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Warmth and Light to a Lonely Jew
by Meir J.

My story happened about 15 years ago, in 1993. After completing my army service in Israel, I came to America to work, and then went to Puerto Rico for several weeks to do some touring. Chanukah Chabad, Chabad Hanuka

We spent the entire High Holiday season in Puerto Rico, and then headed to the airport for our flight to New York. We went through the security check without any problem and had settled into our seats when two local policemen boarded the plane. After a few minutes, one of them came up to me while the other approached my companion, asking that we show them our identification.

When they understood that we didn’t have the required visitors’ permits, they took us off the plane and placed us in the airport jail.

After a few hours, several officers entered the jail cell and told us that they are presently checking our files, and that we would be barred entry to the United States and will be sent back to Israel in a few days. A couple of days later, an officer entered our cell again and told my friend that he is being placed now on a plane back to Israel. He then turned to me and said that I am staying because they still have something to check out.

I was gripped by fear. I asked the officer for an explanation, but he refused to reveal the basis for their suspicions.

Finally, they gave me permission to make two phone calls. I immediately phoned my married sister living in New York and related all that had transpired.

My brother-in-law got the Israeli consulate involved and hired an expert attorney to represent me. After a few days of clearing things up, my attorney managed to find out the charges against me. The authorities had found my fingerprints in the jewelry store of some friends that had been burglarized. The suspicion was that I had been the burglar.

I walked around my detention cell like a caged lion. When the trial finally began, the prosecutors claimed that the fingerprints were proof that I was involved in the burglary. My attorney rejected the charges, stating that I was a friend of the storeowners, and that since I had visited there, it was only natural that my fingerprints would be left behind. The judge rejected this assertion on the basis that the fingerprints were found behind the counter, and even good friends don’t enter the place where the salesmen stand. I was convicted, and the judge decided that he would pass sentence against me at a later date.

The following day, handcuffed like a common criminal, I was taken away to jail, a two hours’ journey from the detention area. I felt utterly humiliated and wronged for something I hadn’t done.

Months passed, and the holiday of Chanukah arrived. I vaguely recalled that this is when we light candles and eat jelly doughnuts, but had never really learned anything of the deep inner meaning of the holiday. On the third day of Chanuka, the Gentiles began celebrating their own holiday. There was great joy within the walls of the prison, and the sounds of cheers and exultation were heard from the inmates, as if they had just been set free. As evening fell, the jailor in charge of our wing entered my cell and informed me that a large festive meal was being hosted in the dining hall by Christian priests, and he told me in detail what types of foods were being served. Everyone else went down, Christian or otherwise, including my Muslim-Palestinian cellmate. I’ll never know what caused me to refuse to go down to the party; yet, something within me said, “stop.” Until that moment, I had conducted myself as everyone else, eating all these foods, speaking like everyone else. However, a new spirit suddenly rested upon me, causing me to be the only one to stubbornly remain alone in his cell.

After a few long minutes, as I lay in my bed absorbed in my thoughts, I heard the buzzing of the front gate to the wing, followed by the clinking of the cell keys. I perked my ears in the direction of the noise, and then suddenly I heard the words, “Righteous Jew, wake up, it’s Chanukah.” At first, I thought that I was dreaming; I couldn’t believe it was true.

I got up from my bed, and was shocked to see the jailor accompanied by two young Chabadnikim calling repeatedly, “Righteous Jew, wake up, it’s Chanukah.”

One of them was holding a carton of jelly doughnuts and chocolates, while the other held a menorah and a box of candles. I rubbed my eyes in bewilderment and washed my face in the basin to make absolutely certain that this wasn’t a dream.

I will never forget the friendliness and charm of these young bochurim. They told me about the long journey that had made until they received the necessary permits to come and see me, and then they said that this is the holiday when the Jewish soul overcomes the body – the powers of purity over impurity. After we lit the Chanuka lights, they enthusiastically explained that they were Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader of the generation, who has concern for every Jew, even if he is far away in prison.

They sat with me for about half an hour, and gave me tremendous encouragement. I told the young bochurim why I was sitting in prison, and they replied that for reasons such as this, there is a Rebbe among the Children of Israel to whom it is possible to write and receive his bracha.

In the end, I wrote down everything that I had gone through in great detail, and then handed them the letter.

They left me a package of Chanuka candles and a menorah, taught me how to light the candles for the remaining days of the holiday, and then we parted from one another with a warm hug.

Just a few days later, suddenly and unexpectedly, the prison director and several jailors entered my cell to inform me that the judge had decided my sentence. I was to be deported…to Israel.

The jailors didn’t give me much time for sentiment, and ordered me to gather my belongings. From there I boarded a plane to New York and then straight back to Eretz Yisroel.
 

 


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