The Human Spirit: At the shalom garage

What could be better than doing the Shabbat shopping in Sderot?

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
If it hadn't been for their son's backpack in the Second Lebanon War, the whole story might not have happened. Mary and Rabbi Yonah Fuld of Jerusalem might not have found themselves in Sderot that Friday morning and stuck on the roadside on Friday afternoon. Everything is connected. Ari Fuld, 36, a martial arts instructor, was called up for the Second Lebanon War in the paratroop unit where he did reserve duty. They were in a difficult position within a Lebanese village, and took cover in an apple orchard. Ari was among five soldiers dispatched to bring back comrades who had fallen. A father of four, he recited the confessional prayer, vidui, in case he, too, God forbid, was killed. He left the heavy backpack on the ground under an apple tree. He made it back but realized he was bleeding. A piece of shrapnel from a missile had penetrated his flak jacket, but stopped before it cut a major artery. But on the spot where he'd been sitting, his backpack had been torn apart by missile debris. The near miss made Ari rethink his priorities. With the support of his wife Miriam, he changed his career, began studying mornings in a yeshiva and eventually working there. They would be hosting a large group of unmarried students on Shabbat. What could be better than doing the shopping in Sderot? He invited his good-natured parents to come along and do their shopping, too. "It sounded like a great idea," said Mary Fuld, who teaches English at Hebrew University. The Fulds have five children and 15 grandchildren. Their home is often full of family and Shabbat guests. Their Friday routine includes considerable food shopping in the pretty stores of their Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka. They decided to buy their halla, nuts and whatever came along serendipitously in Sderot. "We didn't like the idea of sending tzedaka to Sderot," said Mary. "We wanted to say thank you to the residents who live there. And we wanted to spend money there." She and Yonah had one caveat: They would take their car, which was newer and more reliable than their son's. After all, it was Friday. So they picked up Ari in Efrat and drove to Sderot. The whole trip took an hour and 10 minutes. "We went in high spirits," said Yonah. FOR MANY years Yonah was the principal of SAR, a prestigious Jewish school in Riverdale, New York. When they arrived, they ran into a former student among the shoppers. Today Rabbi Fuld is educational director of the Lookstein Program at Bar-Ilan University and dean of students at Yeshivat Sha'arei Mevaseret Zion. Inside the Sderot bakery, the aroma was heavenly. A crowd of some 50 people, locals and many others like the Fulds who had come from safer cities to shop, waited to pick out their whole wheat halla and chocolate rugelach. The first Kassam rocket found the Fulds there, in the bakery. The owner wiped her hands on her apron and directed them into the reinforced rear of the bakery to wait out the attack. "It was all so calm and orderly that it didn't occur to us to be afraid," said Mary. Out buying pumpkin seeds and sugar-coated walnuts at a kiosk, they heard the second city-wide missile warning: Tzeva Adom, Color Red. Now they were in an open area. A policeman gestured for them to follow him, and Mary, Yonah and Ari held hands and ran as fast as they could after him. They found tenuous shelter under a pergola, and complied as the policeman barked instructions for them to lie flat on their stomachs, and to cover their heads with the plastic picnic table. As they lay there waiting, to their horror, the policeman began chanting Shema Yisrael in a tremulous voice. Said Mary, "I thought of my Mom who had survived Auschwitz always saying to me, 'Mary-kem, I hope none of my children has to ever go through war.'" The boom of the rocket hitting was much closer this time, but for Yonah the low point was the frightened cry of the policeman. "The helplessness of an Israeli in uniform in his 30s was hard to bear. We waited to hear the Israeli planes striking back, but they never came." The Fulds loaded the warm car with their snacks, soda, scrumptious-smelling baked pastries and nine hallot. Despite the morning events, they decided that if they were this far south, they'd go a little further to see the blooming wildflowers, particularly the anemones everyone was raving about. And then, somewhere, on an unfamiliar road in the Western Negev, around 2 p.m., they noticed steam rising from the hood of their car. They pulled over to the side. Five or six cars stopped to offer help, to diagnose their problem and even to offer Shabbat hospitality in case they were stuck in the area. Yonah phoned a towing service, but the dispatcher couldn't promise a tow truck for three hours. What to do? They were exposed to a next missile attack and they'd never make it back home before Shabbat. Half an hour went by. A taxi driver who stopped recommended a mechanic back in Sderot. He happened to have the phone number. The mechanic, Shalom Miara, had already closed his shop for the day and gone home. As a rule, he didn't make road calls. But the 40-something bachelor agreed to drive out and have a look under the hood. He brought along a can of antifreeze. With the addition of antifreeze, the car made it back to Sderot. And so the Fulds returned to the beleaguered city. Miara lifted the shutters on his shop and began to work on their car. Half an hour later he realized there was no way he could finish the repair before Shabbat. It was now almost three. How would they get home? "Just take my car," Miara insisted. He handed Yonah the keys to a new Mitsubishi. When they expressed their astonishment at his offer he showed them a photo of a pious-looking man with a beard who had immigrated from a village in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. "Look at my late father. I don't wear a kippa, but we were brought up to help others." So Mary, Yonah and Ari moved the cartons of soda, the nine hallot, bags of seeds and stacks of cakes from their immobilized car to the mechanic's nicer one. Then they drove a complete stranger's car back to Efrat, dropping off Ari and making it home to Jerusalem before Shabbat. On Sunday, they returned to Sderot to pick up their repaired car. Miara brushed off their thanks. "That's the way we do things here in Sderot,"he said. "We wanted to spend money in Sderot and we did," said Mary Fuld, "but got more for it than we could have imagined." By the way, Miara's number is (08) 689-9859. You never know when you'll need it. Only later did Mary and Yonah notice the name on the mechanic's card: The Shalom Garage. Sderot.