It couldn't have happened at a more inconvenient moment. There I was, driving on the highway toward Jerusalem, making good time on my way to a meeting, when a distinctly unpleasant and decidedly unwelcome sound suddenly interrupted my vehicular bliss.
The odd flapping noise produced by torn rubber as it scrapes along the pavement at 90 kilometers per hour was, sadly, quite unmistakable, so I had little choice but to pull over to the side of the road.
Getting out of the car, I hesitantly approached the back wheel. Like a rookie cop arriving at his first crime scene, I could feel the knot in my stomach begin to tighten at the sight that lay before my eyes. Sure enough, just as I had suspected, it was a flat tire, torn to shreds beyond all recognition.
Great, I thought to myself, just when it seemed like everything was going smoothly, my latest attempt at punctuality has just been, well, punctured.
Worse yet, it occurred to me that the gash in my tire not only presented a challenge to my promptness, but also to my sense of manhood, too.
After all, I had no idea how to change the darn thing, since auto maintenance had not been part of the curriculum at the yeshiva day school I had attended back in New York.
And with cars racing by at what seemed like the speed of light, the narrow shoulder of the thoroughfare did not strike me as the best place to inaugurate my first encounter with the science of tire replacement.
So I did what any sensible, and utterly helpless, man would do in this type of situation: I frantically called my wife. Then I proceeded to stand next to the road, waving my hands wildly in the air like a madman, hoping that someone, anyone, would stop to help.
Only several minutes, and dozens of passing cars, later did it occur to me that the sight of someone positioned adjacent to the highway, sporting a week's worth of facial hair growth while swinging his arms about like an inebriated concert-goer, was hardly likely to inspire anyone to pull over. I know I probably wouldn't have, either.
My misery quickly melted away into despair, when a policeman on a motorcycle ignored my gymnastic entreaties, and sped right by without even bothering to stop. No wonder no one refers to them as "Israel's finest."
BUT JUST when it seemed as if all were lost, and I began picturing myself starring in a roadside version of Gilligan's Island, a would-be knight in shining yarmulke stopped to see if he could lend me a helping hand.
I'd heard stories about Elijah the Prophet, and how he periodically appears to assist Jews in distress. Surely, I thought, this must be a holy apparition of some sort, a celestial Mr. Mechanic sent to heal my wounded tire, and mend my deflated spirit. He'll turn this, and twist that, and next thing you know, I'll be back on my way.
Twenty frustrating minutes later, the klutz had still not figured out how to get the jack to lift the car up off the ground. He assured me he knew what he was doing, but when he finally raised the vehicle, only for it to collapse seconds later, we both instinctively realized that reinforcements were needed.
AND THEY were not long in coming. A young secular Israeli, with that polished, hi-tech "I can hack your Web site in seconds if I wanted to" kind of look about him, had pulled over to see what all the fuss was about. He quickly consulted with Mr. Fix-it-All, and the two of them managed to lift the car, apparently through levitation, before removing the lug nuts (you can look that one up yourself in your car manual), followed by the tire, which they quickly replaced.
I was so grateful to them both that I nearly shook their filthy hands, but instead I offered to pay them for their time, grease and grime. And then, much to my surprise, they both refused the offer, with the religious fellow telling me to give the money to the next poor person I see at synagogue, and the secular guy naming a charity of his choice as well.
They both got back into their respective vehicles, but not before leaving me with a choice bit of counsel before they drove off into the sunset. "You see," said the one I thought to be Elijah, "we really are one nation, one people. And we have to help each other, because no one else will," he said, with a sparkle in his eye.
Shortly thereafter, as I inched my way forward in heavy traffic, I took a moment to ponder the meaning of this entire affair.
By working together, those two gentlemen, one religiously observant and the other most assuredly not, had tackled the challenge and overcome it, putting me back on the road to Jerusalem. Perhaps if more Israelis would follow suit and unite, we could do the same for the nation, too.
The writer is chairman of Shavei Israel which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. www.shavei.org