By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
It seemed like every time Chabad of Vancouver Island in Canada needed refreshments for an event, there was a problem. The pastries came from the Gar City Bakery in Richmond, across the bridge and some three hours’ drive in normal traffic.
Before a large event where the British Columbia Premier John Horgan was expected, getting pastries was just one of the many worries for Chabad directors Rabbi Meir and Chani Kaplan.
To their great relief, a community member was planning to come in from Richmond on the day of the event and agreed to do a pick-up from the bakery.
But the night before the event, the community member canceled, and the Kaplans were stuck. With no other alternative, the rabbi took the last ferry to the city. He planned to pick up the pastries first thing in the morning and take an early ferry back home.
At six in the morning, he made his way to the bakery, loaded his car with hundreds of pastries and rushed to make the 9 o’clock ferry. After a quick coffee at the terminal, he prepared for morning prayers and looked for the small suitcase where he kept his tefillin. But the bag was not there.
He realized that when he was loading the pastries into the car, he had removed his suitcase to make room for the boxes and forgotten it on the sidewalk outside the bakery. Several frantic phone calls later, it was still missing.
Rabbi Kaplan went home, used his son’s tefillin, and forced himself to continue with the preparations for the event. But that night, he tossed and turned, berating himself for his own negligence.
The next morning, he received a call from a number he didn’t recognize.
“Is this Meir Kaplan? This is Juan. I have your suitcase; I found it next to the bakery in Richmond…”
The rabbi was overjoyed. “You wouldn’t believe how relieved I am. I can’t thank you enough.”
He asked Juan to send the suitcase to him by courier and he would cover the costs.
“I’m actually here on a tour of British Columbia,” Juan said, “and plan to visit the Island on Sunday. I’ll be happy to meet you and personally hand you your lost suitcase.”
On Sunday morning, the man from Mexico arrived at the Chabad House. The rabbi thanked him profusely, explaining that the suitcase contained sacred objects used during daily prayers.
“I know what tefillin are,” Juan said. “I know how important it is for you. In fact, my great-grandmother was Jewish.”
It turned out that his great-grandmother had immigrated to Mexico and married a Catholic man. Since then, the family had been practicing Christians, he said, “but I was always interested in her story and background.”
Rabbi Kaplan explained to Juan that he is, in fact, Jewish, “What unbelievable Divine providence brought us together.”
Juan admitted that he had been excited when he saw that the bag belonged to a rabbi.
“Would you like to put on tefillin?” the rabbi offered, opening the suitcase.
“I would be honored.”