The Miracle of Yom Kippur Eve
True story. Some years ago, when some of my best friends were still Lubavitchers, (not that they are no longer Lubavitchers, just that my taste in friends has widened some) Baruch (formerly Brian) and Chaikele (formerly Saffron, don't ask) invited me to spend Yom Kippur with them.
At that time, I was living in Hendon, like a good newly-arrived-from-the-provinces former Bnei Akiva girlie, and it's a long drive from NW4 to Stamford Hill, especially on a short October day. So on a dark, slightly icy morning, I shlepped across town and left my car at Finsbury Park.
I thought I was so cool. It was before mobile phones, instant messages and spontaneous half-arrangements, when planning was everything and getting there on time was still my religion.
At work for quarter to eight, I got down to it, knowing I'd have to leave at three thirty to make it in time for Yom Tov. They had a lot of - I'd never worked out quite how many - children, and I was sure the last thing they would want would be me getting there after Yom Tov came in.
Arriving at Finsbury Park at four I made straight for my car. I started the engine, and it was dead. Nothing. Gornisht. I got out of my car and noticed that I'd left my lights on since 7am. Shit. I opened the bonnet - I don't really know why, as I had no idea what to look for. I looked under the hood at the spaghetti junction of wires and technical stuff - gederim the inside of anything was generally called in my family - hoping for inspiration.
Should I leave my car and get a cab? Would my car still be here when I got back? Would I find a cab around here? These were the thoughts going through my head as I walked to the nearest unvandalised phone box.
"We'll be two hours," the very nice AA man told me. This was before they asked if you were a woman on your own, or were particularly competing with any other roadside recovery agency on waiting times.
I walked back to my car and tried the engine again. Utterly dead. Panic was setting in. There were about twenty minutes to Yom Tov.
As I open the bonnet again and peer in, a guy draws up in a beaten up BMW and winds down his window. The truth? He looks, to me, like a drug dealer.
"My car won't start."
"Looks like de battery dead."
He gets out of his car. He's tall, lanky almost, well dressed in a proto-ghetto-fabulous way (smart suit, a little heavy on the gold shmondries). In other circumstances I might possibly be frightened, but I'm frankly more worried about offending my hosts by arriving late. My new best friend peers under my bonnet. He evidently has more idea of what to look for than I do.
"Definitely de battery lady."
"Can you help me? I'm in a real hurry. See, it's a Jewish festival, starts when it gets dark, don't want to be late."
He looks up at the setting sun and shrugs. Bringing some jump leads out of his car, another bystander helps hook them up as I stand helplessly by and my friend reparks his car so we can jump start. No joy. Ten minutes.
"You need a new battery."
I'm halfway between the profuse thanks that Jewish people offer to tradesmen fulfilling basic household tasks and desperate.
"I'm really worried about the time. I have to get to Stamford Hill in nine minutes."
I'm babbling now.
"I have a spare battery in de boot of me car."
If I did believe in God, the Abishter, a Higher Power or some kind of cross between the Jolly Green Giant and Father Christmas dressed in United Synagogue canonicles, I don't think I ever thought that his messenger here on earth would be slightly shabby overdressed black guy in Finsbury Park erev Yom Kippur.
So he's swapping them over, putting my dead battery in the boot of my car, thoughtfully lining it with newspaper first.
"Thank you so much. Can I … er, give you something for the battery?"
"No problem lady."
"But I must return it to you."
"No hurry." He hands me his business card. He's the director of a housing charity in Camden. So much for my open-mindedness.
I thank him profusely, gushing in a middle class way till I drive off, and get to Baruch and Chaikele's with a moment to spare before bolting down my meal for instant indigestion and running to Kol Nidre. As I'm relating my mini-miracle story to them, there's only one thing troubling them.
"But if he was black, wasn't he in a hurry to get home for Yom Tov too?"
See, I'd forgotten that "black" in ultra-orthodox Jewish circles means black-hatted, sidecurl (peyot) wearing blokes. So much for their multi-cultural open-mindedness, too, then.