Weekly Chasidic Story #1032 (s5778-01/
Erev Rosh HaShanah 5778)
Shofar-Blowing and Spear-Fishing in Oceania
At that time, the town of Lubavitch happened to be under the jurisdiction of
a particularly savage 'Poritz' (Baron)
Connection: ROSH HASHANAH
Shofar-Blowing and Spear-Fishing in Oceania
by Rabbi Ben Tanny*
The plane taxied slowly to the airport terminal and then came to a stop. I strapped
on my backpack, picked up the Torah scroll, and headed to clear New Caledonian**
customs. As I had expected, a man met me at the exit gate. He was thrilled to
see me with the Torah. "It has been so long," the man said. "May
I carry it?"
I handed him the Torah which he held reverently for a few seconds. Then his
face lit up with the biggest smile. "We are so delighted you could come,"
said the man. "We are maybe 150 Jewish people here, mostly from Algeria
and Tunisia. It has been a long time since we have had a rabbi and a Torah."
"I am not a rabbi," I corrected him. "I am an 18-year-old studying
in a Rabbinical seminary. Perhaps one day I will be a rabbi."***
"Yes, but you can read from the Torah. You know how to blow the shofar,
lead the prayers, and put up some mezuzot. We here cannot do this very
well. We are isolated on this island."
The man's name was Abraham. I knew this from having spoken to him on the phone.
Other than knowing his name, I knew nothing about him, though I'd learn a lot
as he welcomed me to stay in his home for the following weeks.
Abraham spoke with me in French. I understood most of what he was saying with
my Montreal Quebec French, though there were some differences. When we needed
clarification we switched to broken Hebrew. Abraham had never been to Israel
but his parents had taught him some Hebrew when he lived in Algeria.
The truth was I had not wanted to come to New Caledonia for the High Holidays.
I had just spent almost an entire year of intensive study in Australia and was
scheduled to fly home to Montreal. I wanted to see my family and friends. There
was also a synagogue in Montreal that had offered to pay me $800 to conduct
services over the High holidays.
But two weeks before the end of the school term a call had come through. The
Jewish community of New Caledonia wanted a rabbi for a few weeks. The senior
yeshiva students laid a "guilt trip" on me. I was the only
student in the yeshiva who could lead a service, blow shofar,
and speak French. In addition, they knew that I had solo backpacked around Europe,
so they thought I might just be crazy enough to go solo to this French Polynesian
After a large dose of hearing that I was the only one who could do the job,
I agreed to go. I found someone who would lend me a small Torah scroll provided
I insure it. Also, as requested by the community, I purchased 10 mezuzot
and 50 kipot on the agreement that they would pay me back for everything.
Though I wouldn't earn the money I could have earned in Montreal, I imagined
that I would at least have some fun exploring the island. But within a short
time after arriving in New Caledonia, I was no longer so sure about that.
In the week preceding Rosh Hashana, I visited Jews in and around Numea, the
capital. I affixed 10 mezuzot to door-posts, put tefilin on people,
helped a boy find a yeshiva in Israel, and even had an interview with
a local newspaper. I was kept busy teaching Torah and it seemed as if all 150
Jews wanted to meet and talk with me.
I was asked to sit through a number of community meetings and I gave my two
cents when asked, and sometimes even when not. At one point they were discussing
building plans for a new synagogue and mikva. One of the big donors did
not want to give any money towards the construction of the mikva. "If
you have money for just a synagogue or a mikva, Jewish law requires that
you build a mikva," I explained. It took a little more convincing,
but in the end he agreed to contribute.
I finally did get a few days break in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom
Kippur. A wealthy community member rented for me a wave runner for a full day.
I rode from one island to the next, stopping off to snorkel in the reefs teaming
with magnificent coral and fish life.
The next day he gave me a plane ticket to one of the smaller neighboring islands.
I cycled around, exploring native villages where people lived in grass huts,
caves filled with bats, and deserted white sandy beaches. I picked green coconuts
to drink and found plenty opportunities to escape into my own tropical paradise.
When I got back Abraham set me up to go spear fishing with one of the local
champions he knew well. Needless to say I didn't spear anything but the fisherman
gave me half his catch to take back for Abraham to cook for us. It was a delightful
change from canned tuna.
The two and a half weeks flew by. As Abraham drove me to the airport, I sat
in the car thinking; "Even if I did not make any money I accomplished a
lot and had a great time. The money made in Montreal would have been nice, but
I got to have an incredible experience." In addition, I had a direct flight
to Montreal and would see my family in the next 24 hours, G-d willing.
"We are very thankful that you came and for all your help," Abraham
said, as he bid me good-bye. "We want to give you something as a token
of our appreciation." He handed me an envelope. In the envelope there was
$1000 Australian which equaled $800 Canadian based on the exchange rate at that
time. I had just received the same amount of money that I would have earned
had I forgone New Caledonia and gone home to Montreal.
At the young age of 18, my trip to New Caledonia had helped me realize that
we can not make one penny more or less than what G-d intends for us. I did the
right thing by coming to help the New Caledonian community, I had an awesome
experience, and I received the exact amount of money that was destined to be
*Source: Reprinted with permission from //LChaimWeekly.org. Submitted
by Daniel Keren. Edited and annotated by Yerachmiel Tilles.
** New Caledonia, formerly called French Polynesia, is located in the southwest
Pacific Ocean, 1,210 km east of Australia
*** In 2013, Adelaide Hebrew Congregation appointed Rabbi Binyamin Tanny as
spiritual head of the orthodox Jewish community of South Australia.
**** "A person's earnings for the coming year (except expenditures in honor
of Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and for the Torah education of one's children.)
are determined in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur." (Talmud,
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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