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Tuesday
Aug152017

AWESOME AWAKENING IN BARBADOS

Synagogue in BarbadosPART I

Rabbi Shmuel Pesach Bogomilsky is not only a big talmid chacham and gifted orator, but also a shliach of the Rebbe. In his youth, he visited dozens of countries and brought Torah and Judaism to the local Jews.

One of the fascinating stories of his shlichus began around Tisha B’Av 5719/1959. That year, he went with his friend, Yisroel Chaim Lazar, to the Caribbean islands. Yes, there are Jews there too, and the Rebbe thinks about them and worries about their material and spiritual needs.

Erev Tisha B’Av, a few hours before the fast began, the small plane landed at the airport in Barbados. Barbados is an island country located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of the Caribbean Sea. It consists of only 431 square kilometers. Unlike other times, this time the bachurim did not have a contact person with whom to make arrangements. They landed on the island without knowing anyone, with faith that Hashem would guide them and help them.

They collected their luggage and went to the arrivals building of the small terminal, looking right and left hoping to discern a Jewish face.

“Excuse me, are you from Lubavitch?” someone asked.

They turned around in surprise and were even more surprised when they saw someone who looked like an Eastern European Jew from yesteryear. They said they were, and the man held out his hand and shook their hands warmly.

Bruchim ha’baim,” he said with a traditional Jewish tone, and he went on to speak in a rich Yiddish. “I read in the papers that you are emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who are coming here to strengthen Judaism.”

The bachurim nodded. Yes, the day before they had visited Trinidad where their arrival had been announced in the local papers, and the news reports added that they would be going to Barbados the following day. Apparently, this man had checked the arrival time of the plane from Trinidad and knew when to wait for them.

“Oh, excuse me, my name is Aryeh Leib Shpeizman,” he said with a big smile.

The bachurim were relieved. They were happy to have found a “lead” through whom they would be able to locate other Jews on the island.

Shpeizman invited them to stay at his home for as long as they were on the island. They were thrilled at the offer. He had them get into his car and on the way to his home, he said he greatly admired Lubavitch.

The bachurim couldn’t believe their good fortune. They looked at him in astonishment. They could see that he had a Jewish face but he did not seem religiously observant. In the rearview mirror he winked at them, as though reading their minds.

“I will tell you who I am,” he said. “I am a karkafta d’lo monach t’fillin (a person that does not put on t’fillin – usually used to mean someone who never did so), a Shabbos desecrator, and one who eats treif. Since someone in prison cannot release himself from jail, I ask that you mention me to the tzaddik. Only the Rebbe can pull me out of the mud.”

The fact that the man knew the halachic terms left them speechless.

That night, the night of Tisha B’Av, the three of them went to the local synagogue for the recitation of Kinos. The bachurim explained to the local Jews the significance of the day and what the Kinos are about. Shpeizman was very moved during Kinos and it was obvious that the experience affected him profoundly.

The three returned to Mr. Shpeizman’s house where a lively conversation ensued. Mr. Shpeizman told his guests his life’s story. He said he was born to a religious family in Lublin and lived there until 1936. The winds of war and anti-Semitism were blowing already from Germany and it also swept up the Poles. When he felt that the lives of Jews were in danger, he fled with some friends, as far as possible, until he arrived on the island of Barbados. His parents remained behind.

One day, he received a package from his father by special delivery. His father was concerned about his son’s Judaism, and had sent him a volume of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. Included was also a letter in which he wrote, “My dear son, if you want to remain a religious Jew, study this book.”

Shpeizman’s eyes filled with tears and a silence filled the room. They could see he was going back in time. Then his voice broke the silence.

“I am a ben Torah and know how to learn, but on my own, alone, I don’t have the strength to fulfill all the obligations that derive from the learning.”

PART II

The pair of bachurim remained on the island for a few days and throughout their stay, they encouraged Mr. Shpeizman as much as they could to strengthen his fulfillment of mitzvos. They also reminded him about the existence of the Nasi Ha’dor, the Rebbe in Brooklyn, whose net is spread wide, wherever Jews are to be found. They even invited him to undertake a personal trip to the Rebbe.

The visit made a tremendous impression on Shpeizman and while the bachurim were still there, he began fulfilling the mitzvos in Shulchan Aruch which he knew quite well but had a hard time doing. He became particular about observing halacha and not only that, he even took a leadership position in the local Jewish community and began to guide them to the extent that he could.

It was about a month after R’ Bogomilsky’s visit. He had already returned to yeshiva in 770. He was sitting in the small zal and learning, when one of his friends came over and whispered that someone was looking for him. R’ Shmuel Pesach got up and went out to the outer hall of 770 where he saw someone who introduced himself as a Jew from Barbados.

“Do you know what you caused?” the man asked.

R’ Shmuel Pesach was at a loss, a bit stunned, and the man continued in an accusatory tone.

“You convinced Shpeizman to come here for the holidays. You should know that if he will do that, the community in Barbados will remain like a ship without a captain. The captain of a ship cannot leave a sinking vessel. Ever since your visit, he is completely different. Now, he uses all his knowledge to lead the community.”

Said R’ Bogomilsky in recounting the story, “That Tishrei, Shpeizman did not come to the Rebbe, apparently due to pressure from the community who wanted him to stay, but he came later on.”

Paging through the volumes of Igros Kodesh, it turns out that over the following months Shpeizman corresponded with the Rebbe about various topics in halacha. From these letters one can see the rate of his progress, both in terms of organizing Jewish life on the island where he lived and in his Torah learning.

How moving it is to see that in a letter that the Rebbe sent him on 13 Teves 5720, about half a year after the bachurim visited him, the Rebbe uses titles usually reserved for respected Chassidim. In this letter, the Rebbe responds to his question on Rashi who quotes a Midrash while changing the wording of the Midrash. In this letter, there is an amazing answer that should well be incorporated in any volume of the Rebbe’s sichos on Rashi.

R’ Aryeh Leib Shpeizman went to the Rebbe in Shevat to see him in person. On that visit he had yechidus, in the course of which the Rebbe asked him to say a d’var Torah.

R’ Shpeizman quoted the verse, “And I appeared to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov,” and Rashi’s comment, “And I appeared to the Avos,” and the well-known question, what is Rashi adding with this comment? He cited from the seifer Torah Kvall (more widely known by the Hebrew title Ma’ayana shel Torah and available in English), an explanation is brought that you need to explain the word “Avos” from the root meaning desire, i.e., Rashi is saying that Hashem only appears to those who want it.

The Rebbe smiled and said: Hashem even reveals Himself to those who don’t want it …

The day after the yechidus, Erev Shabbos Parshas VaEira, the Rebbe, in a surprising and rare gesture, turned to the gabbai, Rabbi Yochanan Gordon, and told him to give the guest the honor of the aliya of Levi in the Rebbe’s minyan Shabbos morning.

The visit to the Rebbe made a deep impression on him, and strengthened his commitment to lead the small Jewish community on the island. He turned into a real leader and the community under his leadership began a serious journey of spiritual awakening.

In a letter that the Rebbe wrote to R’ Bogomilsky before Pesach 1960, he responded to the halachic question he posed in the name of Aryeh Leib Shpeizman – whether it is worthwhile to arrange selling the chametz of the people in a city when some of those who would sell it would use the chametz during Pesach in any case.

In another answer that the Rebbe sent at the end of Iyar of that year, we learn that Aryeh Leib Shpeizman ran a public seder on the island. The Rebbe wrote, “After a long break, your letter of Erev Shabbos kodesh Emor arrived, as well as the one following it. At this time, I would like to emphasize again the nachas ruach I received through the eminent young man Bogomilsky, from his informing me that you had many people at your seder and that you arranged the selling of chametz before that, and did so in the manner as they answered you on your question regarding how to do it. Fortunate is your lot for having accomplished this, both in the track of veer from evil and in the track of do good.”

PART III

A shliach does not leave his place of shlichus even if he is a “peripatetic shliach,” and only stays for brief periods of time whenever he goes. Over the years, R’ Bogomilsky continued to keep in touch with Shpeizman as well as with other Jews from the community. For many years, he sent them kosher meat and for Pesach he would sell their chametz through the Rav of Crown Heights.

As the community members became stronger in their Jewish observance, they became distressed that there were eighteen young men who were not circumcised. They also wrote to their friends in Brooklyn that they had no kosher Torah to read from. These problems gave R’ Bogomilsky great pleasure for it showed that the people cared about Judaism.

R’ Bogomilsky decided to take care of the brissin. This was a year after his first visit, the summer of 1961. All the preparations were made and he set off again for Barbados, this time, accompanied by his friend Chaim Swed.

Rabbi Chaim Zev Leiter, the mohel, also traveled with them, as did the rav of Crown Heights, Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin. R’ Dworkin joined the trip as per the Rebbe’s instructions, in order to respond to the halachic questions that had accumulated. In a highly unusual act, the Rebbe told R’ Dworkin to take the Rebbe’s personal Torah scroll with him so they could use it until the community’s old Torah scroll was fixed.

All the Barbadian Jews gathered on the day of the bris in a festive, joyous atmosphere, in Shpeizman’s living room. Eighteen brissin were performed, with the youngest being three months old and the oldest, twenty-three.

The Rebbe closely followed the goings-on and gave a rare and special degree of attention to the historic event in Barbados. The Rebbe even said, “This was a success above the ways of nature.”

In his great emotion, R’ Aryeh Leib sent a telegram to the Rebbe that same day in which he wrote, “Today you have rolled away the disgrace of Barbados” (referring to the verse in the book of Yehoshua, which says that after he circumcised the Jewish people, Hashem said to Yehoshua, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you”).

The Rebbe responded with a general-personal letter that was published at the time, at the beginning of which he wrote, “I am in receipt of your telegram,” and before the signature added in his own handwriting, “With honor and with blessing, and regards to all of Anash shlita.”

Before their return trip to New York, R’ Aryeh Leib gave R’ Bogomilsky a packet of dollars that added up to the numerical equivalent of the Rebbe’s name, and asked that he give it to the Rebbe.

A few days later, at the farbrengen for Chaf Av, the Rebbe addressed the many hundreds of Chassidim and dedicated some sichos to the mitzva of bris mila. Although he did not say so explicitly, Chassidim who knew what had taken place, felt that the Rebbe was expressing his appreciation of the event by including it in a sicha.

Around that time, the Rebbe even asked that the names of all those who were circumcised be sent to him.

If that wasn’t enough, two months after that, during hakafos on Simchas Torah 5722, when the verses of “Ata Horeisa” were called out and sold to benefit Machne Israel and Merkos L’Inyanei Chinuch, before the verse of “Yehi Ch’vod” was said, the Rebbe said to R’ Bogomilsky, who was standing in the crowd of thousands, “Announce that this verse I am saying for the merit of the eighteen children who were circumcised on a distant island.”

PART IV

In the coming years, R’ Aryeh Leib continued to lead his community, teaching them the ways of Torah and mitzvos.

 

He grew old and at a certain point, became ill. He lay in bed, weak, with eyes shut tight. His family and friends knew that his hours were numbered.

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and asked softly, “Did Bogomilsky come?”

Those were his final words.

When he passed away, his family called Rabbi Bogomilsky who had been in touch with him throughout the years, and asked him to come to the funeral of his friend who had changed his entire life thanks to him. R’ Bogomilsky wasn’t sure what to do and he asked the Rebbe whether to go to the funeral which would delay it, or go for the Shiva to console the family.

The Rebbe’s answer was to attend the funeral.

R’ Aryeh Leib Shpeizman was given a full Jewish burial. The neshama of this Jew, which came from the world-renowned Torah center of Lublin to this lonely and castaway island, literally and spiritually, and merited to raise the spiritual stature of the Jewish people and sanctify Hashem’s name in life and in passing, went on to his eternal rest.

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