SHLICHUS IN THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
May 22, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #880, Shlichus

It’s not only in exotic locales that there are heroines on shlichus who need to make five hour trips, each way, in order to get bread. Even in the Land of Opportunity and Plenty, this is necessary if you keep kosher and are hosting people in your Chabad House. * Shlichus in Ocean City, Maryland.

By Rocheli Green

GOING ON SHLICHUS

How did you get to Ocean City?

Before I tell you about the shlichus, began Mrs. Kochava Cohen, I want to tell you my story with the Rebbe. I was born prematurely, over a month early. Care for preemies was not what it is today and in any case, preemies often suffer a variety of medical conditions. I wasn’t breathing properly. The doctors predicted that I only had a few hours to live. My mother asked my father to call the Rebbe, which wasn’t an easy thing to do back then.

My father went to the home of the neighborhood kiosk owner, woke him up and went together to the kiosk to place the overseas call. My father asked for the Rebbe’s bracha and then went back to my mother and me. I suddenly began showing signs of life, just at the time that the Rebbe gave his bracha.

Now, back to my shlichus… Before we married, my husband and I were determined to work as shluchim. We got married and they told us, “There is no time. Hurry, take a plane. There is a community with no Jewish affiliation in Ocean City.” It didn’t sound crazy to me. I just wanted to know what I needed to take along. The answer I got was: nothing. That sounded crazy to me. Since when do you go to a new place with nothing?

“You don’t understand,” they told me. “America has everything. Leave whatever you bought for your wedding here in Eretz Yisroel. You’ll have plenty more over there, in quantity and quality.” So I packed just a few towels, sheets and some pots, which I thought I’d need when I first started out until I could by everything, and we got on a plane.

The flight was long and exhausting, but who cared about that? I was going on shlichus, which I had dreamed about all my life! We got off the plane and left the airport. I naively expected somebody to be waiting for us, but there was no one. It was late at night when we arrived, and we weren’t quite sure how to proceed. After a few phone calls we were told that there was a development with houses on it belonging to a wealthy man. We were told to enter one of them, to pick whichever one we liked, and we would be brought whatever else we needed the next day.

We arrived at the place, and even in the dark we could see that the houses had seen better days. Each was older than the next. We chose a house that was relatively large and went in – through the window, of course.

Of course?

When it’s dark and there is no key, then the most obvious thing to do is to enter through the window. Inside there was a floor, walls and darkness… in one word – nothing.

Some welcome …

Well, if I wouldn’t have known that the Rebbe sent me, I may have given up then and there and gone back home. But I knew that I’m a shlucha and had to get to work.

The next day we began cleaning up. It took us an entire day to clean the house. We got a key and some furniture that people donated.

The next step entailed making contact with the Jewish community. This meant hosting people in our clean house. Nobody told me that shlichus is 90% hosting and cooking. I didn’t even know how to prepare an egg, but I jumped in and began to experiment.

That’s when I discovered that I can actually cook quite well. Naturally, I wanted to experiment with as many types of food as I could, but realized that other than basics like flour and oil, there were no kosher products in the area. We solved the meat problem by making five hour trips each way to get it. We bought a big freezer because we didn’t want to make a trip like that very often. Today, we have three freezers. Boruch Hashem, our needs have grown and the one freezer we started out with was not enough.

After we finished with the meat, we began thinking about bread. I heard about an appliance called a bread machine. My husband got one for me; it’s a great machine, but it takes three hours to prepare a single recipe, and after all that time it produces one small loaf. We needed another solution. I started making my own by hand. We also brought a big pantry and every time we go to buy meat, we stock up on bread – challa, rolls, loaves of bread, etc.

Now the house began to operate like a Beis Chabad, with the special moments, the interesting stories and the hardships too.

CHINUCH CHALLENGES

I heard it said in the name of the Alter Rebbe that when a Jew draws close to G-d, he needs to forgo the desires of the animal soul. Being a shlucha is not easy. The yetzer ha’ra shows me mothers from all over the world. These mothers get up in the morning, get themselves and their children ready, send them off to school, and then go to work. They sometimes buy ready-made meals and they go to parent-teacher meetings.

Over here, it works somewhat differently. We get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and sit down to learn at the kitchen table. Recess is time to play in the yard. Ready-made food? Not in Ocean City. Parent-teacher meetings? If my sitting down with my husband is considered a parent-teacher meeting, then we have that.

I know that in Eretz Yisroel, home schooling is not prevalent or accepted, but on shlichus around the world it’s the most challenging issue. As a shlucha, you are willing to forgo everything, to deal with hardships and do what needs to be done, and the hardships aren’t simple. You are far from family. There’s the feeling of isolation. Although there are dozens of shluchim in Maryland, it’s one and a half times the size of Israel and we are the only ones in the area.

When it comes to the children and we have to take responsibility for them, it’s a whole additional responsibility. My big girls are twelve and a half, and each year it gets harder to teach and keep them occupied. It’s when it reaches the level of the impossible that the Rebbe reminds us that he is with us.

I got hold of a video of the Rebbe, which records a yechidus with a couple from Australia. The husband asks the Rebbe to bless his wife who home-schools their children, that the children be Chassidish. The Rebbe says something astonishing. He says, “She surely knows what it says in s’farim that the future Geula will be in the merit of the righteous women. That means that every effort on your part hastens the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.”

This answer from the Rebbe gave me so much strength! When I sit and teach, I am doing holy work! Shlichus to those around oneself hastens the Geula, but so does working with children! And who knows? Maybe this is the final thing that is needed for the hisgalus. So what is there to complain about?

In order for the kids to get some social stimulation we go to Eretz Yisroel every year for four months. We rent an apartment in Kfar Chabad and re-energize before going back to our shlichus. The principals and teachers always tell me, “We see your children and understand that the Rebbe does not remain in debt. He took the responsibility of the children of the shluchim upon himself and he stands behind his commitment.”

The four months in Eretz Yisroel are fantastic. The hardest moment is when it’s over and we have to get back on the plane. Each time we do it, it’s so hard.

I heard a great story at the first Kinus HaShluchim we attended. A couple went to the Rebbe. They had been assigned a place of shlichus but had a problem. The husband told the Rebbe that he was happy to go on shlichus, but it was hard for his wife. She wasn’t capable (or didn’t feel capable) of doing it.

The Rebbe said to her, “If I go on shlichus with you, will you be willing to go?” Of course she said yes. The Rebbe then looked at her and said, “I’m going with you.”

This story has a postscript. On another occasion, the Rebbe said, “They are assured by the n’siim, starting with the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, etc. until the Rebbe, my father-in-law, that they will see success in their activities in a way of continuing to increase. And with them are the meshaleiach and all the Rebbeim.”

It’s a vital message for all of us, as shluchos, that we need to constantly remember. Also, those living in Kfar Chabad are shluchos and the Rebbe is with each of us all the time. Not just the Rebbe but all the Rebbeim, starting with the Baal Shem Tov. They are all with us, all the time. Knowing this helps me in the tough times.

THE ABILITY TO SUCCEED

Please tell us some stories from your shlichus.

Before I share my own stories, I’d like to start with a story of another shliach from Argentina. He flew to the Rebbe with two stopovers, in England and in Eretz Yisroel. One time, when he landed in England, he learned that he had arrived in time for the dedication of the Chabad House. He celebrated with them, continued on to Eretz Yisroel and landed just in time for the dedication of a Chabad House held by R’ Wolf. He celebrated with them too, but this time it was with somewhat less simcha than previously.

When he got to the Rebbe, he was very despondent. He didn’t even write a pidyon nefesh. When he met with the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked why he hadn’t received a pidyon nefesh from him. The shliach said it was because he had nothing to say, he hadn’t built a building.

The Rebbe responded: Success is not measured in buildings.

The Rebbe took a list out of his drawer of bachurim learning in 770 and began reading the names of those who came from Argentina. When he finished reading, he said: That’s success.

This story strengthens me very much whenever I think about our little place and about not having buildings. Our work is individualized. I learned that women need one-on-one attention, so the shiurim I give are private. I include video segments of the Rebbe that pertain to that individual woman. I do hafrashas challa the same way. I used to do hafrashas challa with a group. There is something very special and powerful about it, but I discovered that when a woman goes through all the stages with me, she repeats it all at home. This is because the support that someone receives on an individual basis has more influence and effect.

In Ocean City there are Jews who feel it is sufficient to know that they are Jewish. They don’t want more. I met a Jewish woman like this called Rebecca. She wasn’t interested in doing any mitzvos. I thought a lot about how to work with her. One day, I told her about the mitzva of lighting a Shabbos candle. She liked it and said it sounded really nice, but … Her “but” was that she worked in the evenings. That meant she would have to leave the house before the candles went out and she was afraid to leave them lit in her wooden house. I’ve heard this from all kinds of women and girls. The solution I suggest to many of these ladies is to come to my house before Shabbos. (Now we live in a house in the center of the city, not the original house we stayed in.) These ladies come and light in my house and then continue on their way. However, this solution didn’t work for Rebecca for a number of reasons.

I came up with another idea. Rebecca works as a waitress in a restaurant in the city. I asked her whether they put fragrant candles on the tables as a decoration and she said they did. She said it was part of her job to light them. This was just what I needed to hear! I said to her: Light the candles as early as you can. Every Friday, I’ll call you and tell you exactly when Shabbos begins. You light the candles in the restaurant and when you light the last one, stop and say the bracha. Nobody needs to know what you’re doing.

She loved the idea and began doing it. After a while, she stopped working on Shabbos and began coming to us as our guest. Today, she has come a long way. Her favorite mitzva is Shabbos, of course. Last Yom Kippur she even came to shul.

Apropos of Yom Kippur, I’ll tell you about another Jewish girl. She knew that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, but she didn’t feel like spending the day in shul. She wanted to be at home and sleep. At least she’d fast the entire fast, but I wanted to get her to do something else in addition. Being in shul all day is really hard, especially for someone who never opened a Siddur, but perhaps she could manage one t’filla?

I invited her and gave her a gift of a Machzor. I sat together with her and showed her what’s most important to say. I put a post-it near N’ila and some other post-its in other places in the Machzor, like at T’hillim, and I emphasized: You don’t have to do any of it; it’s just if you have the strength.

She took the Machzor and went home. After the fast she called me excitedly and told me that she had read the entire “Siddur” from beginning to end. It was moving to hear this.

The story doesn’t end here. A few days went by and I suddenly heard that her mother was very sick. She had a problem with her foot and the doctors thought they would have to amputate it. She called me in tears to ask whether I had an idea of what could be done. I said, “Do you remember your prayers on Yom Kippur? G-d hears our prayers. Continue praying. Continue saying T’hillim, and you’ll see there will be a miracle!”

I was confident of this, that Hashem would show her that He saw the effort she made on Yom Kippur. The end of the story was the doctors informed her mother that a miracle occurred that happens once in a million. They did not have to treat even a toe of her foot. The foot is completely fine, thank G-d.

She called me wondering, “Do you think it had to do with my prayers?” I told her, of course! Since then, she spends a lot of time on t’filla and T’hillim.

There are actually Israelis in Ocean City?

Ocean City is a tourist spot on the coast, so there are Israelis here too, mainly young people. I remember a story of two brothers who came here. They were artists and they would sit on the beach and draw for people on T-shirts. One day, my husband went to the beach to put t’fillin on with people. When he passed by the artists, he offered t’fillin, which they declined. My husband smiled and said that was okay. If they wanted a Shabbos meal, they were invited.

They came for one Shabbos, then another, and another. Today, they are both Lubavitcher Chassidim who have beautiful Chassidishe families. One of them said to me, “If it’s hard for you sometimes, think of me. Remember where I was and where I am now. If not for the Rebbe, I wouldn’t be anywhere today …” I have to agree with him wholeheartedly.

The Rebbe says that when you give a Jew a shlichus or something for him to do, he cannot say, “First I will finish my things and then…” No! First put all your desires aside. That’s the only way to approach shlichus. When you approach shlichus with the understanding that it’s a great privilege that the Rebbe entrusted us with, then this impacts the environment as well. That’s because in the end, it’s not we who are doing the work. It’s the Rebbe. We are merely the conduits. To be a conduit, do it the way it’s supposed to be done.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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