Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Coincidence or divine intervention?

In my travel to San Diego last week for the National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America a strange thing occurred, but I will get to that in just a bit. I was on board the USS Midway, the aircraft carrier built at the end of World War II that has the distinction of having the longest service of any carrier in the U.S. Navy. The Midway was commissioned in 1945 and served as a flagship during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Previously, it also saw service in the Korean War and the Viet Nam War, where it registered both the first and the last U.S. air-to-air kills of that conflict.

Following decommissioning, the Midway (CV-41) has had a final resting place in San Diego Bay since 1994. It was a tremendous gamble for the city, which was forced to deal with a hefty $1.5 million cost to transport the carrier to its place of honor as a museum dedicated to the history of aircraft carriers at Broadway Pier. However, since it's installation in San Diego, the Midway Museum has drawn a steady stream of visitors and has stimulated a revitalization of the harbor area.

Much of the interior and exterior has been redone with the funds that have been raised and a typical attendance of visitors extends now to over four million annually. I mention the four million visitor figure because it is a very unlikely statistical probability that I would see someone I knew on board on a specific day and a specific time and at a specific location on a vessel that spans the length of three football fields and stands 18 stories high.

Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened.

While visiting the Midway with my Scouting friends Cheryl Baraty and Kim Queen from Milwaukee, I noticed an older couple who were in the engine room with me. The gentleman was wearing a T-shirt, but he looked somehow familiar. His wife wore a lovely gold necklace bearing the Hebrew letters for "Chai" (or "life") twice -- something referred to as a "Double Chai." Almost immediately, I introduced myself and explained I was a visitor from New Orleans. It was then that he told me he had been in New Orleans recently, helping with the recovery effort there, especially in the Jewish community.

Suddenly, it clicked. I did know him.

He continued his story about how he had helped arrange for delivery of a donated Torah scroll to my own Congregation Beth Israel, the Orthodox synagogue that lost seven scrolls in the wake of floods caused by levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina. I saw his face and remembered how I had taken many pictures of his visit to New Orleans with the Torah scroll only a little over a year ago. His name is Kenneth Levin and he works as a senior social services supervisor for Orange County. Ken and his wife Nancy just happened to be down from Anaheim, at least a three hour trip by car. Again, for me to believe that this was simple coincidence might be stretching the boundaries of believability.

After all, I was only due to visit San Diego for a few hours on one particular day. It is an amazing fact that I could have toured the ship later in the afternoon and missed them or I could have passed them in another room, but not been close enough to talk with them and learn of their connection to me. In fact, that we were on the same lower floor at all was amazing when one thinks about it.

The only thing I could think of doing was to notify the former president of my congregation, Jackie Gothard, and to let her chat with Ken over my cell phone. It was then that I knew there must have been a reason for my being there and for Ken and Jackie to make contact once again. It would seem that Ken now has more incentive to come back to New Orleans with another group from Anaheim. After all, he now has another person to show him around and to make his stay in the Crescent City more special. This time he can also bring his charming wife Nancy bearing the "Double Chai" necklace, which means, after all, "two times life."

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