A few weeks ago, I found myself walking through the halls of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Canada, on my way to see a Jewish man with the hopes of boosting his spirits. His name was Aubie, and he was a friend of the Chabad-Lubavitch representative on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, Rabbi Yaakov Raskin. Along with a photo of the two of them embracing at a recent Chabad event, Raskin messaged me with a request that I visit this man.

So with a freshly baked challah (courtesy of my wife, Rivky) and a pair of tefillin in hand, I was on my way to meet Aubie. This would be the last thing I needed to do on that Friday afternoon just prior to ushering in Shabbat.

When I got to his room, I met a gentle man, soft-spoken and visibly ill. His appearance was far frailer than the lively photo I had been sent. After I introduced myself and explained the Chabad connection, he greeted me graciously. He told me of how he grew up in Toronto and that a few years back, he made his permanent move to Jamaica. He spoke of his cherished friendship with Rabbi Raskin, and discussed his sudden battle with cancer and the devastating reality that lay ahead of him.

I refused to dwell on the dismal outlook. Instead, I related how Shabbat is a time of euphoric positivity, and he must internalize this intimate moment with G‑d. I took his hand and placed it on Rivky’s challah, saying: “It’s not every day that you get a gift this warm.”

I asked him if he would allow me to lay tefillin on his arm and head. He gladly agreed. We recited the blessings and the Shema, and I then snapped a photo to share with Rabbi Raskin.

I wished him a Shabbat Shalom, left him my card and told him to call if he needs anything.

I left town the following week for a family simchah and made plans to visit Aubie again. But before I could, I received a message from Rabbi Raskin informing me of Aubie’s passing.

A few days later, I visited the shiva home. There, I met his family and his son, Dustin. I showed them photos of Aubie, and they shed some tears. They knew about my recent visit, but were pleasantly surprised to learn that he had put on tefillin so soon before his death.

Gansburg with Aubie in the hospital
Gansburg with Aubie in the hospital

‘Continue the Pride’

I asked Dustin if he wished to lay the same tefillin that his father had worn. He quickly replied in the affirmative. While discussing the significance of the mitzvah with him, I learned that even though Dustin had a bar mitzvah celebration in Toronto, he had never before wrapped tefillin.

Recognizing the moment, he emotionally put them on, closed his eyes and recited the Shema. I could see him connecting to a place beyond our physical realm. He seemed to be uniting with his dad in the world of spirit, in the world of neshamah (soul).

While we were unwrapping the tefillin, a gentleman nearby remarked: “Rabbi, this is so special, you should gift those tefillin to Dustin so he can put them on going forward.”

I replied: “If Dustin agrees to use them every day, I will gift this pair to him right now.”

Dustin immediately responded. “I’m in,” he said.

I heard the certainty in his voice. But I must have seemed surprised because he reiterated: “Rabbi, as long as you can teach me how to wear them properly, I’m in.”

Aubie with his friend, Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, director of Chabad of Jamaica
Aubie with his friend, Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, director of Chabad of Jamaica

And that was that. As I walked out of the shiva house that Sunday afternoon, I placed the tefillin in his hand. I embraced him, saying, “I know your dad is watching from heaven. He knows that the friendship he made with Rabbi Raskin in Jamaica has come full-circle. Make him proud and continue the pride that your dad had in his heritage for another generation.”

For me, this is one of those special moments that come with being a Chabad rabbi. It is the culmination of a journey of love and care from a movement with no borders or bounds. It’s the eternal effect of one small friendship made on one small island, rippling out in many directions.