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Tuesday
Oct212014

FROM INDIA TO BOLIVIA

Two brothers, at two ends of the world, both shluchim of the Rebbe and both marking a special celebration. Shneur Kupchik, the shliach in Delhi, celebrated a last minute Hachnasas Seifer Torah, and Yosef Yitzchok Kupchik, the shliach in La Paz, Bolivia celebrated the bris of his son. * Channel 2 of Kol Yisroel had the brothers meet over the airwaves, and aside from being able to wish one another mazal tov, they told the thousands of listeners about their work. * In addition, the shliach in Delhi, who was the only other shliach to see the terrible destruction of the Chabad house in Bombay with the massacre perpetrated there, was present at the inauguration of the renovated Chabad house.

Radio Host: We are now establishing a connection between two brothers, each one on a different continent. I will say hello now to Shneur in India. Good morning, Shneur?

Shneur: Good morning!

Host: Where are you in India?

Shneur: Delhi

Host: I will say good morning also to your brother Itzik in Bolivia. Good morning or is it good evening?

Itzik: Over here it’s good afternoon or good evening.

Host: What time is it there?

Itzik: 5:20pm.

Host: Morning in India, night in Eretz Yisroel, September 1, and the brothers Itzik and Shneur Kupchik are in different countries on shlichus for the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Let us start with the larger country, maybe the second largest in the world, India.

Host: Shneur, tell us about your work and shlichus.

Shneur: We have a Chabad house in the south of Delhi. There are two Chabad houses in Delhi, one for tourists and one for Jews and Israelis who live here in Delhi or for visitors who are not tourists. They are all invited of course, but our place is primarily for Israelis who are living here for shorter or longer periods. 

Host: They recently inaugurated the Chabad house that had been demolished in the attack, right?

Shneur: Yes. Last week they re-inaugurated the Chabad house that was attacked six years ago. Shluchim from all over Asia came: Singapore, China, Thailand, Cambodia, and I was there too. I think that unlike other shluchim who only saw the new building and the great joy of the inauguration, I am the only one who was there at its destruction too. I was there at the time of the attack with my wife. For me to enter this building now and see it again … They preserved some of the walls, and the upper floors are not yet renovated. For me, it wasn’t an easy visit.

Host: That’s in Bombay right? How far is that from you by car?

Shneur: 49 hours. It’s a two hour flight.

Host: So you were at the building in Bombay where the child Moishy remained crying and his parents were murdered. Perhaps this is an opportunity to mention their names.

Shneur: Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. Both of them Israeli. Rivky was from the Rosenberg family in Afula, and Gabi from the Holtzberg family, originally from Yerushalayim.

Host: Now let’s jump from India to Bolivia. First, I understand that you get a mazal tov – you have a new baby!

Itzik: Another shliach of the Rebbe was born.

Shneur: I will take this opportunity to say mazal tov to my brother; I still haven’t said it.

Host: Go ahead …

Shneur: Itzik, can you hear me? Mazal tov, mazal tov! May you merit to raise him to Torah, chuppa and good deeds, may he be a ChaYaL, an acronym for Chassid, yerei Shamayim, lamdan. I haven’t heard your voice in a long time.

Host: Here we are, connecting the brothers, Shneur in India and Itzik in Bolivia. Itzik, what’s the baby’s name?

Itzik: Shneur Zalman

Host: How original …

Itzik: Exactly. It is the name of the founder of Chabad Chassidus. 

Host: Obviously. By the way, how many children in the world are named Shneur Zalman?

Itzik: I have no idea. Every Chabad family that has two or three sons is likely to have this name.

Host: So Itzik, how old is the baby now?

Itzik: Two weeks old.

Host: Mazal tov. And where did the mohel come from?

Itzik: The mohel came from Chile, a four to five hour flight with two stopovers. The interesting thing is that before we moved to Bolivia on shlichus, we lived in Tzfas and that same mohel also lived in Tzfas. I moved to Bolivia and he moved on shlichus to Chile. I told him then, that one day a bris would take place in Bolivia and he would come and do it. And he did.

Host: Itzik, let’s hear about your activities. Who are you targeting?

Itzik: Our target group is the same as any Chabad house: every Jew. Here in La Paz, the capitol of Bolivia, there is a small Jewish community of 150 people, well, now it’s 151… Then there are the thousands or tens of thousands of tourists. Bolivia is the center of South America so it’s a popular destination. People who come up from Argentina or down from Peru always come to Bolivia. The Chabad house is always humming throughout the year.

The highlight of the year is Pesach with about 1500 people attending the seder. And there is another Chabad house in the jungle of Bolivia, in Rurrenabaque, where there are over 100 participants.

Host: Tell me Shneur, is that typical, that two brothers are in different locations, or is it rare for two brothers, both on shlichus?

Shneur: Two brothers on shlichus in different locations is normal but I think that this distance, with each of us at opposite ends of the world, is a huge physical distance. The distance does not weaken our spiritual closeness and it might strengthen it. My parents are also shluchim; they have a Chabad house in Poona, India.

We are a veteran family of shluchim here in India. For my mother the distance was very hard and it’s not just the distance. Every so often we visit Eretz Yisroel and meet the family, but the freedom to do so is only at a time when the tourist season is “weak.” Unfortunately, the slow time here and the slow time in Bolivia are not the same, so we brothers hardly ever meet.

Before the birth, my parents made a major effort and flew from India to Bolivia, attended the bris and took part in what is a simcha for all of us. They represented the rest of the family, those in Eretz Yisroel and those here in India.

Host: Nice! Itzik, in comparison to Eretz Yisroel, you were in Tzfas previously, how do you rate the healthcare for an expectant woman and the birth experience? Did you have to be more careful? What would you say the differences are?

Itzik: The truth is that if we were on our own here, we would have been worried. Since we are shluchim of the Rebbe and he takes spiritual and physical responsibility for his shluchim, we are relaxed.

Like everything else, this is connected to a miracle. The president of the Jewish community is a doctor and he took personal responsibility for the entire process until the birth and in the days following the birth.

Since we are at a height of 3600 meters above sea level, baby Shneur Zalman had to get used to the oxygen level. He had a very low oxygen level and he was put on oxygen for 24 hours. Since this wasn’t a health problem, just something having to do with the local environment, we could make the bris on time and the Jewish doctor brought a pediatrician along so everything would be done in the safest way.

A bris for a baby with an oxygen tank – I don’t think we’ve ever heard of anything like this before …

Host: No we haven’t. And the baby is adjusting to oxygen at this height, 3600 meters, we wish him a speedy adjustment without any complications.

Itzik: Amen!

Host: Shneur, let’s go back to India, to Delhi, the big city. What were people saying there about the war we were fighting with Hamas?

Shneur: Surprisingly, until today, we have been asked hardly any questions about the situation in Eretz Yisroel even though it is mentioned in the newspapers and all over the place. At the beginning of the war we were in Eretz Yisroel on a visit and we flew back here in the middle of the war.

We landed here on a Friday at four in the morning and that day, at four in the afternoon, we made a Hachnasas Seifer Torah. A family from Hertzliya donated a Torah l’ilui nishmas a friend of theirs, and they decided to dedicate it here in India and it somehow ended up with us. They asked for this date and this was the day we returned. During those twelve hours from when we came until the celebration, we had to get ourselves organized – we are a family with four children – to land and recover and arrange for a respectable Hachnasas Seifer Torah (see sidebar).

The highlight was during the procession in the street with masses of Indians gaping at us. Although this was in the middle of the war in Eretz Yisroel and there were grave security concerns, especially when it came to members of the diplomatic community, we still all walked in the street. The ambassador was there as was the military attaché, the embassy staff and many assistants. The procession was led by a group of local drummers. Picture everyone dancing and rejoicing with the Torah in 40 centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) heat. The ambassador was honored with a hakafa, the military attaché was honored with a hakafa in the merit of all the Israeli soldiers, the embassy’s security detail was also honored as were the members of the local Jewish community.

After the festivities were over, more and more locals came over and asked me what was going on in Gaza. Whenever I encounter local Indians on a level slightly higher than the cleaning help, they ask me about what is going on there and it has become a topic of conversation here in India. The Indian people, from what I can tell, love Israel. Without understanding all the details, they realize that there are two sides to the coin even though the newspapers don’t always present it as such.

Host: Itzik, how is the topic regarded and discussed in Bolivia?

Itzik: It’s just the opposite here. In India there are generally admirers of Israel while here, following the Cast Lead operation, the government decided to cut off ties with Israel. This time, the local president announced that he was pronouncing Israel a terror state and he canceled the free entry of Israelis here. From now on, they will have to request a visa. At the level of the ordinary people on the street it is not felt as much. 

Host: Do you have a large Moslem population?

Itzik: Yes. There is a community of Iranians and in general, there are Moslems.

Host: As a Jew who dresses and identifies as a Jew, do you feel any antagonism?

Itzik: I am used to people staring when we walk in the street, but we have not been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic remarks. Last Friday, there was an Israeli here who needed help. He had a flight Sunday morning; he had come from Peru. Since he had already been in Bolivia, they did not give him a visa to enter again. He called me from the border for help. When we arrived to speak to the immigration official, a petty anti-Semite, he said to him, “You are an Israeli. You are from a country of terrorists and you won’t get a visa.” 

I explained to the official that he did not want to enter the country; he wanted to leave. He had a flight and he needed a transit visa. The official persisted and said again that he would not allow terrorists to enter the country. In the end, we managed to straighten things out another way and this morning he left Bolivia without incident.

Host: According to what you say then, there are hardly any Israeli tourists in Bolivia anymore.

Itzik: Last Shabbos we had over 120 tourists at the Chabad house.

Host: Israelis or Jews?

Itzik: Most were Israelis. There were also a few Jews from all over the world.

Host: So they are letting them in despite what you said?

Itzik: That’s true for now. The law is supposed to go into effect tomorrow and we’ll see what will happen.

***

Host: Which of you two brothers is older?

Shneur: Me.

Host: We thank you for speaking to us on this program, one from India and one from South America. This is definitely a unique event. Mazal tov on the baby and continued success in matters relating to Eretz Yisroel. Be well and thank you very much.

Itzik: Shneur and I are waiting to meet together in Yerushalayim with the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach.

Host: Here, in the studio, we are waiting. Kol tuv.

Itzik: With the Geula shleima. Kol tov and besuros tovos.

 

BRIS MILA WITH A LACK OF OXYGEN

R’ Itzik Kupchik relates:

We decided my wife would give birth where we live on shlichus, in Bolivia. Why not? There are enough reasons. Why yes? First of all, so we could celebrate a happy Jewish event with our community. The last bris in La Paz took place over a decade ago. Aside from that, a trip of a day plus, including several flights and terminals, when about to give birth, with little children, endless luggage and strollers and pacifiers … The main thing, it is not the height of the season. Nevertheless, every Shabbos we have dozens of tourists at our Shabbos table.

The decision wasn’t lightly made but the moment we opened to the Rebbe’s answer, “May Hashem complete his wife’s pregnancy properly and easily so that she gives birth to a healthy child in the right time properly and with ease,” it all became obvious and matters progressed nicely.

My parents, who had to leave their place of shlichus in Poona in order to renew their visas, decided to travel to the furthest point on the globe, to Bolivia. In amazing divine providence, a week before the birth we gave our second son, Berele, an upshernish. Who would have imagined that my parents would have participated in that event? I usually celebrate alone and usually, they do not attend most of the simchas of the children and grandchildren. This time, they even got an upshernish included!

The birth went smoothly, boruch Hashem. On Friday, my wife was supposed to be released from the hospital when they discovered that the baby’s oxygen level was very low, about 70%. This is because La Paz is the highest capital in the world and is on a mountaintop which is 3000 meters above sea level. This makes for very thin air.

My mother did not tell me but it seems she was plenty nervous. Long ago, in Eretz Yisroel, one of my brothers was in the ICU with an oxygen level that was much higher, and yet, they wanted to release her grandson with such a low oxygen level? Why?

We are so distant from everyone and everything, we could have managed on our own, but my mother was here …

The baby was sent to be checked by a cardiologist and my mother spoke to the cardiologist who, fortunately, spoke a bit of English (most of the people here do not speak English). He said all was well. Babies that are born here after many generations are born in a physical state that is suited to the atmospheric conditions, but a baby whose origin is at sea level needs to adjust and it takes time. 

So with all the Erev Shabbos pressure, my wife being released, preparing the Chabad house for a Shalom Zachor with 100 tourists, I had to get a mobile oxygen tank and bring the baby home.

There was another stage in the middle. The cardiologist left it up to us as to whether to be released immediately or after Shabbos. What should we do? My parents taught me to always consult with a doctor-friend, as the Rebbe says to do. A doctor-friend in Bolivia? Well, my wife’s doctor who accompanied us faithfully throughout this period is the president of the Jewish community here! He advised us to have her released. When I had not obtained a mobile oxygen tank, he approved our taking the baby for a short time without oxygen.

Now we had to “import” a mohel, to find flights, to arrange a seuda …

The first mohel I called, R’ Berel Sokolowitz of Chile, immediately said okay. Did I say the closest? A 5-6 hour flight and a four day stay until after Shabbos.

The bris would be celebrated with family (okay, just my parents from my side and without my brothers, but to us that’s a lot!) and with our community and tourists.

To my great surprise and delight, a special guest came on the day of the bris, R’ Ofer Kripor, the shliach in Cusco, Peru. He set everything aside and came with some of his family on a 15 hour bus trip! I deeply felt that “Chassidim are one family.”

We showed up at the bris with the baby and an oxygen tank, the local pediatrician, and the one who gave the go-ahead to hold the bris on time also showed up to supervise the bris and the baby. The seudas mitzva and farbrengen were celebrated into the night together with the American consul in Bolivia, the honorary consul from Eretz Yisroel in Bolivia, and members of the local community.

 

AGAINST ALL ODDS

There is a special personal story having to do with the Hachnasas Seifer Torah that took place in Delhi as related in the radio interview. From a letter written by Mrs. Sarah Kupchik, shlucha in Delhi, to her family:

First of all, I don’t know how many moments of sanity I have to work with. The children are using their workbooks, Geula is quiet because of the intense heat, and the baby isn’t crying for a change. This is a good time to update the worried family about recent events.

A few months ago, we received a phone call from a family in Eretz Yisroel who wanted to contribute a Torah to the local shul in Delhi. They wanted our help with the catering in honor of the festive event.

A little background: Delhi never had a large Jewish community. There is a shul which the Shila family from Poona founded. Today there are a few remnants of the community with whom we are in close contact, but as far as the shul, whoever comes does as he pleases. There is no mechitza, women and even non-Jews join a so-called minyan. In order to understand the situation I can only tell you that we were invited to an aliya l’Torah and bas mitzva celebration of a thirteen year old girl, the daughter of a woman who is not Jewish. Shmulik Scharf tried to make changes in the shul which, for various reasons, did not work out.

Shneur tried to find out from them on the phone why they wanted to donate a Torah. I don’t have the energy to explain the entire story. The point is, when we visited Eretz Yisroel, we decided to visit the home of the couple who were making the donation. It turned out they had an emotional reason for making this donation. They showed us the Torah and it was painful to see a magnificent Torah with large, beautiful writing that was going to reside in that kind of synagogue.

They wanted us to do the catering and for Shneur to lead the inaugural reading of the Torah. It was complicated, given the situation at the shul. They promised to buy a mechitza and catering would be supplied by the Chabad house of the Main Bazaar.

A few days before our arrival in Delhi, there was a sudden change in plans. The person in charge of the shul did not see eye to eye with the donors and so the donors decided to give the Torah to us! That meant that the day we landed, a Friday no less, there would be an event in our home which would be followed by hosting the donors and guests for the Friday night meal, and the next day there would be a minyan for Krias ha’Torah in our new Torah. The family has connections with local government people and so they invited dignitaries, Jews and non-Jews, to the event.

I won’t get into the story of the visa and how we managed the passports, shopping, and packing the entire night before the flight.

After sleeping four hours, we left Tzfas. There was a siren on the way. We passed through customs with all the meat.

We left the airport in Delhi and experienced humidity that is unworldly. Our glasses fogged up. A minute of walking and we were dripping with sweat. The driver was actually happy with the weather. It was more pleasant than the previous days. It’s enough to make a grown person cry.

It was a more “pleasant” welcome when we arrived home (sarcastic). The dust that filled every corner of the house (a month in the filthiest city in the world) was okay as compared to the unpleasant surprise. We had left one freezer out of three running. The smell of rotting meat reached the street.

Mendush, who was deeply asleep, woke up from the odor and began to cry. All that we wanted after two sleepless nights was to collapse into bed but the bedroom air conditioner did not work. Ditto for another one in the living room.

In another twelve hours they would all be here in our house. It was four in the morning. I began to cry. The new ambassador who arrived just two days ago and the new attaché and other people, more and less important, for some of whom this would be their first visit to us and there would be no second chance to make a first impression.

In the morning, Shneur went to the market, built a chuppa (out of bamboo and fabric from the market), and ordered a group of musicians for the procession (and it wasn’t just a simple phone call). To our dismay, we found out that the Chabad house at Main Bazaar had not prepared anything, which meant we had no refreshments for the event. The donor suddenly told us that she had also invited the new ambassador and his wife to our home for the Shabbos meal. Another four couples from the embassy, the military attaché (and we continued to hear about more and more).

The house was not at all in a condition in which I could begin cooking or baking. Only cleaning could be done.

Shneur emptied the fridge of the rotting food but the stench in the house only increased. I was in the middle of a phone conversation with the donor who wanted to come and help with the preparations but I couldn’t even speak. We were simply choking from the stench. I ran to the porch and there too, it was impossible to breathe. I told her that the house was in the midst of being cleaned. She wanted to come and help. An idea occurred to me, to send her to an air conditioned, pleasant store for her to buy nice dishes for the buffet, pretty tablecloths (all my tablecloths were in the laundry from before our trip because it had been Shavuos and Shabbos, but there was no water to do a wash), fragrant candles, flowers, and whatever would make the buffet (as of now, there was nothing to put on it) decent. We arranged that she would call at twelve to see if she could come over.

At one we were still cleaning and cleaning on our own, without help. Suddenly, I heard, “Sarah, Sarah …”

The donors had arrived. Help!

Straight into the stink, with black buckets everywhere. On the one hand, it was extremely uncomfortable. On the other hand, there was a sense of relief. That’s that, they saw what was going on here. Next.

She was in helping mode. Dragging sofas and tables. After an hour of helping, they left and we had two hours until Shabbos. She bought deodorizing sprays in addition to what we had bought.

Friday afternoon, at four o’clock, the guests began to show up. The living room looked clean. The fragrance of challa and meat spread through the house. Someone from the embassy took out a CD with Hachnasas Seifer Torah music (a miracle since we did not have time to prepare). The children were clean and dressed for Shabbos. (Fortunately I had packed their Shabbos clothes separately; otherwise, there is no way I could have extricated them from the suitcases.)

The buffet was ready with nuts and dry fruit and cookies that I had bought for the children in Eretz Yisroel. Not what we would have prepared if only there had been time. 

All the tie-wearing dignitaries came, one after the other. Handshakes, officialdom and formalities. If only they knew what was going on here just an hour ago.

The Torah procession was on our street. One of the most bizarre scenes this place ever saw. History in the making. An amusing Indian band. Everyone was satisfied. An attraction for the new folks. A chuppa made of bamboo and Indian fabric.

Then there were seven hakafos. Shneur tried to get all the diplomats to dance, with some success. For the first hakafa, the ambassador and his number 2 and 3 person were honored. For the second hakafa, the military attaché and his aides were honored. Shneur gave them all honors.

The grandchildren of Shila came and they saw that the Chabad house is the real local community (they learn Hebrew at Main Bazaar and they celebrated his bar mitzva at Main Bazaar this week). Pictures were taken. Then speeches by the donors, the new ambassador, and a speech in a more endearing style by Shneur.

One of the guests told Shneur that it was nice and respectable.

It did not end there. There was an hour’s respite until candle lighting and masses of people packed our house. Additional tables were opened. We brought some “shortcuts” from Eretz Yisroel that they don’t have here. Sweet potato, avocado, salmon, meat, lettuce. The atmosphere was incredible. We could not have had a warmer reception than this.

All is by divine providence. If we had landed in the humidity and stench but to nothing else (most of the people aren’t here at all, for it’s peak summer now) that would have been really depressing. But, boruch Hashem, we landed straight into action, straight into such a beautiful and uplifting event, for such important guests. It was fantastic!

Then it was Shabbos. There was still no fridge. We are helped by the African neighbor downstairs who happily stores our Shabbos food.

We had a minyan for Krias ha’Torah and this was followed by a Shabbos meal with chulent and meat! This too was a rare event here. There were many guests. It could have been a situation in which it was just us with the donors.

When they began singing Shir HaMaalos before Birkas HaMazon, there was nobody happier than me. Finally, we could sit down, rest on the couch, relax a bit.

A new year of shlichus is about to begin.

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