The author's father, Chaim Groisman passed away on 5 Teves, 5776 in Caracas, Venezuela. An obituary notice appears here.

I grew up in Curacao, a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands Antilles. There were no Jewish schools on the island at the time, and I attended the Protestant school.

I had a very difficult time at school. Although I was brought up in a non-observant household, I stubbornly refused to participate in the religious services and classes that were part of the school curriculum. Non-Jewish students picked daily fights with me, and I even felt that my teachers and the school's principal were taking their side.

When I reached 7th grade, things were coming to a head. Life was not getting easier. On the contrary, fights were more prevalent than ever and more vicious. My relations with the school principal became more and more hostile. I started skipping school. I spent my days playing golf at the nearby golf club, returning to the school grounds in time to meet my father, who drove me home every day.

One day, the principal called my father into his office to find out why I had not been in school the past few weeks. Meeting me as usual that day after school hours, my father asked, "How was school today?" I replied, "The same as always." My father then asked me, "Did you go to school today? Last week? Two weeks ago?" Not wanting to lie, I admitted that I had not.

My father gave me a choice: either give in and do as all the other boys do, or leave school and go to work with him — and work hard — every day. I didn't need to think long. I walked into the principal's office, put my textbooks on the principal's desk, and ran back out to my father.

Warning letters started to arrive to our home stating the law that all minors must attend school. My family's relations with the community also began to sour as a result.

My father was terribly upset about my situation, but he didn't know any way out. One night he had a dream. He saw himself near the age of three, before his upshernish, sitting on his grandmother's lap. She was saying to him, "Liuvu (Russian for 'my love'), anytime you are in trouble, the one who can help you is the Lubavitcher Rebbe." This was the first time he had ever heard of the Rebbe.

The next morning my father went to his shul, a small, unobtrusive building near his home. He asked the caretaker to unlock the door for him and went over to the Aron HaKodesh (ark), poured his heart to G‑d, and turned to leave.

On a January day in 1984, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, assistant to Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's senior secretary, received a telephone call at home from Rabbi Hodakov. "Wash your hands," instructed Rabbi Hodakov, using a code term clueing in Rabbi Kotlarsky that the Rebbe was on the line, listening. "The Rebbe wants you to go to Curacao immediately."

When the Rebbe tells a chassid to act, he does not ask questions; he acts. Rabbi Kotlarsky chose a traveling companion, Levi Krinsky, a 17-year old yeshivah student, and both took the next flight to Curacao. Arriving at the airport and not knowing where to go or what to do there, they hailed a taxi, requesting to be taken to the synagogue.

Taxi drivers in Curacao are used to such requests, and they usually comply by driving to the largest synagogue on the island, renowned as the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Mikvah Israel Emanuel. This synagogue, in which services are conducted only on Shabbat, functions also as a museum throughout the week. It boasts a unique feature: the floor is covered with white sand, possibly because its founders, who escaped the Inquisition, covered the steps leading to their houses of prayer in Portugal with sand in order to hide the sound of their footsteps.

This taxi driver, however, took Rabbi Kotlarsky not to Mikvah Israel Emanuel but to a small, neighborhood shul. As the taxi pulled up to the door, Rabbi Kotlarsky saw a man leaving the building. Thinking that this man would be a convenient source of information about the local Jewish community, he approached him and said: "We were sent here by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We want to get to know the Jewish people here. We are staying at the Plaza Hotel. Can you come with us and tell us about the local community?" The man, who was none other than my father, just walking out of the shul, nearly fainted.

My father told Rabbi Kotlarsky about our family's plight, and introduced me to him. My first question to Rabbi Kotlarsky was: "Are you allowed to defend yourself if someone comes up and punches you?" I had formed an impression from the movies and TV shows I had seen about the Holocaust that Jews were weak and did not fight back when attacked. Rabbi Kotlarsky responded, "You make sure that you defend yourself, and do such damage that they won't come back to you!" I thought this Rabbi was cool.

Rabbi Kotlarsky invited me to go to New York and attend Camp Gan Israel in the Catskills that summer, and later to Yeshivah that started in September. This was the answer to my prayers, and I accepted the offer immediately.

I would like to thank the Rebbe for caring for me and my family. We should all take his example on how one should care for a fellow Jew. It doesn't have to be a Jew in far-off Curacao; it could be someone right around the corner. Surely, by following the Rebbe's example we will all merit the revelation of Moshiach.

(Below is a letter my father received from the Rebbe shortly after this story:)

Postscript: Members of the Curacao Jewish community have written to inform us that the state of Jewish life on the island has much improved in the more than twenty years since the events described in this account, with a flourishing Hebrew school and other community services.