It was a nippy, star-filled Friday night, and we were on our way to a bar mitzvah. We -- Julius, my husband of 50 years; our son,
David; and I -- had traveled from the Valley to Santa Maria for the celebration.
The service was called for 6:15 p.m. We started out for the new Temple Ner Shalom, located in a new area of San Luis Obispo, about 5:20 p.m., explicit instructions clutched in Julius' hand. He became the navigator, and from the backseat, I became the one who oversaw speed control. I did what all good motherly backseat drivers do: I nagged.
The family had asked Uncle David to lead the congregation in "L'cha Dodi," "Ahavat Olam" and to sing a solo of his own arrangement of Helfman's choral piece, "Hashkivenu." David was honored to be asked and was excited about adding something special to his nephew's bar mitzvah.
There was little traffic on the freeway north to San Luis Obispo. Julius asked if the heat could be turned down. Julius is always warm, and David always has a sweater draped over his shoulders to ward off any chills that are chasing him.
David didn't answer, just opened Julius' window. The instructions in Julius' hand went "whoosh" and were sucked out of the car.
Luckily, between the three of us, we remembered (amid nervous laughter) that we had to exit the freeway at the Los Osos off-ramp.
David pulled up at a gas station and went in to ask whether anyone knew of a new synagogue up the road. Of course, they didn't, so he checked the phone book for Conservative Temples in San Luis Obispo. David got good directions to the old site, and off we went, hoping to find information there.
We found the place, a door, with no lights anywhere. It turned out the address was for the whole building. David found a photography shop with a young lady who knew about the shul, its move and where it was now.
"Take a left turn at the corner to Foothill," she said, pointing. "Go way out into the country to O'Connor. Turn right. You can't miss it."
We called that the first miracle of the evening. Off we went.
O'Connor was a very dark street in a sparsely populated area. There were a few houses on private hilly roads.
We went all the way to the end of O'Connor, where a gate and sign told us not to go any further. David turned the car around, and we began to retrace our route. By this time it was 6:30 p.m. We were missing the service.
"Look," I said. "There's a house up that hill with a Star of David on it."
"Nah, those are Christmas decorations," said Julius, our official directions-loser and naysayer.
"Why don't we check the house out anyway," I said. "Maybe it's the shul. That certainly is a six pointed star. And it's on the way back anyhow."
David slowed the car at the driveway. A sign told us we were at the approach to a Benedictine monastery, "Visitors Welcome." So up we went to the parking lot.
Then miracle No. 2 occurred. A pleasant lady at a desk inside gave David directions:
"Turn left out of our driveway, go back down the road. Just before you get to Foothill, there's a narrow dark road named Laureate. Turn left. You'll find the synagogue after a short drive."
So down we went again, out the driveway and onto O'Connor, where David's car met a skunk. The men saw the animal in the car's lights.
David swerved to avoid the skunk. He is convinced we were its destiny, that God sent us from the San Fernando Valley because it was that particular skunk's time to meet his maker.
To paraphrase lines from the musical "Man of La Mancha": "It doesn't matter if the tire meets the skunk or the skunk meets the tire ... it's going to be bad for the skunk."
Julius said it was beautiful, and David said we were his fate. I just heard the crushing of bones. I hope I never hear that sound again and prayed later that the little critter died instantly.
The miracle of the skunk was the lack of smell. It didn't spray us on the dark road between the monastery with the six-pointed star and the shul.
It was 7 p.m. when we entered the synagogue. The rabbi immediately invited David to come up to sing the "Hashkivenu." We don't know if we entered in time for that prayer or whether the rabbi was just happy that we had arrived safely.
David sang. It was beautiful, and he was delighted to have fulfilled the honor bestowed on him by the family. It was a miracle that we'd made it with enough time for David to sing.
I looked up the "Hashkivenu" in the prayerbook. The translation says:
"Help us, our Father ... guide us with Your good counsel ... guard us and deliver us."
If God didn't guide, guard and deliver us to the bar mitzvah, who did?
Rae Shapiro is a member of Temple Ner Maarav and has written its newsletter for the past two years. She is a published author in "Women Forged in Fire" and in three charitable anthologies.