Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"The Rebbe Wrote a few Words on a Paper"

"But, you see, whenever I went to the Rebbe, or even when I wrote him, I felt known by him. Seen by him. And I mean these words—known and seen—in their most profound sense. I felt naked before him. And through him I saw myself fully exposed"

-Jay Litvin

The Rebbe's wedding long ago in Warsaw, a prayer book in Salonika, a note from the Rebbe and two grandfathers look on proudly from above as their descendants add another link in the chain of Jewish tradition. In Honor of Yud Daled Kislev the Rebbe and Rebbetzin"s wedding anniversary, I would like to present an unbelievable encounter that a Chosson and Kalla experienced with the Rebbe in the winter of 1989. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (Part 86 in the Series).

"The city was hot and sweltering on that summer eve in 1989. The Chabad rabbi looked incongruously out of place in Manhattan's East Village, with his long beard and black coat. Nevertheless, the Chabad rabbi was determined. He had made a promise to a grieving father in Southern California, a man who was a leader in their Jewish community, that he would find his runaway teenage daughter. "Sarah is in New York City, that's all we know, can you find her for me?"

the man had begged the rabbi during a recent visit.

Mission impossible? Not for the rabbi. With a lot of effort and a little bit of mazel, he finally found someone who recognized Sarah's picture and he was able to track her to an urban commune. He invited her to come to his home for a Shabbat meal. She not only came but returned many times and began finding her way back to Judaism. After a while, she met a young man from Israel, who was also rediscovering Judaism.

"We want you to marry us," Sarah told the rabbi.

The father of the bride was delighted beyond belief, but the father of the groom less so. He was a holocaust survivor from a rabbinical family, but his experiences during the war had so alienated him from his faith that he had raised his children in a humanistic ethicism, completely devoid of spirituality or mention of G-d.

The father made his son promise that he would not be asked to recite any blessings or prayers either at the ceremony or during the reception. Only on this condition would he attend the wedding.

On the morning of the wedding, the rabbi wrote a note to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to inform him about the marriage and to ask for a blessing for the bride and groom.

The Rebbe, upon receiving the note, put it together with hundreds of others that he would read aloud that day at the "Ohel," the resting place of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On this day, upon reading the note from the rabbi, the Rebbe wrote a few words on a paper and directed that it be given immediately to the rabbi.

The Rebbe had written that today's date, the date that the young couple chose for their wedding, was the 14th of Kislev, the same day on which the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were married decades earlier. The note explained that the groom's grandfather was a Rabbi in Warsaw and had attended the Rebbe's wedding. As a wedding present the rabbi had given them a book that he had written. The Rebbe directed the Chabad rabbi to go to the Rebbe's office, find the book, and take it to the chupa that evening."

Of course, the rabbi did exactly as the Rebbe had instructed. Just before the ceremony, the bride asked the rabbi to say a few words. The rabbi decided to tell the story about the book he was carrying.

He related how the Rebbe had asked that the book be at the chupa and explained that through the presence of the book the groom's grandfather, the former rabbi from Warsaw, would be spiritually represented at the wedding of his grandson, a grandson from whom he now has so much nachas.

Upon hearing these words, the father of the groom abruptly stood up and quickly left the room. The rabbi found him, a few minutes later, weeping quietly in a phone booth in the lobby of the hotel.

"Rabbi," he sobbed "when I was a child, my father took me to Cheder, where I loved studying, but I forgot everything. I wanted to forget. I made myself forget. Now I see that my father never gave up on me, even from Heaven. Won't you take me by the hand and teach me again?"

Thus ends the story of a Jewish soul who thought he had forgotten, until the Rebbe reminded him. But the story has ripples that turned into waves and washed over Jack Castro in Boca Raton, Florida.

Jack Castro's story begins in the small, picturesque city of Solanika, Greece. Salonika was home to more than 60,000 proud Sephardic Jews, among them Moshe Prado, before the nazis decimated their numbers to a pitiful one thousand.

It had been Moshe Prado's custom that as each of his children were married, he gave them a set of High Holiday prayerbooks, hand-carved in ivory. Moshe Prado did not survive the war, nor did his children except one daughter and one son, Jack's father.

Jack Castro ended up with one of the High Holiday prayerbooks. "My aunt gave me that book years ago," says Jack. "I sadly never met my grandfather, but I had one of his books in my possession for many many years without really thinking about its value."

Jack was born in Paris, grew up in Argentina and emigrated to the United States in 1965. He and his wife Graciela have two children and two grandchildren. About fifteen years ago, they moved to Boca Raton where Jack is the president of a software company.

A few years ago, Jack had a surprise call from an old childhood friend in Argentina, a friend with whom he had kept in close contact all these years.

"He told me that his daughter Julie and her boyfriend were coming to Miami and could I show them around," said Jack. Of course he readily agreed and promised to pick them up at the airport.

The day their plane was due however, Jack had an important meeting and he asked his son Spencer to pick them up instead. As it turned out, Julie's boyfriend had to return to Argentina, so when Spencer got to the airport, Julie was alone.

Yes, you guessed it, the meeting was "bashert."

"Spencer picked Julie up at the airport in Miami," said Jack "and by the time they reached our home in Boca they had really connected."

Two months later, the young couple had a civil marriage. They planned to have a Jewish wedding in Argentina. But the economic crisis was already threatening and Julie's parents soon moved to Florida. Now that the whole family was together, the plans for a Jewish chupa began in earnest.

"Although we are a traditional family" said Jack, "we did not belong to any synagogue and didn't know where to find a small one that would please the children. A friend suggested that we look into Chabad of East Boca that had recently opened."

Jack and his family set up a meeting and he recalls that "just like with the children, it was love at first sight. We all liked Rabbi Ruvi and Ahuva New and their family and we set a date for the wedding. We even began attending Shabbat services."

At one Shabbat dinner at the New home, Rabbi New told the Castros the aforementioned story about the book at the wedding. "I have a book that belonged to my grandfather, too." Jack told the rabbi about the prayerbook and decided to bring it to the wedding of his son.

And what a wedding it was. "We were expecting a simple ceremony, but Rabbi New had other plans. He brought a CD of Jewish wedding music and turned it into a real simcha." Jack Castro and his family are now regular participants at Shabbat services. "My son loves to go to the synagogue now," he says proudly "we are all rediscovering our Judaism."

The Rebbe's wedding long ago in Warsaw, a prayerbook in Salonika, a note from the Rebbe and two grandfathers look on proudly from above as their descendants add another link in the chain of Jewish tradition. Mazel Tov.

Picture Description: the Rebbe coming out from Mikva on Union Street.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007