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The Wonder of Chanukah 5778

Friday, 5 January, 2018 - 7:55 am

This week I would like to share with you a very recent story, one of the most moving and empowering incidents I have experienced in our fourteen years on the Island.  It left me in awe and its lessons, please G-d, will remain with me for the rest of my life.

In the weeks leading up to Chanukah, we were preoccupied with the planning of the various holiday events, including the public Lighting of the first candle on the front steps of the Legislature.

This year, we were very excited about the confirmed participation of the Premier and were working hard on all the details to ensure the event’s success. One of the logistical challenges that we experience every Chanukah is the transportation of Chanukah doughnuts (sufganiyot) from the Garden City Bakery on the mainland. Every year we need to come up with a new solution for delivering a couple hundred fresh doughnuts to Victoria.

I was therefore thrilled to hear from a member of the community that he was planning to come over from Vancouver on the day of the event and could transport the doughnuts. On Monday night however, less than 24 hours before the event, he informed me that circumstances had changed and he would not be coming over that day.

Without much time to make alternative plans, I decided to take the last ferry to Vancouver, spend the night at my colleague’s home in Richmond and catch the early morning ferry back with the fresh doughnuts.  I didn't mind the ferry sailing, as I would have an opportunity to sit quietly, relax, read and study...

By the time I arrived at my friend’s house it was close to midnight.  We had a nice schmooze and before I knew it there wasn’t much time left to sleep… At 6:00am I got up and made my way to the bakery. I loaded the car with 300 doughnuts and rushed to catch the 9am ferry.

After a quick coffee at the BC Ferries terminal, I was ready to daven shachrit (the Morning Prayer) so I opened the trunk to get my Talit and Tefillin. I was stunned. My bag wasn’t there…

Thinking quickly about my movements that morning, I realized what happened. When loading the sufganiyot, I took out the bag containing my Talit and Tefillin to make more room in the trunk and left it on the sidewalk outside the bakery.

I immediately called the bakery. “Let me check”, said the lady on the other side of the line. After a few difficult minutes of waiting she returned and said: “It was here earlier but I don’t see it anymore!”

I began to worry. Did someone steal the bag with my Talit and Tefillin? I asked the bakery for the names and numbers of all the stores in the mall, hoping that an honest person might have picked up the bag and left it in one of the stores. I called every store, only to hear that they had nothing to report. I then called the mall management office and the only information they had was that the outdoor cameras weren’t working that morning! As a last resort, I filed a lost item police report and resigned myself to the fact that I have done everything in my power to retrieve my bag and the matter was now out of my hands.

As soon as I arrived home I used my son’s Tefillin (purchased in anticipation of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah). You can imagine what I was praying for...

The day was filled with countless preparations for the event and I tried (not always successfully) to keep my mind off of the lost precious items. After the event which, thank G-d, was a great success, the realization that I will not see my Tefillin again started to sink in. While falling asleep that night I struggled to forgive myself for being so irresponsible. How could I have left behind my bag with the Talit and Tefillin?

Early the following morning my phone rang and the ring sounded promising. I leaped to pick up the call “Is this Meir Kaplan?” said the voice on the other side. “This is Juan. I have your briefcase; I found it next to the bakery in Richmond…” I literally jumped for joy “This is amazing! Thank you so much!” I responded with great excitement. “This bag is so important to me. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I am. I can’t thank you enough!”

Juan was very happy to hear that he found the bag’s owner. “Can you please courier it over to my home in Victoria?” I asked. “I’ll cover the costs”. “I’m actually here on a tour of British Columbia and plan to visit Victoria on Sunday. I’ll be happy to meet you and personally hand you your lost item” he said.

On Sunday at 11:30am Juan, a young Mexican man, pulled up in a pick-up truck in front of the Chabad Centre. “Juan”, I said, while offloading the suitcase, “You must understand. Inside this bag I have an item that I can’t really buy here. It’s a Jewish religious article called Tefillin that we use every day when we pray. It’s irreplaceable!”

Juan looked at me “I know what Tefillin is, and I know how important it is for you. In fact, my great grandmother was Jewish” he tells me while watching my jaw drop. “My great grandmother immigrated to Mexico and married a catholic man and since then our family has been Christian but I was always interested in her story and background”. When I heard that Juan was talking about his maternal great grandmother I almost fell backwards. “This means that you are Jewish!” I told Juan. “What unbelievable Divine providence brought us together!”

“Yes”, Juan said “for quite some time now I have been wanting to learn more about my family’s heritage and when I saw on the bag’s tag that you were a Rabbi I was very excited”.

Juan followed me into the Centre, where I opened my bag. “Would you like to put on Tefillin?’ I asked. “I would be honoured” he answered.

Juan was standing in a Synagogue wearing Tefillin for the first time in his life, his eyes closed and a big smile on his face as he recited after me "Shema Yisrael"...

Chani who knew that I was awaiting this delivery walked into the Centre and through the glass doors of the Shul saw me, the bag and the Mexican man wearing Tefillin and her eyes were filled with tears...

I have no idea why I had the merit to ignite that soul, but on that morning, it was clearer to me than ever before, that G-d works great wonders through us, even with our mistakes. 

Juan, me and the suitcase 

Comments on: The Wonder of Chanukah 5778

Lesley wrote...

Yosher Koach... Very moving story! You and Chani continuously ignite Jewish souls in the amazing work you do in Victoria (and beyond); how grateful I am for the soul-touching work you have dedicated your life to.

Shelley wrote...

Que bonita encanta.
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi y tu familia preciosa.

Ireta Fisher wrote...

Bienvenidos a Juan. Meir - your experience has sent shivers down by spine and goosebumps on my arms. May you share many more enriching experiences with us and the world

Gut Shabbos, Brachot. Ireta

Elliott wrote...

Incredible. Confirmation Hashem controls everything, and that Juan was meant to reconnect with his true heritage. I wonder what he will do with this experience.

Junie Swadron wrote...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Rabbi.What a mitzvah!