Roving Rabbis
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A German Jew in the Spanish Islands

April 12, 2018 11:30 AM

Several weeks before Passover we found out we’d be heading to Palma de Mallorca, home to some 250 Jews. Daniel has been there as part of the Roving Rabbis program before, so he got busy reconnecting with his contacts while I set out to find a suitable venue for the Seder.

Our first preference would have been one of theWe were told that they do not allow parties many hotels that dot the area, but several inquiries yielded the same result—it is against their policy to allow us to serve our own food. Plan B was to rent an airbnb. We left messages on several websites with our requested dates and intended use, asking if they had seating for forty people. Not surprisingly, we were told by each in turn that they do not allow parties on their premises.

Our last resort was to find a catering hall with a kitchen, but that would have been complicated with carrying on Shabbat and all the stringencies of Passover food, so we were still hoping for an airbnb that would be more accommodating when Joseph messaged us. He said that he had reconsidered and we could go ahead with his rental. It was a great relief and we quickly made all the necessary arrangements.

We spent the Shabbat before Passover with Rabbi and Mrs. Dovid Libersohn, Chabad emissaries to Barcelona, who supplied us with everything we would need to make the Seders. On Monday, we flew the short distance to Palma and made our way to the airbnb, laden with suitcases and boxes. Joseph was there to greet us and eyed our supplies warily. “I’m nervous about this party you’re having,” he said after a quick greeting. “This house is a heritage house and everything has to stay perfect.” We reassured him that we would be extremely careful.

“I have to tell you why I agreed.” he continued.We had an unexpected guest at the Seder “I saw that your names are Jewish, and you are hosting dinner for your holiday. My family is German, and I felt that I needed to do something for the Jews.”

We continued chatting and Joseph eventually shared that his maternal grandmother had been Jewish. What an unexpected twist! We told Joseph that he may be German, but he is also a fully-fledged Jew!

We had an unexpected guest at the Seder several nights later, but luckily, we didn't’ have to clear it with management first. Joseph sat with our other guests, thoroughly enjoying himself, participating in the discussions and songs and meeting lots of new friends. Hopefully, he will join them at future Jewish events.

Asking the Four Questions for the First Time

June 2, 2017 2:43 PM

A few days before the roving rabbis depart to their assignments around the world, a training session is held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Typically, there are two seminars, one providing a comprehensive tutorial on all the laws that pertainWe had an impressive 80 people at the Seder to Passover, and the other offering tips and suggestions for leading the Seder effectively. Afterwards, a variety of materials are distributed, including a 100- page handbook which includes everything from shopping lists to Passover recipes to talking points for the Seder. Personally, I found it to be a lifesaver and perused it countless times while arranging the public Seder in beautiful resort town of Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Fast forward to the Seder night. It had been a whirlwind getting there—travelling, shopping, schlepping, making numerous phone calls and house visits. Thank G‑d, it seemed like our hard work had paid off, and we had an impressive turnout of more than 80 people. The first part of the Seder had proceeded uneventfully, and our guests were enjoying the festive meal we had prepared.

I had brought my trusty handbook along with me to the hall, and since everyone loves a story, I decided to share one. Our crowd consisted of mostly elderly people, so I selected the following story.

The Fifth and Sixth Question

In April 1943, in the Warsaw ghetto, a Jewish family was conducting a Seder in a bunker.

It was the first night of Passover when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out.

A child in the family asked the four questions. And then he continued, “Father, may I ask you a fifth question?”

“Of course,” said the father.

So the boy continued with his fifth question:

"Why is our nation different than all other nations? Why have we been targeted for

abuse and annihilation?"

His father answered, “The Jewish nation began before any other nation had, and it will survive long after the Third Reich is dead. One cannot understand a story if one does not first know the entire story, from beginning to end, and our story is not over yet..."

"Daddy, I have a sixth question. Next year will I be here to ask you these four questions? Will you be here to answer them?"

And the father said, “I’ll be honest with you, my son. I hope yes, but I am not sure. Yet, this, I want you to know: Every Shabbat after reciting the haftarah we say these words: 'You have taken an oath that Israel's flame will never be extinguished.’ So I can promise you that somewhere in the world there will be a Moshele or a Dovid’l, a Chana’le or a Ruchel’e , asking these four questions to their father and mother."

My dear friends, that little boy and his father perished, may the Almighty avenge their blood. But last Passover, at the Seder table, three million Jewish"Next year will I be here to ask you these four questions?" children turned to their fathers and said, “Daddy, I want to ask you the four questions."

My friends, this is why we are all here today. “You have taken an oath that Israel's flame will never be extinguished."

I closed the book and looked around. Everyone was overcome with emotion, but there was one woman who was sobbing quietly. We all waited for her to compose herself, and then she asked if she could share a few words.

“My father was a Holocaust survivor,” she began. “He lost his entire family and suffered unspeakable atrocities. He settled in Spain after the War and didn’t practice his religion at all. In fact, we never even had a Passover Seder, and I never had the opportunity to ask him the four questions. He passed away a few months ago and I am confident that he’s watching me from Heaven right now with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks that his daughter is celebrating Passover and proudly singing the Ma Nishtana together with so many Jews at the Chabad Seder in Palma de Mallorca.”

No Place Too Far

August 31, 2016 5:46 PM

It was our second day in Palma de Mallorca, capital of Mallorca, one of the Spanish islands in the Mediterranean. It is a popular tourist destination, with the perfect combination of history, culture, and nature, but for us it was another stop in our whirlwind trip through Spain, with visits to the cities of Menorca, Girona, Valencia, Marbella, Seville, and Toledo. We had mapped out our itinerary together with Rabbi Dovid Libersohn, Chabad rabbi to Barcelona, and with a mere few days in each city, every waking moment was dedicated to our mission: to find the Jewish people living in these isolated places, and offer them assistance with any of their Jewish needs, as well as a listening ear and our unconditional friendship, as per the directives of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who, in 1943, created the Rabbinical Student Visitation Program.

Our first appointment of the day was with Sara, an elderly woman whose contact information was passed along to us by students who had visited previously. The visit went well and before we left she gave us some names and phone numbers of fellow Jews in the neighborhood. Thrilled, we phoned the contacts she had given us immediately after leaving her apartment. The first person we got through to was a woman named Aliza, and after a short conversation we agreed to meet at her home later that afternoon.

Aliza and her husband David greeted us with characteristic Spanish warmth, inviting us to make ourselves comfortable and plying us with fruit and drink. We began talking about Judaism—they told us about the miniscule local Jewish community, consisting of only 15 families. There is a small synagogue which opens only on Friday nights, with services led by the president in lieu of a rabbi. Though the couple tried their utmost, they were aware that it was difficult to observe all the mitzvot in a place like Palma, and since neither of them had the benefit of a Jewish education, they were uncertain of how to proceed in their journey to greater observance.

In the middle of the conversation, Aliza picked up Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Every Life, by Chassidic author Laibl Wolf. She flipped to the center of the book, pointing to a picture. “Do you know who this rabbi is?”

We were shocked! There we were, sitting in the living room of a Jewish couple in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, a place almost completely bereft of Judaism, and we were asked to identify a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, and the founder of the roving rabbi program!

“Aliza,” we said, “That is Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He is the reason we are here right now, visiting you and her husband!” We tried to explain the Rebbe’s impact on Chabad and Jew worldwide, stopping when we noticed tears streaming down Aliza’s face.

“As you know,” she began, her words slow and measured, “it’s quite difficult to be Jewish in Palma, and how much more so to be an observant Jew. There’s really no infrastructure or support system or rabbis or anything...it all has to come from within. About a month ago, I started feeling uninspired, lethargic, and just stuck in a spiritual rut. A week ago, I began praying to G‑d for something in my life to change. Then, early this morning, when I awoke and felt so despondent, I was drawn to this book, and specifically to the picture I just showed you. ‘Please help me, please send someone to inspire me,’ I begged the rabbi in the picture. And just a few hours later, there are followers of that great Rabbi in my home in Mallorca, to teach me more about Judaism and how to live as a Jew.”