Shlichus. The holy mission of Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s campaign. What is it like to be one of hundreds from yeshivoth and seminaries who each year take part in u’feratza – spreading out to all corners of the world to be a lamplighter? The Avner Institute presents an authentic account and excerpt from the diary of Rabbi Moshe Feller, Executive Director of Chabad of the Upper Midwest, whose travels in his student days sent him to a spiritually impoverished community in Latin America right on the eve of Tisha B’Av, and the chance to instruct, light the spark, and bring close the most remote of Jews.
Dedicated in memory of loving memory of Hadassah Lebovic A”h
“We Travel to Educate”
Rabbi Feller relates:
Our plane was landing in G——, the capital city of a small Latin American republic. One week before, we were studying a sugyah [Talmudic tractate] on shlichus in the third perek [chapter] of Gittin, and now we were well in the midst of a shlichus [mission] of our own.
Our mission was to meet with the Jewish communities in Latin American countries and inspire them to keep Torah and mitzvoth. My colleague and I were one of the tens of teams of yeshiva bochurim [students] sent all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, to awaken Jews to their religious responsibilities. Our territory was Central America and Mexico.
The transformation from the lilmod [to learn] to the lelamed [to teach] wasn’t a difficult one, as both are integral parts of the Lubavitcher curriculum. A basic difference between the lilmod and the lelamed, however, was that while the lilmod was accomplished with ease at 770 Eastern Parkway [Brooklyn headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch], the lelamed was not always so easy, especially the day we left from N— to G—.
It was Erev Tisha B’Av, and our stomachs felt as though it was the final hour of Tisha B’Av as it was extremely difficult to obtain provisions in N—. As we deplaned, we again realized that we had absolutely no contact in G—. We did not know of one Jewish family that was observant. We knew that G— had no rabbi and we knew not how to find the shul. (Even if we would have known the location of the shul, we were quite sure that it would probably not be any different from the other shuls we visited in Central America, which meant that only on Friday evening could Jews be found there.)
Though our thoughts rarely dwelt on food, the fact that tomorrow we would be fasting in a tropical climate without a place to farfast (meal prior to the fast) or opfast (break the fast) didn’t cause us to dance off the plane with song and dance (as our Israeli Lubavitchers deplaned with rejoicing from their chartered El-Al recently). We did manage to obtain a list of 31 Jewish residents who resided in G—, but the knowledge that there was no schochet [ritual slaughterer] in G— prompted us to assume that our Jewish brethren of G— were probably not as yet glatt kosher or cholov yisroel’nicks [strictly kosher]. So the chances of laining Eicha [reading Lamentations] with a minyan or farfasting with anything other than fruits and orange crush loomed as a very remote possibility.
“We have about two hours until Tisha B’Av, Faivel,” I told my colleague (who is presently the executive director of the Lubavitcher Day School in London), “so let’s pick one name from our list and find something out about the kehila kedosha [holy community] of G—.”
The goiral [lottery] fell on one Mr. Fisher, to whom we immediately taxied. Put yourself in our shoes in the above situation and I’m sure the same thoughts would race through your mind and the same exciting suspense would be yours. We were about to meet our first Jew in G—, a “brother” whom we had not yet met. Did you ever go to meet a brother or sister whom you had never met? I’m sure the feeling would be a different one than just meeting anyone. And I’m sure that it would be the same feeling which overtook us on our way to “Mr. Fisher,” for the intensive study of Chassidus brings one to the realization that acheinu b’nei Yisrael [fellow Jews] are just that – our brothers!!
Our thoughts were interrupted by the sudden stop our taxi made and the driver’s announcement in broken English: “Thees ees dee house.”
We were met at the gate of the large courtyard by a maid (acheinu b’nei Yisroel in these countries are quite well off and have many maids, so it is not customary for the homeowner to greet you at the door). “Senora no esta,” we were told, and my limited knowledge of Spanish allowed me to understand that the mistress wasn’t home.
“Maybe the children, or a brother or sister are home,” I replied in Spanish, not fully knowing what made me ask for a brother or sister.
“Un momento, por favor (wait one moment, please),” she replied. Soon we were greeted by a young and obviously Jewish woman who began speaking to us in a Galician Yiddish.
“The maid told me that there were some Cubans waiting at the gate,” she said with a smile. (Fidel Castro’s insistence on a beard left no doubt in the minds of the natives as to what nation we belong. Well, they weren’t wrong about our being soldiers, anyway.)
“I figured though,” she continued, “that it was probably mishulochim [yeshiva fund collectors], as all the mishulochim stay with my sister, as not only is she one of the few kosher people here, but she’s the only one who bakes her own challah.”
We were very pleasantly surprised at this very unexpected turn of events. “But we’re not mishulochim,” I interrupted her. “We are shluchim [emissaries] of the Lubavitcher Rabbi who went us to help the Jewish communities of Latin America.”
“Oh, Lubavitchers,” she said cheerfully. “Then we’re neighbors, as I too live in Crown Heights. As a matter of fact, my daughter attends your Bais Rivkah. My sister, unfortunately, became a widow recently, so I came here to spend the summer with her. You’ll be most welcome guests, so please do stay with us.”
We felt the meaning of this posuk [verse] in Tehillim [Psalms] in G— at that moment more than we ever felt it in the beis hamidrash [study hall].
“Tell me,” my colleague asked, “is there a private Jewish school here?”
“Yes, it’s right around the corner. But school’s almost over now,” she said, sensing what our intention was.
“That’s all right. We’ll go over and meet the director and make arrangements to speak to the children tomorrow,” I replied.
“But aren’t you going to step in to take a bite?”
“Oh, we’ll be back for seudah hamafsekes [last meal before the fast]. As long as we know we have a place where we can farfast, we’ve nothing to worry about.” Faivel smiled. “We’ll be back soon.”
And soon it was, as it didn’t take long to meet with the director and have him schedule us to speak to the sixty-odd children that study in the Jewish National (as of yet, not religious) School in G—.
That evening, we met Mrs. Fisher, who informed us that two of her daughters were studying in an Orthodox academy in Switzerland. What’s more, she informed us that we could drink the milk which she had on the table, as it was from her cousin’s (a Shabbos observer also) farm. Cholov Yisrael in G— of all places!
We were informed that evening there would be a minyan in the school which also served as the shul, not because of Tisha B’Av as we later found out, but rather because of a yahrzeit. We reminded the ten assembled that it was Tisha B’Av that evening and that Jewish law requested that Megilas Eicha was to be read.
Immediately after Maariv [evening service] we turned the chairs over, and Faivel began to read Eicha. Afterwards we gave short talks on the significance of Tisha B’Av. It was the first time that Eicha was publicly read in G—. We were a bundle of mixed emotions! To be truthful, after the delightful unexpected experience of that afternoon, we entered Tisha B’Av in a very joyful mood, not only because of our personal benefit, but because of the realization that there still could be found in such remote corners of the world families which were so true to our Holy Torah.
In meeting our first family in G—, the feeling of churban [destruction] was elevated. However, in realizing that only because we happened to be in G— was the significance of Tisha B’av felt in our reading and explaining Eicha, we brought upon ourselves the appropriate mood of Tisha B’Av. We were grateful, however, in knowing that we had caused a minyan of Jews to hear Megilas Eicha; and our noticing the solemn expression of the assembled, even a tear or two in the eyes of some, prompted us to hope that in our brief stay in G— we would be successful in igniting the spark of Yiddishkeit latent in the hearts of the Jews of G—, for “in every Jew, be he a tzaddik [righteous] or be he a rasha [sinner], there are two souls – and the second soul of a Jew is actually a portion of G-d above . . . (Tanya, Chapters 1 and 2), and the very revered author of the Tanya, the saintly Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, is quoted as often remarking, “A Jew does not want to, nor is he able to, tear himself from G-d.”
It is the portion of G-d which is in every Jew, which the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent us to awake, and it is with the faith that no Jew wants to tear himself from G-d that we base our optimism . . . .
In the following weeks, please G-d, I shall continue with my account of experiences in G— and in many other countries which I visited on shlichus of the Rebbe. It is only with the hope that these experiences will inspire others to emulate the numerous Lubavitcher activities of ahavas Yisroel [love of a fellow Jew] and will fuse them with optimism as to the success of these activities that I, a ben yeshiva, have volunteered to share these experiences with you.
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, relates to us that which his saintly father Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn told a certain party who had a private audience with him:
“From the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Avraham Ovinu, peace be with him, ‘Go thee forth from thy land, etc.’, and it is written ‘and Avraham traveled forth, traveling forth southward,’ etc.’, there began the task of birurim [separating the Divine spark which is latent in every material element from its corporal encasement by using that material element in serving G-d and thereby elevating the material world]. And according to the decree of Divine Providence, man goes on his travelings in the place where the Divine sparks which have to be separated by this particular man are waiting for their liberation. The Tzaddikim, who possess the power of vision, see the place where their sparks are waiting for them and go there by themselves, and the ordinary people – behold – the Cause of all Causes and the Medium of all Medium cause many causes and mediums that they (the ordinary people) should come to the place whereupon them has been bestowed the service of the Task of Birurim.”
So you understand how I came to Latin America. Other chaverim [friends] of mine from the Lubavitcher Yeshiva had their “sparks” awaiting them in the U.S., Canada, Nova Scotia, South America and Europe. Our nitzotzos [sparks] were awaiting us, as I related to you last week, in Central America and Mexico. All of us were spending our four-week summer “vacation” in the customary manner of senior students of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva, visiting different states and countries on shlichus from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, to revive Torah observance in these communities.
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