“If you are looking for Jewish people, you have to meet Joanie on the next island,” a resident of Bocas del Toro exclaimed with excitement. “She has become the source of everything Jewish in this area.” Jumping into a water taxi, we made our way to Caremero, the next island over. At Caremero, we began walking around the exotic island to find the Jewish people we had come to visit. With no street signs, we had to continually ask people for directions. At one point we even thought we would not be able to find the people we had come for. But we did not give up, and after asking a few more people and walking around a little bit more, our efforts paid off.
Walking up a pastel-colored restaurant dock on the water, not really knowing who we were looking for, a woman jumped out of her chair and ran towards us. “Chabad! I can’t believe you are here. What are you doing here?” She invited us to sit down for a drink, and for the next several hours we discussed a gamut of topics. Just as we were getting ready to leave, we decided to end the visit with a few words about the importance of lighting the Shabbat candles. But as soon as we started, she replied, “It’s too much. I can’t prepare my house for Shabbat every week. There is no way it will happen!” “Don’t worry about the house,” we reasoned, “just light the candles.” As soon as she heard these words, she fell back in her chair and looked as if she had been struck by lightning. “What did you say?” she asked in a dazed voice. “Just light the candles,” we repeated, not knowing why these words had struck such a raw nerve, but she interrupted us and began to tell us her story.
“I had unsuccessfully been trying to have children all my life. One day it looked like I was going to have a beautiful healthy child; I was in my eighth month, and things were going really well, when suddenly, inexplicably, I had a miscarriage. The doctors told me to stop trying. They said I was not made for childbirth, and I was on the brink of accepting their advice.
A short while later we were visiting Israel. I felt horrible. Life had no meaning. And as I was sitting there pondering my fate, I fell asleep and began to dream. I saw my grandmother. She looked happy to see me. She told me, “If you want to be blessed with kids, light the Shabbat candles.” “But it’s too big of a job,” I complained. Her response seemed to put me at ease, convincing me that I could do it. She simply said, “Just light the candles.”
“I decided to begin lighting the Shabbat candles,” she said, and then pointed to the playground where a bunch of children were playing. “You see that boy and girl with the beautiful blond hair? Those are my Shabbat candles.”
She continued, “At first I was very careful to light the candles, but over time I stopped. My children are now seven years old. And here you rabbis come, and say to me the exact words my grandmother told me. G‑d is sending me a message, I will not forget.
“This time,” she said with visible pride, “my prayer will be for you. What I should pray for? Are you married?” she pointed to me. (Lipa is getting married, please G‑d, right after the summer.) “I will pray for you, and I promise you will see results.” Her confidence and excitement was clear for anyone to see.
We got into our water taxi to make our way back to our accommodations, I don’t know the end of the story, but I sure want to find out.