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A Reunion with a Stranger

May 9, 2009 | by Amy Eisenstein

Amazing how one person changed my life, without even meeting her face to face.

Sori and I have been friends for years. We chat on the phone regularly. We exchange menu ideas, talk about our little remodeling projects, and remind each other when a sale is coming up at our favorite clothing store. I consult with her about Passover cleaning tactics, child rearing philosophies and we've even joked about starting a business together. You wouldn't think there is anything strange or unusual about this friendship until I mention one little thing: I never actually met Sori until four weeks ago. I live in Seattle, Washington and Sori lives across the country in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Sori is my phone Chavrusah (learning partner), we were matched three and a half years ago by Partners in Torah. When a representative from Aish HaTorah's Discovery program called my house back in 2003 and encouraged me to sign up with Partners in Torah, I did so not knowing what I was stepping into. A short while later, Sori called my house for the first time and left a message -- we were matched!

Figuring out what to learn together took a little while to decide. I told her about a set of books I was considering that delve into the details and complexities of the 39 categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath. To her delight, she discovered that her father already owned the set and we were off! We read and toiled and translated. We came across Halachic (legal) disputes where we each had to consult with our local rabbi and then call each other back. We discovered twists that affected our own understanding of Shabbos observance. Sori always shared stories from her childhood with me, and gave practical examples of situations when a question in Jewish law could arise.

During all of this, of course, life went on. I had a baby, Sori had two babies. We sent baby gifts and waited for pictures to be emailed. We continued learning and chatting while burping and diapering. We read between yawns and stuffy noses. Eventually we stopped using the phone card that Partners in Torah had provided, and began calling each other at our own expense.

Over three years and volumes later, we finally finished the entire set. It was time to meet in person and celebrate our accomplishment.

Finally, we did it. Over three years and volumes later, we finished the entire set and all 39 categories of work were covered in detail. It was time to meet face to face and celebrate our accomplishment. I flew to New Jersey to meet the stranger with the familiar voice.

It was rather odd to hear Sori's voice and see her face at the same time. I was so used to staring at a book, or out the window while listening to her talk that it took me a few hours to adjust and remember to look at her face as she spoke. As I walked around her house, taking in the rooms and details, it was striking how familiar everything was to me from hearing about it on the phone: the remodeled kitchen, the guestroom they had added on, and the color of the walls in the dining room. Her kids were shy at first, and probably a little confused about this "phone friend" that Mommy had brought home. I, on the other hand, had been hearing about their antics and achievements for years and knew them by name before I even walked in the door.

We enjoyed a lovely Shabbos together. We shared stories about our communities. I listened with delight as Sori's husband quizzed their kids about the weekly Torah portion. I laughed when her five-year-old son asked me if people in Seattle speak English "like we do at here?" (Little does he know that half of what he says is in Hebrew/Yiddish/ "Yeshivish.") After Shabbos, Sori and I went out to celebrate over an evening of dinner, shopping, and a stop for ice cream sundaes.

What a match Partners in Torah made! I have learned and grown so much because of Sori. I have nothing but admiration for all of the teachers participating in this program, who dedicate a portion of their spare time to sharing their knowledge with other Jews. Thank you, Sori, for all of your time and patience. And thank you, Partners in Torah, for footing the phone bill.

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