It was the late 1970s, and Leslie Wenig had just finished three grueling years of law school and a bar exam. He couldn’t wait to celebrate by getting away for a bit. He decided to take a trip to Europe before starting his new position in the fall. After touring the continent, he resolved to make a stop in Israel, where his grandparents had been buried a few years ago, to pay his respects. His grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, had fulfilled a lifelong dream to move from America to the Holy Land when all their children were married and settled. Leslie’s family had held on to their apartment in Jerusalem, so he had a place to stay.
Leslie knew that his grandparents were buried in Beit Shemesh, and once in Israel he didn’t anticipate having any trouble finding the graves. While the Sephardic cemetery in Beit Shemesh is ancient, the Ashkenazi one is much newer and less crowded. He arrived and began walking through the cemetery, reading the headstones. The graves were quite spread out, and he walked from stone to stone, unable to find his grandparents. It was a torrid August day, and the Middle Eastern sun beat down mercilessly on Leslie’s head. He was extremely thirsty and hot, and becoming more and more upset as the time passed and he just couldn’t find the graves. The driver was waiting impatiently for him, and he felt like he was going to faint from the heat and fatigue. Finally, he gave up. He got back in the cab and returned to his grandparents’ apartment on Yahalom Street. The following day, he decided not to repeat this trying experience.
Instead, he thought he’d go to Kever Rachel, the gravesite of the biblical matriarch Rachel, a site Jews often visit to pour out their hearts in prayer. The tomb has a small dome-shaped structure over it that shelters visitors from the sun. Leslie figured he’d pray there a little and keep his grandparents in mind, as if he’d gone to visit their graves.He hailed a cab and asked the driver how much he’d charge to take him to Kever Rachel. The driver, a coarse-looking fellow in jeans and a faded T-shirt, named a price in shekels that was about the equivalent of $300—for a trip to a site that isn’t much more than half an hour out of Jerusalem. “Are you crazy?” Leslie retorted. “That’s outrageous!” The two men haggled furiously. Finally the driver said, “Okay, I’ll take you for 86 shekels. But you can only stay inside for ten minutes!” Leslie shrugged, not quite taking him seriously. They set off for Kever Rachel and arrived without incident. Leslie went inside and began to pray.
The holy ambiance of the site uplifted him, transporting him to a loftier sphere; he read the words in his prayer book and drank in new depths of meaning. He thought of his grandparents and prayed for them. Ten minutes passed, and another ten.He lost all sense of time. When he finally emerged into the blinding Middle Eastern sunlight, he found himself face to face with a fuming cab driver. “We said only ten minutes!” the cabbie snarled. “Now the price is going to be 160!” He got behind the wheel with a disgruntled expression. “Okay, where to now?” Leslie told him to head to 23 Yahalom Street. He couldn’t wait to get home and out of this cab; this driver was really a piece of work. The driver maneuvered the car onto the main road. Suddenly he remarked, “My grandparents lived at 23 Yahalom Street.” Do you think I care where your grandparents lived? Leslie thought nastily.
Nevertheless, after a few minutes he found himself saying, “My grandparents also lived at 23 Yahalom Street.” “Mine lived on the second floor,” the driver said. Leslie wrinkled his brow. He knew there were only two apartments on the second floor. One belonged to his grandparents, and the other belonged to a lady who was close to a hundred years old. Could this cabbie have such an elderly grandparent? “My grandparents’ name was Geller,” the cabbie was now saying. Leslie almost fainted. His grandparents’ name was Geller! How could this obnoxious cab driver possibly be related to him? “How are you a grandson of Geller?” he choked out.
The cabbie smiled as he threw a cigarette out the window. “Well, as you see, I’m a driver,” he said. “Back in the seventies, I was driving at the airport, and I was hailed by an old couple with a bunch of suitcases. They needed to go to 23 Yahalom Street. “The old man was crying with emotion. As we traveled, he told me he was finally realizing his dream to live in Israel. He’d been through the Holocaust, raised a family in America, and now that they were grown up, he’d come here. “I felt so inspired by this elderly man and his tremendous love for the Holy Land. When we reached the building, I couldn’t just let them schlep their suitcases up the stairs by themselves. I got out and helped them. When they opened the front door, I saw all their furniture had arrived, but it was still sitting in boxes. I thought, how could they ever assemble all of it on their own? “The next day was already Friday, right before Shabbat.
I spent the better part of the night putting together their furniture. It was a big job, and when I finished, I decided to ask them for some money for my pains. The old lady said, ‘Come by later to eat some chicken soup. After that, I’ll give you the money.’ I came for the chicken soup, and then she told me, ‘Now come back tomorrow for the cholent.’ So I came back for the cholent, and in the end we all became very close. They became my surrogate grandparents, and I became their personal chauffeur.”
Leslie sat in the back seat, astonished. It didn’t surprise him that his open-hearted grandparents had befriended an Israeli man who was so different from them, but what were the odds he would end up in this same man’s taxi? A thought occurred to him. “Hey,” he said, “would you by any chance know where my grandparents are buried? I went to Beit Shemesh yesterday, but I couldn’t find them.” The man gave a snort. “Do I know where they’re buried? Do I know?” He opened the glove compartment and took out a wellthumbed Sefer Tehillim and a yarmulke. He handed the book to Leslie, who opened the front cover and saw his aunt’s name inscribed on the flyleaf. “Your aunt came to Israel, and she gave me $100 and asked me to go to her parents’ graves regularly to pray. So of course I go!” The cabbie gave another snort of laughter. “Do I know where my own grandparents are buried?” he repeated. The elderly couple’s personal chauffeur then proceeded to chauffeur their grandson to the very gravesite he’d made a special trip to visit.