By Derher Magazine
Part one can be found here.
Our Beis Chabad
Ten years after we moved to S. Paulo, we left the school and decided to open our Beis Chabad. When we opened our doors, I reported to Rabbi Hodakov over the phone, and the bracha we received was, “Azkir al hatziyon, I will mention it at the resting place [of the Frierdiker Rebbe].” Truthfully, I was a bit disappointed, so I decided to travel to New York for Shabbos for some additional inspiration.
During the farbrengen that Shabbos, the Rebbe called me over, and handed me a bottle of mashke, “Far dem mosad, far di shtot, un far di medinah—for the institution, the city and the country.” (There were several instances where the Rebbe gave me a bottle of mashke on his own initiative. Usually, if you wanted to receive a bottle of mashke for some special occasion, you would bring a bottle to Mazkirus before Shabbos, and then you would get it back. I never did so, yet I still received several bottles from the Rebbe.)
Mission completed, that very night, I returned to Brazil.
Baruch Hashem, our Beis Chabad quickly became very popular. Many young people would come to learn and to participate in our events. There were times that we would have a few hundred people at our Tuesday night class, and it reached a point that we had to break it down into groups, to be able to create more personal connections with the participants.
On Chanukah 5744*, the Rebbe asked that Tanyas be printed in every single Jewish community throughout the world.
Since it was summer vacation in Brazil, it was a perfect opportunity, so I organized two groups of bochurim, each accompanied by a rabbi and technician, to travel around Brazil in vans and print Tanyas.
In the beginning of Shevat, once the plan was in place, I traveled to New York to report to the Rebbe about the good news. The same week I arrived, Rabbi Meni Wolff from Kehos in Eretz Yisroel also arrived with the first batch of Tanyas that had been printed in Eretz Yisroel.
That Shabbos (Shabbos Parshas Bo, 3 Shevat 5744*) the Rebbe held a surprise farbrengen, and explained that there were two reasons.
One: It was a week before Yud Shevat. Two: The Tanyas.
Towards the end of the farbrengen, the Rebbe called me over to give me a bottle of mashke.
The Rebbe asked me how many Tanyas I planned to print. I answered, “Eighty-three” (the Rebbe’s kapitel that year).
The Rebbe responded, “Oib du vest machen mer, vet keiner nisht faribel hoben, if you do more, no one will be upset…”
Right away, I upped the number to 100, and the Rebbe gave me a broad smile.
On Sunday morning, Rabbi Groner approached me with a maaneh from the Rebbe:
“מצו”ב השתתפות מקרני כ”ק מו”ח אדמו”ר – בהוצאות ההו”ל – דכאו”א מהנ”ל. כשיוסיפו בעוד ישובי בנ”י יודיע, ויוסיפו בהנ”ל.”
“Attached is a participation from the funds of my father-in-law, the Rebbe—towards the cost of the printing—for each one [of the printings] mentioned before. Inform [us] when more Jewish communities are added, and more will be added to the above sum.”
Together with the maaneh came $2,040. Twenty dollars per city, and another $40 to participate in the cost of the printing presses.
We picked 100 small cities throughout Brazil. In each city, the bochurim would print the Tanya, study a portion with the local Jews, and then send us the copies (100 per city) via the delivery company that we hired to bring them kosher food. When we received them in S. Paulo, we would have them bound.
These journeys were a golden opportunity to connect with Jews in those forsaken places. Many amazing stories happened through the trips. One group met an eligible young bachelor looking for a Jewish wife, and in another town they met a young Jewish woman looking for a husband. The bochurim connected the two of them, and together they established a Jewish home. In another city, they helped a woman write to the Rebbe for a bracha for children, and later she had twins. To my surprise, she named one baby Menachem Mendel in honor of the Rebbe, and the second one Shabsi, for me.
We finished the printings in 33 days. We then prepared a leatherbound copy of each Tanya, and placed them in a beautiful acrylic case with the map of Brazil on its cover prepared especially for the Rebbe.
We arrived in New York early Thursday morning, 13 Adar I. As the Rebbe left krias haTorah that morning, I stood in Gan Eden Hatachton along with several other individuals who were involved in the printing, and we presented the Tanyas to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe was very pleased. He gave 100 crisp dollar bills towards the printing, and gave additional sums to the others as well. Before entering his room, the Rebbe asked if we would remain for Shabbos, and when we answered in the affirmative, he said that there would be a farbrengen.
We were obviously very excited. There indeed was a farbrengen, and the Rebbe dedicated a significant portion of a sicha during the farbrengen to our Tanyas, and conveyed the special nachas ruach that he had from it.
Later that day, during the late seudas Shabbos at my brother-in-law’s home, someone mentioned that a long lost cousin of mine had been discovered living in Communist East Germany. Because I was hyped up about the Tanyas, I thought to myself that I should go visit him, and print a Tanya there as well.
I wrote to the Rebbe the next morning, and the Rebbe sent out a pocket-size Tanya that had been printed in Prague, which was also under Communist control. I was surprised not to receive a clear answer (which I understood later) but I saw this as a signal that my idea was approved, so I began working on the project.
I reached out to my cousin, and a short time later I traveled to visit him. After spending time together, he and his non-Jewish Communist wife took a liking to me, and when I broached the topic of the Tanyas, they were open to the idea. They agreed to arrange a printing—on the presses of the local Communist Party, no less! However, it wouldn’t be possible for me to be present there, so I left them with instructions and material, and flew back to Brazil.
Ultimately, the plan didn’t work out. A short time after my visit, I received a very mean letter from my cousin. I had left a collection of our Chabad magazines from Brazil with my cousin’s wife (who understood Portuguese) and she had read an article describing the suffering of the Jews behind the Iron Curtain. As an ardent Communist, she was very offended, and they wrote back attacking me. Obviously, the printing was off the table.
Now I understood why the Rebbe didn’t write at all when he sent me the Tanya from Prague.
However, that Tanya that I received from the Rebbe had an impact in a different, unexpected way.
On the way back from East Germany, the plane had to land in a city two hours from S. Paulo. In all my 58 years in Brazil I never landed in this city. After landing, I looked around and saw a member of our shul who gave me a ride to S. Paulo.
As soon as I got into his car, he told me that he just met an Israeli expat living in S. Paulo, who was the architect of the Brazilian outpost in Antarctica. When I heard the word Antarctica, one thing immediately flashed through my mind: we need to print a Tanya there. After all, I had just given the Rebbe 100 Tanyas from Brazil and I was just coming back from Germany where (I thought) the Tanya would be printed soon and now Antarctica simply falls onto my lap. It was unbelievable! The next day, Roy (the Israeli) came to see me and although he thought it was crazy, he agreed to do it.
Shipping a printing press to Antarctica was the most difficult hurdle. Space on the ship that went there was always very tight, and only essential items were allowed on board. To overcome the issue, I had an idea. I gave the press as a present for the scientists of Antarctica, as a way to entertain themselves while sitting bored at the edge of the world. They would now be able to print a small newspaper with news from Brazil.
We shipped off the press and all the accessories on the next ship, and waited to hear from our engineer. Soon enough, at three o’clock one morning, I received a call.
“Rabbi, I have a kippah on, and the printing of the Tanya is ready. Let’s study.” We studied perek 5 together.
A few weeks later, the ship brought the Tanyas back to S. Paulo, where we had them bound, and then I sent one copy to the Rebbe with someone traveling for Purim.
After the Megillah reading here in Brazil, I received a phone call from Rabbi Groner. The Rebbe was very pleased with the Tanya, he said, but he also noted a mistake. On the shaar blatt, we had written Antarctica, but the Rebbe felt that it was imprecise, because 14 different countries had bases there. Instead, we were to write the name of the, “Brazillian Base of Antarctica.”
Immediately, I replaced all the shaar blatts and sent an updated version to the Rebbe.
It still bothered me that I didn’t print the Tanya in Berlin but, Baruch Hashem, I was later informed by the shliach there that he arranged a printing after the two Germanys were united. Still, something else disturbed me, thatthat I hadn’t managed to print it on a Communist press. But this was also solved when my son Yossi printed the Tanya on the Communist press in Havana, Cuba.
Once, a non-Jewish couple joined a class of mine, and afterwards asked to speak with me in private. They were a prominent family; the husband was a district attorney and his wife was a lawyer, and they had an only daughter named Angela who was 11 years old. They had recently discovered that their daughter had four tumors in her head. They traveled the world seeking out a cure, but there was nothing that worked. Then, they heard about the Rebbe, and they came to ask how to go about writing to him.
I wrote a letter to the Rebbe for them in English. In those days, I kept a supply of US stamps, and whenever I wanted to send an urgent letter, I would go to the airport and ask a Jewish traveler to drop the letter in a mailbox in New York, and the Rebbe would receive it a day later. That’s what I did this time as well.
This took place in Adar. They came every week to our Tuesday night class, and, being that Brazilians naturally share their problems with everyone, it was only a short time before all the participants knew their story.
A month later, as I arrived before the class I noticed everyone standing around them with joyful faces. They related that they had just visited the doctor, and were told that the tumors had disappeared.
Some months later, I spent 10 days by the Rebbe for Yud-Beis Tammuz. After Mincha on my final day in New York, Rabbi Groner approached me with a note in the Rebbe’s handwriting. The Rebbe wanted to know what had happened to Angela.
I realized that I had made a mistake. I had wanted to spare the Rebbe the time of opening and reading my letter, since he knew anyways without me telling him. But I was wrong, you have to always write good news to the Rebbe (today as well).
As I returned the Rebbe’s note I turned it over and saw that it was a corner piece of my original letter sent five months earlier.
I immediately sat down in the Merkos office, and wrote the Rebbe the end of the story.
When I returned to Brazil, I phoned Angela’s mother, and told her about the Rebbe’s interest in her daughter. I noted that the Rebbe had asked me about it only on the last day of my 10-day trip, a fact which I found rather interesting.
The mother had an immediate explanation: “Yesterday was Angela’s birthday. She turned twelve…”
This is a story I often tell youngsters when they ask me, “Where is Lubavitch going? How will we survive without the Rebbe here physically?”
My answer is very simple. If the Rebbe could spend months thinking about a non-Jewish girl at the other end of the world, is it possible to think he didn’t think of this eventuality?
It must all be part of the Master Plan.
May we soon merit to see the entire plan fulfilled lemata me’asora tefochim and all pieces will fall into place and all be clear and understood.
Photos taken from the library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad.