Small Jew From Curacao and the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
A Jew in faraway Curacao solves a personal dilemma and learns of the great importance of each individual Jew.
In honor of the second yahrtzeit (memorial) of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, on June 20, I would like to share a story about the rebbe that I heard from my wife’s uncle, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky.
Rabbi Kotlarsy travels extensively, establishing Chabad centers around the globe. In 1982, he received an urgent call from the rebbe’s office asking him to travel to Curacao, an island in the Caribbean, as soon as possible. He was to gather the Jewish community there and speak to them about Judaism.
The rabbi didn’t know where Curacao was on the map. But he called a travel agent and made a reservation for the next possible flight. In Curacao, he found out that there were a few dozen families living on the island, but that by and large, their connection to Judaism was rather tenuous. Next, he set about advertising his arrival. Word spread that a rabbi from New York had come and was interested in addressing the Jewish community. A sizable number of people showed up, and he spoke on a variety of topics. When he mentioned that he came to Curacao at the express wish of the Lubavitcher rebbe, a man jumped out of his seat and told him he had to speak to him privately after the lecture. The man introduced himself by his Hebrew name, Chaim Yosif Groisman.
"In 1952," Groisman related, " before my grandmother’s death, she called her family together and told us that if we should find ourselves in trouble, there is a rabbi in New York, the Lubavitcher rebbe, whom we can turn to for help.
For the last 30 years, the man had never thought those words, but now his family was in the midst of a great dilemma.
In Curacao, he explained, all schoolchildren, with the exception of Jewish children, were obligated to attend daily prayer sessions in the church.
Recently a new principal had taken over. A devout Catholic, he decided that no one should be exempted from going to church. The Jewish parents tried everything, but the principal refused to budge. Groisman’s 13 –year – old son, however, refused to cooperate. He insisted he would never walk into the church, no matter what the consequences. The next day, all the children, Jewish ones included, entered the church except for him. The administration was furious, and the other kids took the opportunity to tease him and make his life miserable. Some of them even beat him up.
It had been like this for few days, with the Groisman family beginning to be ostracized by its neighbors.
Then Rabbi Kotlarsky appeared, and when he mentioned the Lubavitcher rebbi, Groisman, remembering his grandmother’s words, asked the rabbi’s advice.
Rabbi Kotlarsky suggested that he send his son to a Jewish boarding school in New York, and the youngster was thrilled to go. Soon after, the family moved to Venezuela, where it was much easier to practice Judaism.
Two years later, Rabbi Kotlarsky received a letter from Groisman expressing his desire to thank the Rebbe for all he had done for his family. Yet, his letter stated, how could he, a simple man, ever thank a personage as great as the Rebbe.
Rabbi Kotlarsky passed on the letter to the rebbe and the rebbe responded, in part, to Groisman:
"I must take exception to your referring to yourself as a ‘small Jew from Curacao.’ Every Jew, man or woman, has a soul which is ‘part of G-dliness above,’ as explained in the Tanya, beginning of chapter two. Thus there is no such thing as a ‘small Jew,’ and a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential.
With blessing, Rabbi Menachem M. Shneerson."
This story, and especially the rebbe’s letter, is a perfect description of the rebbe and his unconditional love for each and every Jew. His whole life was dedicated to helping, teaching and inspiring others. Likewise, I try my best to live by the rebbe’s great legacy – that "there is no such thing as a small Jew."