoon, the two went for a stroll, when they tripped and fell into a swamp. They managed to extract themselves from the swamp, but were unable to make their back to their hotel. Their efforts to return drew them unwittingly further and further into the forest.
The girls spent seventeen hours in the forest, at times immersed in swamp water to their necks, but were spied by a search helicopter on Sunday morning and were eventually rescued. After their harrowing ordeal, they emerged relatively unscathed from what could have been a disastrous foray into a dangerous swamp and forest; an incredibly happy outcome.
Not discounting the fabulous fortune of these two young ladies, I want to touch on an amazing sidebar to this story. Word of their disappearance spread on social media and immediately after Shabbat, hundreds of volunteers showed up to search for them. Jews across the world prayed for them and hoped against hope that they would be found.
Their personal plight became our collective plight and highlighted the unity of our people. The power of social media is indisputable, but the humanity and soulfulness of our people is even greater. This story inspired perfect strangers to respond like family.
I heard that a young man paralyzed from the waist down rode his wheelchair up to one of the vans preparing to ferry volunteers to the search site. When the man was told that the van was not equipped for wheelchair access, he replied, “I know I can’t come along, but I wanted to come as far as I could so I too could be part of the rescue effort.”
There is no way to tell whether this particular story is true, but whether it occurred or not, it underscores the depth of our Jewish bond and the beauty of our Jewish heart.
I am overjoyed that the girls returned home safely that day and I cannot imagine the anguish they experienced that night. But what I will remember most from this story is the incredible response of the Jewish community. The outpouring of love and support that was heard here on earth that night, will echo across the heavens for many years to come.
Am Yisrael Chai