By MARILYN SHAPIRO
In 2012, Rochelle and Bill Willner, attended services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee, Fla. Former members, they were there for the first time in two years to check out the new rabbi. Before the mourner’s kaddish, Rabbi Karen Allen asked if anyone was observing sheloshim, the 30 day period of mourning. A woman whom they didn’t recognize announced that she had recently lost her aunt, Yetta Weiner.
Immediately after services ended, Rochelle approached the mourner. “Excuse me,” said Rochelle, “ but Yetta Weiner is my aunt!”
It didn’t take long for Rochelle and the “stranger” Marilyn Glaser to realize they were second cousins. Yetta was the wife of David Weiner, brother to both Rochelle’s and Marilyn’s grandmothers.
The coincidences didn’t end there. Both Marilyn and the Willners lived on the same street in Solivita, a 55 plus adult community near the synagogue. Rochelle had attended Marilyn’s wedding over 40 years earlier when she had gone as her father’s date. Her mother, the originally invited guest, had had surgery. Marilyn didn’t recall meeting her that day, but it was confirmed when the two of them found Rochelle’s picture in Marilyn’s old wedding album.
Since that night, Marilyn and Rochelle have become dear friends. “I speak to Rochelle at least four times a day,” said Marilyn.
How Did This Come About?
What would have happened if Rochelle and Bill hadn’t come that night to check out the rabbi? If the rabbi hadn’t asked for the first time if anyone was in a period of mourning? If Marilyn hadn’t announced Yetta’s name? So many coincidences!
Or where they?
According to some Jewish theologians, there is no such thing as coincidences. Hashgacha Pratit or Divine Providence, is the concept that that God is actively involved in each of our lives. American author and inspirational speaker SQuire Rushnell calls it a god wink. “Every so-called coincidence or answered prayer is God’s way of giving you His small, silent, communication,” says Rushnell, “A little wink saying, ‘Hey kid! I’m thinking of you…right now!’
It even has been cited in both historical and scientific context. The German analytical psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences—the “acausal connecting principle” that links mind and matter and supersedes cause and effect.
Rochelle chose to call her reunion with her cousin, b’shert, a Jewish expression that means ‘meant to be.’ Whatever it is called, sometimes events align in such a way that it feels like God or some universal force is directing the action.
I believe strongly that some universal force was at play in the decision my husband and I made to move to the same community where Marilyn and the Willners reside. In December, 2014, Larry and I were staying in a Central Florida resort in Kissimmee. A rainy day prompted a visit to Solivita, and the minute we drove through the gates, I felt that this was the place in which we would retire. After looking at new models, a realtor took us to a resale, and Larry and I fell in love with it. Never spontaneous people, we put a bid on it the day we were to fly home to upstate New York.
Although the bid was turned down, Larry and I continued to lean towards buying a home in Solivita. We had been looking at retirement homes ever since my sister Laura had purchased one in Arizona eight years before. Once we returned home, however, we both wondered if it was the right choice. I am always a “second guesser,” and tend to research every major decision ad nauseam and still rethink and sometimes regret my choices.
The day after we came back home, I headed to the library to research all Central Florida retirement options, including reading back issues of Where to Retire magazine. Usually there were at least 10 copies, but on this day there was only one issue on the shelf: the May/June 2014 issue highlighting Kissimmee with a cover picture of a happy couple from—yes—Solivita! Inside, Gabby and Joe Thomas recounted finding the “beautiful” community with the help of Gabby’s mother, who bought a house on an adjacent street. “It was all meant to be,” Joe was quoted as saying about their move.
I brought the magazine home and said to Larry, “This is a sign.” By the following June, we had sold our house and moved to Solivita. Coincidentally, I met Gabby within the first week when we both attended a Weight Watcher’s meeting.
Did The Stars Align?
Fortunately, moving to Solivita is one decision in which I never looked back. We love it here. Like Joe Thomas, I feel that it was meant to be, b’shert.
Laurie Criden also felt it was b’shert at work when she met her second husband. In March, 2008, Laurie was still reeling from the recent loss of her father and the dissolution of her 28 year marriage. Her active involvement in Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo’s large Reform congregation, helped her “keep my balance.”
As chairperson of her congregation’s Second Night Passover seder, Laurie met with her rabbi to discuss the program and during their conversation he asked her how she was doing. Laurie jokingly said, “I guess I’m waiting for something better to come along.” At that exact moment, Mark Criden, the temple’s executive director, tapped her on the shoulder to let her know that her next meeting was about to begin. Although previous encounters had been “polite hellos,” by the time the two of them entered the meeting room, Mark had invited her to join him at a friend’s for the first night seder. They were married a year later and now share their time between Buffalo and Sarasota, Fla.
Was It Chance?
Julie Thompson Berman shared a story of a day filled with too many coincidences to be just chance. Just before she and her husband Bill moved from Maine to Texas, they decided to visit Endicott College, Julie’s alma mater in Beverly, Mass. As they wandered around the campus, they came across Julie’s old dorm, which had been converted into an administration building.
As chance would have it (or was it chance?), all the doors in the building were unlocked. They climbed three flights of stairs to Julie’s old dormitory room that was now a meeting room. There they met current students, who were thrilled to hear about Julie’s experiences 40 years earlier.
The visit brought back a flood of memories for Julie, and suddenly she regretted not keeping up with her three college roommates. “I wanted to tell them where I was and how I was thinking of them. Unfortunately, I had lost touch and no longer had their contact information,” Julie said.
The Berman’s next stop in their nostalgia tour was The Barnacle, a restaurant in nearby Marblehead, Mass., where Julie and Bill had shared many special dinners during their college courtship. While waiting for their table, a woman who was already seated walked across the room and asked, “Are you Julie Thompson?”
When Julie answered yes, the woman hugged her. “I am Cherie, your roommate from Endicott!” Cherie and her husband, who lived across the state, were in Marblehead visiting family. The four of them shared a table and talked for two hours after the lunch and remain in touch. “I still think about that day and all the things that had to line up to make that reunion happen,” said Julie four years later.
The three stories above represent just three “b’shert” moments. I would love to hear more from my readers! Please share them with me by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. Recently, a second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World was published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. Marilyn Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.