By Mendy and Levi Margolin
After two days of traveling, as a result of several flight delays and missed connections, we arrived in Provo.
Apparently there aren’t many sets of twins in these parts as we were asked if we were twins five times before we even left the airport – and we are not even twins!
While the land is beautiful, we were worried about where to begin and where to go. We checked into our hotel and quickly set out to explore.
First stop – the local supermarket. How strange is this? We found Manischewitz Chicken Soup and Rokeach Chanukkah candles but not one person we asked knew of any Jewish in people on the Island! After realizing that we could have bought 60% of the food we shlepped with us right here on the island we set about town once again.
We went back to our hotel and as we were passing the bar, the bartender mentioned his love for Matzah Balls, so we stopped to chat. As it turns out, there was a Jewish woman that was touring sitting right behind us. Her ears perked up and she soon joined the conversation. Being a journalist and interested in the communities of locations she visits, she was a fountain of information for us. She provided us with several contacts and even phone numbers. No longer were we worried about “where to start”!
Thursday morning we awoke now fully equipped with names and numbers of local Jewish families.
Lynda, a Jewish American living and working in the Turks & Caicos was now a central gateway to fellow Jewish people in this Northern Caribbean land. Lynda took the time to provide us with the JCTC (Jewish Community of Turks and Caicos) email and phone list. We gathered the info and set out to “make a difference” on the Island.
Our first stop was the “Salt Mills,” a central office and shopping area. On the second floor of the Salt Mills we found another important assistant, Ashtrom Construction, an Israeli company. After putting teffilin on with two people, helping affix a mezuzah, and hanging a picture of the Rebbe on a central office wall, we sat down to chat. We spoke about our desire to host Shabbat dinner and the friendly folks quickly offered assistance in finding a place. We spoke for a while and set off to find more people.
At 3:00 we met with the Honorary Consulate of Germany, who, while himself not Jewish, has Jewish roots and was more than wiling to help. He sat with us for about a half hour, discussing the local Jewish community and equipping us with more names and emails. After a pretty busy day, we returned to our hotel – that had no meeting space to offer for our Shabbat dinner – still wondering what to do.
As we passed the bar, the Matzah ball loving bartender introduced us to some key players – Rick and Sandy, a Jewish couple that lives on the Island part time. Rick and Sandy also happen to be the owners of the hotel we are at. We asked if we could host Shabbat dinner in the common area and they agreed.
Friday morning as we searched the main airport for the Air Turks and Caicos counter to purchase next week’s tickets we met Gil, who greeted us in Hebrew with a magnificent smile! He accepted our invitation to don Teffilin and half way through Shema, he became emotional and tears filled his eyes. He informed us how thankful he was for the chance to put on teffilin, as “it had been a long time.”
Next we visited Provo Air Center and met with Debby, its Jewish manager. Debby also serves as director of development at Air Turks and Caicos, the airline we tried to buy tickets from but could not find. Debby tapped a few keys on her keyboard, we spoke for about an hour, and shortly afterward, Debby called saying she had gotten us free tickets to Nassau! On the way back to the hotel we paid a visit to our new Israeli friends to inform them of time and location for dinner. After requesting to affix another mezuzah on one of the office doors, they quickly they set in motion calling friends to come.
We returned to our hotel room, which by now was doubling, tripling and quadrupling as an office, a shul and a full service kitchen, to prepare for Shabbat.
Finally, as shabbos arrived and the guests shuffled in, we knew that we were here for a purpose! One of our guests mentioned he was stuck in Grand Turk when his friend called to say he bought him a ticket for 5:00, to get him here before Shabbat. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew there was a “very good” reason he needed to be here for Friday night.
When he arrived, he was absolutely stunned to hear that there will be Shabbat dinner, something he used to do all the time, but faded away with time on a foreign island. Shlomy, as he is called, sat with us discussing Yiddishkeit until 1:00 in the morning! Shavua Tov!
A JOB WE REFUSED
Our Island excursion was nearing its end, but not before we had the chance of paying six more visits, putting up three more mezuzot, donning teffilin another seven times and providing folks with a variety of books.
On one of our visits, we met with Aron and Alex, two Russian Jews, and Sarin, a Romanian Jew who are all working on a resort project on the Island. Sarin donned teffilin before quickly returning to work and Aron and Alex sat with us for quite a while. They put on teffilin, affixed a mezuzah to the main office door and gave tzedaka to take back home.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, Alex turns to us and says that they are making plans to have a kosher kitchen at their resort. They figure, the only way to increase the numbers of the Jewish tourist is to make it convenient for them by offering a kosher dining experience and a place to daven – another one of their plans. They did ask us if we wanted to come live in the Turks and Caicos and serve as their Mashgichim!
As we were leaving Aron’s office, Oleg arrived. Oleg was more than happy to don teffilin and then requested that we come to his house to put a mezuzah on the door! Before we were to leave the island, we were still to meet with Stan and Barbara at their home and with Tony at his office. We visited with Stan and Barbara in the morning, and discussed Yiddishkeit on their back porch – with the most magnificent turqoiuse ocean view – for about two hours. The view made talking about prayers and thanking G-d very easy!
We later visited with Tony, a Jamaican Jew of English (Ashkenazic) and Portuguese (Sefardic) descent. Tony admittd that he felt like he was “on an island” – not only physically, but Jewishly as well! He warmly welcomed our visit and wished to discuss many topics. Tony donned teffilin with an inspired interest and was happy to take one of each of the Jewish books we had to offer. Tony also asked us to visit his mother’s grave in the Jewish cemetery in Nassau, Bahamas, our next destination.
After visiting with Tony – an absolutely fascinating fellow – we were off to affix the mezuzah on Oleg’s front door. Oleg was very happy that we were in his house and warmly welcomed us in to sit and chat. We affixed the Mezuzah and blessed the home with a quick L’chaim! Oleg told us of his Ukrainian background and gave us a lift to our hotel.
Off to the Bahamas… Looking forward to posting from there!