Between Borders

The other week, I planned to rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles. I had two speaking engagements back-to-back on the other side of the continent: Wednesday night in Montreal, at a dinner in support of the Yeshiva Gedola of Montreal, followed by another engagement Thursday in Manhattan Beach, in Brooklyn. From Los Angeles, I booked a Tuesday night red-eye to New York, with a connecting flight to Montreal on Wednesday morning.

When I arrived at the counter in JFK for the second leg of my journey, the airline representative asked for my passport. I froze.

I had forgotten my passport in Los Angeles.

This was terrible. I couldn’t back out; the yeshivah had advertised my speech in all its flyers and promotions. “Can’t I go through with my driver’s license? That’s how I got here from California!”

She looked at me compassionately and said, “This is an international flight, sir. Even if I let you board the plane, you won’t be allowed into Canada without a passport.”

I was holding up the line, so I stepped to the side to find a seat and figure out what I could possibly do now. I sent desperate texts and WhatsApp messages to everyone I knew. Most of the responses ran along the lines of, “Yoel, this will be a great story to tell over one day!” but I was not in the mood for jokes.

“Listen,” said one of my friends. “See if you can get a new flight for this afternoon. In the meantime, go to the passport office in Manhattan and have them issue you an emergency passport. You can get one in just a couple of hours.”

As far as I could tell, it was the only option. I jumped into a taxi, gave the driver the address and promptly ran into New York City traffic. Being from Los Angeles, it had never occurred to me that it might take two hours to get from Queens to Lower Manhattan during rush hour.

And even if I did make it to the office in time, who could be certain that I would be lucky enough to get a passport in time to make it back to the airport and catch a flight?

With no choice left, I had to make the very difficult call to Yeshiva Gedola’s Judy Rothschild, wife of the yeshivah’s president, Reb Dovid Rothschild, and dinner organizer, who had hired me to speak at the dinner. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “It looks like I’m not going to be able to make it. It’s all my fault.” I explained what had happened and after apologizing again, I hung up with a heavy heart.

Minutes later, my phone rang. It was Mendy Zirkind, a prominent Montreal askan. “Go back to the airport,” he directed. “Get a flight to Burlington, Vermont. It’s about two hours from Montreal. We’ll send someone to pick you up there, and you’ll drive across the border. You won’t need a passport there; they’re much less strict when you drive in.”

And so it went, like clockwork. I flew to Vermont, was met by Eli Goldstein, a member of the Montreal community, and drove into Canada. I held my breath as we reached the checkpoint, but we were waved through without further ado. I arrived at the hall 30 minutes before the dinner.

To read more, subscribe to Ami