Many times, without any prior notice or even a request from a community, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, would receive instructions from the office of the Rebbe.
He would be advised to deal with a certain issue or travel to a certain place, without any warning. Yet, the following story, stands out as unique. This story expresses how the Rebbe, called in the Zohar, a Faithful Shepherd, feels the needs of each of ‘his flock’, the sons and daughters of Israel wherever they may be. The souls of our generation are bound up with the Rebbe, the leader of our generation!
In the month of Adar II, 5744 (1984), during one of his travels for Merkos, the educational branch of Chabad, to the city of New Orleans, Rabbi Kotlarsy received an urgent call from Rabbi Chadakov, a’h, the Rebbe’s personal secretary.
The surprising message was that the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Kotlarsky to travel as soon as possible to an island called Curacao. When the rabbi asked what he was meant to do there, Rabbi Chadakov answered, that he, too, was unaware of the purpose of the trip.
The only thing he could tell him was that the Rebbe mentioned that it would be
worthwhile to print there the book of Tanya. This took place during a time when the Rebbe encouraged the printing of Tanya throughout the world.
Curacao is a Caribbean island in the southern hemisphere. The island was under the rule of Holland and was part of the Antilles Islands. In 1980 it received autonomy.
In this island settled Sephardic Jews who came from Holland more than three hundred years prior. The establishment of the first Jewish community there was in 5411 (1651) with ten families who came from the Portuguese community in Amsterdam, Holland. The synagogue on this island, which is considered the oldest synagogue in the Americas, was established in 5490 (1730).
Rabbi Kotlarsky had his travel agent quickly arrange a flight for him and took Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Krinsky, then a young Yeshiva bochur (now one of the Rebbe’s shluchim in New Hampshire) with him. Before traveling, he contacted the president of the Jewish community there, and asked to arrange a meeting with the community’s committee members. When he arrived, he inquired about the means of printing a Tanya, as per the Rebbe’s request.
During the discussion with the heads of the Jewish community, he spoke to them about the need to strengthen and further develop Jewish life for the hundreds of families who live there. He tried to see if it would be possible to open a Jewish camp for the children of the community who were not receiving a Jewish education.
Upon the conclusion of the meeting, as they were leaving, they met a Jewish man who, hearing that Rabbi Kotlarsky came at the behest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, became very happy and excited. He introduced himself as Mr. Chaim Groisman, and told the rabbi that he had a most pressing problem which he wished to speak to him about.
He explained that there wasn’t a Jewish school on the island, and the children of the community learned in the local non-Jewish school. For many years, the Jewish children were respected by the staff; however, a new principal arrived, and new rules were implemented causing much hardship to the Jewish children and their families. The staff at the school became relentless in requiring all the children to attend Catholic church and religious training.
Mr. Groisman related that his young son refused to go to school because of this. He and his wife support their son even though they are not especially religious Jewishly. The stubborness of their son, however, brought about that the officials at the school made unreasonable and harsh demands on him and the family. The publicity was affecting their relationship with other members of the community including the Jewish community. They were now besides themselves and did not know what to do.
“Two days ago,” Mr Groisman continued, “I had a dream where I saw my grandmother, of blessed memory. It reminded me of her last days in this world. This was more than forty years ago. When my grandmother felt that her time was coming, she called me over and told me to take to heart two things. The first one was to be very careful to marry a Jewish girl. The second one was that if the day will come and there will be a problem or something severely discomforting for me, I should know that there is an address to turn to for help – the Lubavitcher Rebbe!” (Understandably, she was referring to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who came to the shores of America in 1940. It would seem that she heard about the Rebbe as someone who cares about the problems of the Jewish people and would do whatever possible to save and help them out.)
When he awoke, Mr. Groisman reminded himself of this strange instructions of his grandmother, of blessed memory, and he understood now the meaning of the dream.
Rabbi Kotlarsky now understood the purpose of his shlichus to this place. He spoke to the father for a long time and also to the son. He encouraged them and explained to them how important it was to receive a Jewish education in a Jewish school, something which was not available on the island at the time. In the course of the conversation, Rabbi Kotlarsky invited the father to come to New York for the upcoming holiday of Purim and to stay at his home as his guest. He also suggested that the son should go to Camp Gan Israel in New York where he would meet and become friends with other Jewish children of his age. This experience will also prepare him to enter a Jewish school suited to his needs in Crown Heights.
Upon his return, on the eighteenth of Adar II, after being in New York for Purim and attending the large Purim farbrengen of the Rebbe in 770, Mr. Groisman sat down at his home in Curacao and penned a two page letter to Rabbi Kotlarsky.
The letter was heartfelt, with immense thanks for the exceptional hachnosas orchim of Rabbi Moshe and his wife Rivkah Kotlarsky and the merit to be in the presence of the Rebbe. He also informed him about the preparations being made for his son to fly to New York and attend the summer camp, Camp Gan Israel in Parkville, NY and afterwards to attend the Jewish school, Chanoch Lanaar.
He finished his letter with the following:
“The English language does not suffice for me to express my heartfelt gratitude and deepest appreciation to the Rebbe. Please give over to the Rebbe, that a ‘small Jew from Caracao’ feels that the Rebbe touched his soul. Thank you in advance for this. I would like to write this myself to the Rebbe, but I do not know which words to use in Hebrew to write what is in my heart.”
Rabbi Kotlarsky decided the best thing for him to do was to give in the letter as is to the Rebbe, to which he added a personal note.
Rabbi Chadakov gave both letters to the Rebbe. The Rebbe instructed that a reply be sent in English to Mr. Groisman.
In reference to Mr. Groisman’s comment, calling himself “a small Jew from Curacao”, the Rebbe responded:
“I must, however, take exception to your referring to yourself as ‘a small Jew from Curacao’.
There is surely no need to emphasize to you at length that every Jew, man or woman, has a Nefersh Elokis, a Divine soul, which is a part of G-dliness Above as explained in the beginning of Tanya, Chapter two.
Thus there is no such thing as a small Jew and a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential…..”
The son, Eli Groisman, came to New York in the summer of 5744 and attended Gan Israel in the Catskills Interestingly his counselor was Sholom Mordecai Rubashkin!
Eli went on to learn in Chanoch Lanaar and became close to Torah and Mitzvos and to Chabad Chassidus. To this day, he is filled with gratitude to the Rebbe who sent his emissary to a remote island where he lived with his family and saved him from a terrible situation.
On various occasions, Eli shares his whole story with all the details to audiences who listen in rapt attention and wonderment to the amazing miracle he was fortunate enough to be part of, because of the care of the Rebbe to Jews even in the most far flung areas.
Over the years, Rabbi Kotlarsky sent Yeshiva students to visit and inspire the community in Curacao for holidays and during the summer months.
Today, thank G-d, there is a permanent shliach to the island of Curacao doing amazing educational programming for young and old and running a thriving Chabad House.