“My family arrived in Australia two years ago.
They sent me to the only school in this city for the blind, a catholic school.
The people in the school are very nice and my parents were pleased because I had been given a full scholarship. After the first year, the local priest began lecturing me about christianity. I ignored him until he told me bluntly that I must convert. Shortly thereafter, my parents received a letter from the school: ‘Unless you pay for your daughter’s schooling, you must remove her from our school and place her in a different school. We will agree to provide free schooling for your daughter only if she converts to christianity.’
“One day, I overheard my agitated parents discuss the issue. They had reconciled themselves to the harsh reality that I must convert.
“Although I know very little about our religion, I know that I am Jewish. I know that there is a G-d and I decided to pray to Him for guidance. I also knew that the Jewish Holy Days were approaching. On the day before Rosh Hashanah, I told my mother that I did not feel well and could not go to school. When I was alone in the house, I knocked on the door of my gentile neighbor.
“‘Tomorrow is the Jewish New Year,” I told her. ‘My parents do not attend the synagogue so I would like to ask you for a favor. Please take me to the synagogue today so I can pray. I will only stay for a few minutes.’
“My neighbor agreed. In the synagogue I cried and prayed to G-d to give me a sign. I returned home and waited.
“Guests joined us for the Holiday dinner. One of them laughed at me. ‘Betty! What have you been up to lately? A young rabbi from Sydney came to Adelaide and he is asking about you. How do you know him?’
“I knew this was a G-d-given sign to me. I tried to call you but my mother didn’t allow it. She was afraid that you would convince me not to convert and that I would have to leave the school. But somehow, I knew that you would help me.”
The girl’s parents then came in tearfully and told me, “We really don’t want her to convert but we have no choice. We are concerned about her future.”
I promised to do my best to help them.
The Rebbe’s words echoed in my ears as I pondered what to do. I phoned the president of the Jewish community and told him the story. I asked him to come over immediately.
He was obviously startled by my request. “Have you gone mad?!” he gasped. “It’s half past midnight!”
“If you want a rabbi for Yom Kippur, come here now.” I told him. “Come in your pajamas if you must, but come.”
He arrived in twenty minutes. I told him that the community must accept the responsibility for the girl’s tuition so that she would not be forced to convert. Without enthusiasm, yet with sincerity, he made the financial commitment.
The girl continued writing to me over the years. She graduated high school with honors and then went on to study and teach in Jerusalem. This was arranged for her by the Rebbe’s office. She married a Sefardik man and they have four children and many grandchildren. Thank G-d, this young woman’s life turned out amazingly as she lived and led an exemplary religious life in Eretz Yisrael – our Holy Land.
With slight adaptation from: To Know and To Care Volume 1 by Eliyahu and Malka Touger pages 166-170, published by SIE – Sichos in English.
Supplementary Notes: Rabbi Chaim Gutnick (1925- 2003) was a prominent rabbi and Chabad shliach in Australia. Following the above story he became rabbi at the Elwood Hebrew Congregation and continued to serve in this capacity till his passing. In 1967 he founded the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and served as its president. He lectured and taught extensively. Rabbi Gutnick enjoyed a special close relationship with the Rebbe and was guided in many areas of his life by the Rebbe’s directives and insights. He served as chaplain in the Australian Defense Forces.
Rabbi Chaim Gutnick spoke at a farbrengen in Perth, Australia, in honor of Gimel Tamuz 2000 and shared: The Rebbe set me on my path in life….This is what the rebbe said to me. “I’m shocked the community needs your help and you don’t come… and when you are there interest yourself in the Egyptian Jews.” This girl’s prayers reached Heaven and the only one who cared about the blind girl living 15,000 miles away was the Rebbe. Thanks to this blind girl, after this I became a rabbi (at Elwood Hebrew Congregation, where he served for 45 years). The Rebbe said to me, “She had her prayers answered from Heaven; this is a sign from Heaven for you, too. If you can make people, who are blind physically or spiritually, to make them see, then this lesson is to you. too. That’s your destiny in life! Give up all your work, (at the time Rabbi Gutnick was working part time in the diamond business and part time teaching,) devote yourself completely to make blind people see….”