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A couple of days after our arrival in Taiwan, we received the following email:

Hello Chabad rabbis,

My name is Yoni and I live in Tel Aviv, Israel. I am part of a group of 30 men and women who were chosen to come to Taiwan and participate in the World Deaf Basketball Championships. We will be in Taiwan for about ten days. Is there a way we can order kosher meals?We’d never heard of the World Deaf Basketball Championships before, and we marveled at the incredible perseverance and talent of these impressive athletes.

We replied:

Shalom Yoni,

Thank you for reaching out to us. We’ll be happy to help you with kosher food during your stay in Taiwan. Where are you staying?

Yoni quickly replied that the group would be based in Taoyuan, a 50 minute drive from Taipei, which has the largest Jewish population in Taiwan. We spent most of our time there, operating the Chabad House, giving classes, managing the kosher kitchen, and organizing Shabbat meals, trying to fill the shoes of Rabbi Shlomi and Racheli Tabib, Chabad Shluchim to Taiwan who were in Israel for a couple of weeks of much needed family time. We made up with Yoni that he would get in touch with us when he arrived and we would coordinate the delivery of their meals.

Team Israel landed in Taiwan on Thursday, and visited Taipei on Friday. We met Yoni and three other Orthodox players at the Chabad House. We welcomed them warmly and they expressed their gratitude for our help. Before they left, we gave them a few days’ worth of kosher meals, along with challah and wine for Shabbat.

That Tuesday, we decided to attend one of the games to show our support. After an almost two hour train ride, we headed for the massive courts. Aside from the other players, we were the only spectators. We discovered that Team Israel’s morale was pretty low—they’d already had a three game losing streak, and they were at 25-25 in their current game with Japan.

“Let’s go Israel!” We cheered.

“Go Yoni, you can do it!”

Asaf, Asaf, let’s go!”

Although the athletes couldn’t hear us, they knew we were cheering them on, and they seemed to bring a whole new energy to the game! Israel started taking the lead. At halftime, we went into the locker rooms, to deliver some more kosher meals and encourage the team in person.

In the end, Team Israel won by ten points! We were so excited, we ran onto the court to celebrate the victory with them. There were smiles all around, and they thanked us profusely for the kosher food and our support.


Later, they emailed us:

Shalom Moshe and Yisroel,

Thank you again for coming to the game yesterday! Great to share the sweet victory of Israel with you. We decided that we would like to spread the spirit of Chabad and invite the whole team for Shabbat dinner this week! We would like to order meals for 30 people. Please let us know if this can be done.

Yoni


We answered:

Yoni,

What a great idea! Shabbat is certainly the time to include all Jews around the table. We will send a taxi on Friday from Taipei to Taoyuan with everything you will need to make this happen.

We’ll be in touch!

Yisroel and Moshe


The need for patience and perseverance is something all roving rabbis are cognizant of, whether they are stationed in fast-paced Shanghai, China, or sleepy Warwick, Rhode Island. We are dealing with the most precious commodity—our eternal heritage—and we simply cannot afford to lose any potential "customers".

Around 1:30pm the other day, we were driving through downtown Santa Monica, California. We'd spent the morning visiting various businesses and a medical center, offering tefillin, Jewish reading material, and a listening ear, and we were deliberating over our next steps. With lunch break over, and no prior arrangements, it wasn’t practical to approach people at their workplaces. We decided we would park the car, stand at a street corner, and invite the passersby to put on tefillin, something which, after years of practice, was second nature to us.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” was our refrain for the next thirty minutes.

Plenty of people passed by, but no one was interested in the tefillin.

Another thirty minutes passed. Clearly, it was time to move on to greener pastures.

It sounds cliche, but at that very moment, a gentleman with a flowing white beard approached. “Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?” we asked.

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “My name is Eliyahu, and I am so happy to see you!”

We soon discovered that Eliyahu was born in El Salvador to Jewish parents, who bequeathed him with a Jewish name, but little else on the religious front. Consequently, he spent years searching for meaning and spirituality, without success. He knew he was Jewish, but had never met a rabbi, or had the opportunity to practice Judaism. When he moved to California recently, his search continued, but as a stranger in a strange land, he hadn’t found anyone to guide him on his journey. He was thrilled to have met us standing in the street, and we promised to put him in touch with the local Jewish community.

Oh, and good things come to those who wait. In Chabad parlance, there’s something special about helping first-timers don tefillin, (especially when the person in question is several decades away from his bar mitzvah) as was certainly the case with Eliyahu from El Salvador.

As part of their worldwide summer travels, they’ll take time with those they meet to fast, pray and remember

Mendy Tubul stands near the ancient mikvah in Heraklion, Crete, which borders the sea. The adjacent synagogue was destroyed during the Holocaust, along with most of Crete’s Jewish community.
Mendy Tubul stands near the ancient mikvah in Heraklion, Crete, which borders the sea. The adjacent synagogue was destroyed during the Holocaust, along with most of Crete’s Jewish community.

The summertime travels of “Roving Rabbis”—young Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students and newly minted rabbis who visit isolated Jews and small Jewish communities all over the globe—are filled with exciting, hectic days and nights in which they share the joys of Judaism with others. But on Tisha B’Av, they have a unique opportunity for a relatively quiet day of reflection, in which they can learn more about the local Jewish community and deepen their times with them.

Tubul, right, and Rabbi Mendel Wolowik with the president of the Jewish community of Ioannina in the Romaniote synagogue, said to be more than 1,000-year-old
Tubul, right, and Rabbi Mendel Wolowik with the president of the Jewish community of Ioannina in the Romaniote synagogue, said to be more than 1,000-year-old

The Ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av commemorates, among other things, the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world. Observed this year after Shabbat on July 25 and ending the following night, the day of mourning includes a fast that lasts throughout the night and day.

“We plan on observing the fast together with the local congregation, which is currently without a rabbi,” says Rabbi Peretz Lazaroff, who is on the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean with Rabbi Yisroel Wolff. “We haven’t yet ironed out details like our meals before and after the fast, but we will certainly be in the synagogue with the very lovely people we’ve been meeting since our arrival, and we are doing our utmost to muster up a minyan so we can hold full services. If not, we will still be able to observe the central element of the evening: reading the book of Lamentations.”

For others, the day will be a welcome respite from weeks on the road.

After a grueling three-week tour of Greece—and soon to take up a second posting in Dubrovnik, Croatia—Rabbi Mendy Tubul took the chance to “recharge his spiritual batteries” in Israel. He plans to commemorate the saddest day on the Jewish calendar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, literally steps away from the epicenter of the destruction nearly 2,000 years ago.

“This summer,” he says, “I have met Jewish people living in some of the oldest extant Diaspora communities—Greek Jews, whose ancestors have lived there back when the Second Temple was standing in Jerusalem—and now I am able to trace their steps in reverse.”

The symbolism also extends to his next destination, Dubrovnik, a charming port city that juts into the Adriatic Sea.

Rabbi Yecheskel Posner shares a Torah thought at Chabad in Lima, Peru.
Rabbi Yecheskel Posner shares a Torah thought at Chabad in Lima, Peru.

The community flourished in the 16th century, where it was a haven for Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. It was on the ninth of Av in 1492 that Spanish Jews were faced with the grim ultimatum of either converting to Catholicism or leaving the country they had lived in for hundreds of of years. Some of them moved to Dubrovnik, which was then known as Ragusa, where they turned a small Jewish community into a vibrant center of Spanish-Jewish culture for several hundred years.

Across the globe, Rabbi Nosson Huebner and Rabbi Yecheskel Posner will observe the 25-hour fast at the Chabad House in Lima, Peru, taking a break from their six-week tour of the country, where they comb cities and towns frequented by Israeli backpackers and other tourists. Since Chabad there runs a kosher bakery and restaurant, the duo welcomes the opportunity to enjoy complete meals both before and after the fast, perhaps the last full-fledged kosher meals they will have until their travels bring them back to the capital city next month.

As a boon for Jews in small communities, the rabbis are spreading the word about JNet, which pairs people for over-the-phone Torah learning.
As a boon for Jews in small communities, the rabbis are spreading the word about JNet, which pairs people for over-the-phone Torah learning.

Out in the American heartland, Rabbi Zushi Rivkin and Rabbi Mendy Wilschansky will take a break from their six-week cross-country tour to join the Chabad community in Kansas City.

But they plan on doing more than just praying and fasting. Earlier this week, in Shreveport, La., an elderly Jewish couple they’d met gave them the contact info of a friend in Kansas City, whom they felt would appreciate a visit from the pair of rabbis. “Assuming we feel up to it, in the afternoon, when the mourning restrictions ease up somewhat, we hope to visit them,” says Rivkin. “Even if we are fasting, we are still very much on our mission to meet as many Jews as possible, and encourage as many mitzvahs as we possibly can.”

Articles and videos about “Tisha B’Av, a Day of Mourning, a Day of Hope,” including its history, laws, customs and inspirational meaning, can be found here.

Rabbi Zushi Rivkin and Rabbi Mendy Wilschansky are on a six-week tour of the United States, driving from South Florida to Northern California, meeting lots of Jewish individuals on the way.
Rabbi Zushi Rivkin and Rabbi Mendy Wilschansky are on a six-week tour of the United States, driving from South Florida to Northern California, meeting lots of Jewish individuals on the way.
Helping a Jewish man in Peru put on tefillin.
Helping a Jewish man in Peru put on tefillin.
Rabbi Nosson Huebner and Rabbi Yecheskel Posner will observe the 25-hour Tisha B'Av fast at the Chabad House in Lima, Peru, where they have already joined the community for some celebrations.
Rabbi Nosson Huebner and Rabbi Yecheskel Posner will observe the 25-hour Tisha B'Av fast at the Chabad House in Lima, Peru, where they have already joined the community for some celebrations.

It’s hard to believe that our assignment is nearing its end. It’s been a hectic few weeks, in a good way. We flew into Milan, and spent a few days assisting one of the local Chabad rabbis. We also spent a memorable weekend in Venice, where Chabad Rabbi Rami Banin hosts hundreds of tourists every Shabbat. We shared some Torah thoughts at the Shabbat meals and helped the guests feel at home. After Shabbat, we drove about four hours to Turin. In contrast to Milan and Venice, there is only a tiny Jewish community there. Turin would be our base, and from there we would travel to the nearby mountaintop villages visiting Jewish people.

Giaveno, Sant'ambrogio, Susa, Rivoli—working with addresses given to us by the Chabad rabbi, we sought out Jews in these towns, meeting them at their homes and businesses, and offering them a listening ear, a friendly Jewish-themed chat, and the opportunity to wear tefillin, light the Shabbat candles, or affix a mezuzah to their front door.

Alberto and Silvia are an elderly couple who live in Cuneo, a small town 60 miles south of Turinmwith only a handful of Jewish residents. Armed with only the name of their street, we began to drive. We had contacted their daughter beforehand, and she told us not to bother—they were too old and wouldn’t appreciate our efforts. But she didn’t understand our M.O.— appreciation is nice, but our goal is to reach and impact Jews.

We found their street easily, parked the car, and began searching for their building. We realized that we were in trouble. Both sides of the street were lined with multi-story buildings, and we had no idea which one Alberto and Silvia called home. We could contact their daughter again, but that would mean another lecture. Just then, a woman passed by.

“Excuse me, would you perhaps know where Alberto and Silvia live?”

“Yes of course, they are my neighbors!” If she was surprised at our appearance, she hid it well. “You want to visit them? Come with me, I’ll take you.”

We were struck by this display of Divine Providence as we followed her into the building, and watched her open all the doors, and lead us straight into their home. It would have been nearly impossible to locate and enter the building and find the right apartment on our own. And contrary to their daughter’s predictions, Silvia greeted us happily. While her husband was resting, we talked with her, somehow getting into a deep chassidic discussion of the two souls every Jew possesses. Alberto awoke, and we all had a nice conversation. He too, was glad that we had made the trek to see them. Eventually, we helped him put tefillin. He is 95 years old. May G‑d grant them much health and happiness!

The spa town of Druskininkai, Lithuania, is a popular summer destination for Israeli Jews. Only a short flight away, it features a picturesque landscape of lakes, hills, and forests, numerous health resorts, and most importantly, an escape from the oppressive Israeli heat. Under the auspices of Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, director of Chabad of Lithuania, we are spending most of our time here, offering these Israelis a taste of home--be it an opportunity to wrap tefillin, participate in a Shabbat meal, or simply offering a friendly “Shalom.” Thank G‑d, one hundred people graced our Shabbat table last Friday night in Druskininkai!

On Sunday, we drove to the town of Birštonas, which like Druskininkai, is situated on the Nemunas River. Although much smaller, it is very scenic and home to several spas, and we were told Israelis may be vacationing there. We walked through the streets for three hours, but did not encounter a single Jew. “Let’s move on,” we decided, and made our way to the car.

As we were setting up the GPS, we spotted a middle-aged couple strolling across the street. Perhaps they were our token Jews of Birstonas? As we jumped out of the car, they noticed us, and began talking to us in Yiddish!

Samuel and Rosa live in nearby Kovno and spend weekends in Birštonas in their summer home. They were very friendly (Doesn’t vacation do that to all of us?), and we chatted in Yiddish for several minutes.

Afterwards, we pulled out our tefillin, gave a brief explanation, and Samuel readily agreed to perform this mitzvah, apparently for the first time in his life.

“Our house is very close. Why don’t you come over for a bit?” Rosa asked. We agreed, and they urged us to make ourselves comfortable, and brought out some refreshments. “It’s interesting,” Rosa shared. “Two days ago, we were walking, and we met some friends. Yesterday, we met different friends. And today on our walk, Samuel tells me, ‘We have to meet someone special today.’ Right then, you got out of your car! It’s amazing!”

“That is amazing,” we agreed. “But we also know that nothing happens by chance. The holy Ba’al Shem Tov taught that everything happens by Divine Providence. G‑d directs the steps of man, and sends him to where he has to be. Of course, we usually don’t see it with our physical eyes, but sometimes we do, like our experience today!”

Samuel and Rosa really appreciated that thought. We spoke for a while longer, and then, with their blessings, affixed a mezuzah to their front doorpost. We bade them farewell--but not for long. We’ve made plans to stop by their home in Kovno and place a mezuzah there as well.

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