One Family


Avrohom and Rivkie Alter had spent a lot of time passing through security. Over the past few weeks, they had traveled through Frankfurt, Warsaw, Gur, and Vienna, tracing the footsteps of their great-grandparents. At every airport, every train station, their bags were checked and they were waved through metal detectors by impassive strangers. Sometimes suitcases were opened and their belongings pawed through, and there were no Jews there to throw a sympathetic glance their way. It may have been the land of their grandparents, but they were utterly alone.
Now, finally, they were in Eretz Yisrael.
They landed one night just after a spate of terrorist attacks, and the tension hung thick over every security checkpoint. The guards in the airport, the van drivers, even the hotel receptionists, were all on edge.
The Alters settled in, unpacked, and decided to daven Mincha at the Kosel. They walked to the Old City, joining the crowds streaming through the alleys. As they descended the stairs towards the Kotel Plaza, Avrohom and Rivkie reached the line leading to yet another security checkpoint. There, a metal detector, an X-ray machine and a table manned by security agents made a physical inspection of every bag, purse and backpack that entered the Kotel Plaza.
Avrohom handed over his cell phone to a bareheaded soldier and passed through the metal detectors without incident. Rivkie fed her purse through the X-ray machine, and they prepared to keep walking. Suddenly there was a yell behind them. “Shel mi hatik hazeh?”
The guard was holding Rivkie’s purse.
The Alters looked at each other with trepidation. What could Rivkie possibly have in her purse that would arouse such suspicion?
“It’s ours,” Avrohom said in Hebrew. “Ma habaaya?”
The guard—a Sephardic chiloni, a stranger they had never seen before—reached into the purse and pulled out a small bottle of Advil. “I have a toothache,” he said sheepishly. “May I take some of these?”
Rivkie laughed. “Yes, of course!”
The guard popped the pills, closed the bottle, and returned Rivkie’s purse. “Todah rabbah!” he said, and waved them on.
The Alters didn’t know the guard, and he didn’t know them. In all likelihood they will never meet again. The Alters are chareidi, the guard chiloni. The Alters are Ashkenazi, the guard Sephardi. But no matter. In that moment, they were family. Wouldn’t you ask your sister for some Advil?