The international trips that OK mashgichim make are always planned meticulously. Visa arrangements, necessary documents, transportation and accommodations — all are taken care of by the OK office in order to make sure the rabbis can do their work properly. However, sometimes unexpected things happen…for reasons that have nothing to do with faulty planning.
Recently, Rabbi Shmuel Eidelman of OK Israel flew to Moldova in order to train our local mashgiach in checking cherries for bugs. Those cherries were to be harvested and packaged for an Israeli distributer.
At the time, Moldova had a special "VIP visa on arrival" routinely awarded to people coming on business trips. Rabbi Eidelman’s trip fell under this category so the expectation was that, as always, he would get the visa upon arrival.
Usually, airports do not let people board planes to destinations that require a visa unless they see proof the passenger will be able to enter the country. However, in this case everybody knew about the visa on arrival procedure and Rabbi Eidelman was allowed to board the plane without any problems. Unfortunately, as he was getting on the plane, the regulations in Moldova were being changed and the visa-on-arrival was no longer permitted.
When Rabbi Eidelman landed in Moldova with no visa in his passport, the airport authorities showed no mercy. They informed him he was being deported back to Israel via Turkey.
In Turkey, Rabbi Eidelman was led unceremoniously to a big room where deportees of all kinds were detained until they boarded the planes taking them out of the country. There, among illegal immigrants and people suspected of terrorism, Rabbi Eidelman had to spend the night. Fortunately, he was allowed to call the Israeli embassy and inform them of his plight.
In the morning, Rabbi Eidelman went to a corner in order to put on his tefillin. He tried to do it unobtrusively, but one woman noticed him and started gushing in a language he didn’t understand. Then, she called her husband to come over and pointed to Rabbi Eidelman’s tefillin.
In broken English, the man explained to Rabbi Eidelman that he was a Jew from an Arabic country and was being deported back to his country of origin. He vaguely knew that tefillin were a "Jewish thing".
With the help of a lot of sign language, Rabbi Eidelman managed to ascertain that the man was really Jewish – he knew for a fact that his mother was a Jew. Once that was clear, Rabbi Edelman helped him put on his tefillin. The man was enthusiastic and excited, talking quickly in his foreign language.
A short while later Rabbi Eidelman boarded a plane to Israel. At the airport he found the ambassador of Moldova waiting for him ready to award him a visa. In about an hour, Rabbi Edelman was on a plane to Moldova again – the cherries were waiting.
The unusual journey to the supervision site was exhausting and time consuming, but Rabbi Eidelman did not regret it. After all, due to the surprise change in the visa rules an isolated Jew put on tefillin for the first time in his life!