I was studying at the Lubavitch Rabbinical Seminary, at Lubavitch World Headquarters. After regular study hours, the students organized regular travel to find Jews and encourage the observance of putting on tefillin, black leather boxes, containing parchment scrolls, worn weekdays on the arm and head.

I agreed to visit certain army bases, and began to build a rapport with the Jewish soldiers.

After some time, a senior Christian army chaplain approached me. “You are doing such good work with the soldiers—we need you in the army. Who is your chief bishop? I would like to write him to ask him to send you to us.”

I assured him I would pass on his message to my leader, and wrote a letter to the the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. The Rebbe agreed that it was a good idea, and I enrolled, beginning the first of many eventful years as an army chaplain.

A Message from the Rebbe, Via the Pentagon

Mid-flight, the pilot instructed me to put on the headphones. Over the radio, I heard a voice telling me that the army, via the Pentagon, had just received a call from Lubavitch World Headquarters . . . In 1983 I received a phone call from the army. “It will be Hanukkah soon, and we have Jewish troops in Grenada. We would like to deploy you.”

At that time, “Operation Urgent Fury” was taking place on the island, where the revolutionary government was overthrown in a military coup, and communist forces from Cuba seized control. U.S. forces entered Grenada to rid the island of its communist dictatorship. I was contacted by the army to prepare for deployment, which would be up to six weeks. I arrived on the island just prior to Chanukah.

Less than a week after I arrived in Grenada, I was flying in a helicopter, on a mission, together with other soldiers. Mid-flight, the pilot instructed me to put on the headphones. Over the radio, I heard a voice telling me that the army, via the Pentagon, had just received a call from Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, instructing me to call Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, one of the Rebbe’s aides.

When we landed I called Rabbi Krinsky, who relayed to me that while he was in the car with the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him if he had heard anything from Rabbi Goldstein. He responded that he had not.

The Rebbe requested, “If you hear from him, please ask him to do three things. He should find out how the Jewish residents of Grenada are; make an effort to lay tefillin on every Jewish soldier; and, if possible, give the customary Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to the soldiers.”

Rabbi Krinsky told me that the Rebbe would reimburse me for all the money I would distribute.

Chanukah Gelt

That night, the fifth night of Chanukah, I organized a Chanukah party for the Jewish soldiers stationed on the island. Major General Jack Farris issued an order instructing all Jewish personnel stationed on the island to attend, and to be allowed to attend. At the Chanukah celebration, we lit candles and distributed Chanukah gelt to everyone.

At the party, I struck up a conversation with one of the soldiers. I asked him about his work, and discovered that he was responsible for printing leaflets that the army was distributing to the locals.

At that time, the Rebbe was encouraging the publishing and learning of the Tanya in every possible location. The Tanya, authored by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, of righteous memory, is the fundamental text of Chabad-Lubavitch philosophy.

Seizing the opportunity, I asked this soldier if he would assist me in printing some copies of the Tanya on the island of Grenada. He agreed and I immediately contacted Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York, and asked them to send the printing plates and paper.

The plates and paper arrived safely, and we printed one hundred copies of the holy work. We made sure to learn some of the Tanya there too.

Jews in Grenada?

Following the successful Chanukah party and Tanya printing, I tried to find out if any Jews were living on the island. I arranged an appointment with the Anglican bishop, who explained that for some reason Jews had never settled in Grenada, inhabiting only the surrounding islands. I now had my response for the Rebbe.

Tefillin for Every Jew

On the way to the airport for a helicopter flight, the jeep in which I was traveling got a flat tire. My chaplain’s assistant fired a pen flare to attract attention. An American soldier came down from one of the hills and asked, “Shalom, Rabbi, what are you doing here?”

I explained to him that I was an army chaplain, and had been deployed to Grenada to help the Jewish troops celebrate Chanukah. “Didn’t you receive the message asking all Jews to come to the main base for a Chanukah party?” I asked him.

He explained that as a military policeman, he never leaves his post.

I asked him where he was from, and we discussed his Jewish background. When I asked him if he would like to put on tefillin, he told me that this would be his first time ever doing this mitzvah.

On the spot, I showed him how to put on tefillin, and explained that this will be considered his bar mitzvah—the time a young man, at the age of thirteen, first puts on tefillin. The soldier became emotional, and thanked me many times for giving him this opportunity.

I continued to the airport for my helicopter flight, satisfied in the knowledge that I’d fulfilled another of the Rebbe’s directives.

“My Army Disciple”

Chaplain Godstein with the Rebbe
Chaplain Godstein with the Rebbe
Arriving back in New York, I wrote a report and delivered it, together with most of the Tanyas I had printed (after binding them in camouflage colors and stamping them with the army seal), to the Rebbe. The Rebbe responded warmly, and compensated me for the Chanukah gelt I distributed to the soldiers.

At the next chassidic gathering on Shabbat, the Rebbe looked around for me, and sent me his entire bowl of cake in appreciation of my trip to Grenada.

A short while later, the Israeli chief of chaplains, Gad Navon, was in a private audience with the Rebbe. Seeing the camouflage Tanya, he asked the Rebbe about it. The Rebbe answered that his chassid (disciple) in the army had printed it in Grenada.

While Gad Navon was in the United States, I was his escort. When he related the story to me, I realized he really wanted a copy of the Tanya, so I gave him mine. Later, the Rebbe sent back most of the copies I had given him, for me to do with as I pleased.

Polite Refusal

Major General Jack Farris, Jr., commander of the US operation and forces in Grenada, wrote the Rebbe, thanking him for my assistance to the American soldiers in Grenada, and asked the Rebbe to advise me to enroll in active duty as a full-time chaplain. Here is the Rebbe’s response (from the secretariat’s copy):

By the Grace of G‑d
20 Teves, 5744
(28 December, 1983)
Brooklyn, NY

Major General Jack M. Farris, Jr.
US Forces, Grenada
APO Miami, FL 34028

Greeting and Blessing:

I am pleased to acknowledge receipt of your kind letter of December 9, 1983. It is gratifying to know how much you and the Jewish servicemen under your command in Grenada appreciate Rabbi Goldstein’s services, especially during Hanukkah.

On my part, I take pleasure in expressing sincere thanks to you for extending to our emissary every cooperation to facilitate his carrying out his duties as Jewish chaplain.

I am particularly appreciative of your splendid cooperation helping Rabbi Goldstein carry out a specially significant assignment, namely, the printing of the book Tanya in Grenada.

This 18th century Habad classic expounds a philosophy and way of life permeated with profound awareness of the Supreme Being, whose benevolent Divine Providence extends to all His creatures, to nations as well as to every individual human being. It is a philosophy that inspires trust in G‑d, a feeling of [ . . . ]1 and confidence, dedication to the time-honored moral values, and a deeply felt responsibility to promote all that is good, indeed vital, for a wholesome and meaningful human society. Many of these concepts are, of course, part of the American way, on which the morale of the American servicemen rests.

Should there be a suitable opportunity, I would be very pleased if you would convey my warm sentiments and thanks to all those of rank and file who were helpful with you in making Rabbi Goldstein’s chaplaincy such a memorable experience.

With esteem and blessing,

M. Schneerson

P.S. With reference to your remarks about trying to talk Rabbi Goldstein into entering active duty as a Chaplain—insofar as I am familiar with his family obligations, including personal supervision of his young children’s education, and also as head of the family in a broader sense, including aging parents needing his moral support, etc., I doubt whether he could in all conscience accept the responsibilities of a Chaplain for an extended period, with the peace of mind and dedication that he would expect of himself.