By Naftali Spielman & Michoel Mishulovin
In 1978, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a campaign to print the Tanya in every major city and location around the world. The founder of Chassidus, the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught that when the “wellsprings of Chassidic teaching” reach the farthermost areas, Moshiach will be ready to come. The Rebbe explained that the printing of Tanya in a place has a tremendous impact on that place, bringing increased spiritual awareness to the people living there.
We are spending our summer in French Guiana, Suriname, and Trinidad, servicing the Jews–locals and tourists–in those countries. While formulating our itinerary, we were asked to arrange to have the Tanya printed in Trinidad. This would mark a major milestone in the Rebbe’s Tanya printing campaign, since Trinidad would be the final country in the Western Hemisphere to have the Tanya printed within its borders.
When we arrived in Trinidad, we headed straight to a printing shop in Port of Spain, arriving as they were opening their doors for the day. We explained the initiative to the owners and they felt privileged to be part of it, but they wanted to know why Trinidad was last! Since we were printing over 100 copies, we were told to return at 4 pm.
We hadn’t slept much the night before, and the thought of catching a few hours of sleep in our hotel room seemed quite tempting. But we had a mission–the Rebbe had advised that when the Tanya is printed in a country, the local Jews should learn from it. We needed to find some Jews to learn the freshly printed Tanya, which was no easy task in Trinidad, a large country with very few native Jews.
Our colleagues who have been to Trinidad in the past had always contacted Barbara, who serves in the Israeli Embassy, and she had helped them locate her handful of Jewish acquaintances. As luck would have it, our phone calls and emails to Barbara went unanswered, so we were on our own. All we had to work with was a list of several names, without any contact information. The only address we had was for the clinic of a Jewish doctor, some 40 minutes away.
We approached the receptionist. “Hi, do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, we would like to see Dr. Mason.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Dr. Mason returned to the States three years ago.”
We felt quite foolish as we thanked her and made our way to the parking lot. Why had we schlepped all the way without verifying our information? It would have been wiser to stay in the hotel and get some much-needed rest. And how would we find a Jew to learn the Tanya with? Lost in thought, we were surprised when a woman driving a white BMW screeched to a halt inches away from us. “Are you rabbis?” She called out, a look of shock on her face.
It was our turn to be shocked. “Yes, we are!”
“My name is Francesca, I am a Jewish woman living in Trinidad. I was just reading the news on my phone and saw what is happening in Israel. I started thinking about G-d and the Jewish people, and then I looked up from my phone, and I see a sight rarely seen in Trinidad– two Jewish rabbis! G-d must have been listening to my thoughts!
Struck by the clear display of Divine providence, we exchanged phone numbers and made up to meet at her home later that evening. There, we met her teen-aged daughter, and learned some of their family history. Francesca’s mother emigrated to Trinidad after the Holocaust, one of only three survivors from a large religious family. She vowed to never have anything to do with G-d again, but Francesca always knew she was Jewish.
After some more conversation, we took out the Trinidad Tanya and explained its significance. They quickly agreed to study some of it together. We talked about bringing more light to the world, especially during these moments of darkness and confusion, and Francesca and her daughter resolved to begin lighting Shabbat candles starting that Friday night. We gave them a book about the Rebbe, and Francesca gave us the contact information of a another Jew living in Trinidad.
“I can’t believe that G-d sent you at the exact moment that I was thinking about the Jewish people,” she kept repeating. On our part, we marveled at the tremendous Divine providence we had witnessed, the circumstances that had lined up exactly, enabling us to fulfill our mission in its entirety. We hope that our efforts brought the world one step closer to the final redemption!
The Trinidad Tanya was printed with the help of the Tanya Global Initiative with the generous contributions of Rabbi Zev Cadaner and Rabbi Benyomin Baras.