Merkos Shlichus: The Last Jews on the Island
By Yossi Klein & Sholom Bluming
So much has been written about the beauty and importance of finding the one Jew, lifting up the one soul, the value of one mitzvah, and how it’s our responsibility to travel far distances and remote locations just to find that one Jew.
Today, we met two Jews.
Freeport, Bahamas, is an island with a population of 27,000, of which only 50 are Jews. Upon arrival, we discovered that almost all of the Jews leave the island during the hot summer months, and there are only 9 Jews who stay throughout the summer. We immediately started making phone calls, but to no avail. We just couldn’t find them. Finally, after a long day of endless searching, we got in touch with one couple, Tony and Julie, who assured us that they were the only Jews left on the island. Address in hand, off we went to meet with them in their store, located in a sea of people selling all sorts of interesting things. From souvenirs shops to hair braiders, there was a stall for everything. From a distance, we could see a proud mezuzah hanging on the doorway of their Jewelry shop called Goldy Lox (can’t get more Jewish then that!).
When we arrived, Julie exclaimed, “How did you know to come today!?” With tears in her eyes, she said, “Today is my mother’s yahrtzeit, and I really wanted to do something special to honor her. But living so far away, I just didn’t know what to do. I prayed to G‑d, asking Him send me a message, telling me what to do. Just as I opened my eyes, you callled!”
Together, we lit a candle, reviewed a Torah thought, and helped Tony with tefillin, all in memory of Julie’s mother, may she rest in peace.
Julie told us that she feels positive that her mother was watching over her, reminding her of the power of her prayer. Her husband, Tony, promised to don tefellin every day in honor of his mother-in-law.
As we were about to leave, we asked if they knew anything about a Jewish center or synagogue in the city. To our surprise, Tony said, “Of course we have a synagogue here; it is the only synagogue in the Bahamas.”
He was so excited that he hopped into his car and drove us to the synagogue. As we pulled up, we saw that the name was “Luis De Torres.” Seeing the curious looks on our faces, Tony smiled and explained the meaning.
500 years ago, a man named Luis De Torres was engaged by Christopher Columbus to be the linguist and interpreter for his fleet of three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the S. Maria. Luis was supposedly fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Chaldean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Latin. He was also a Converso, a crypto-Jew who had been forced to convert to Catholicism out of fear of the Inquisition. Luis De Torres alighted on the Island of San Salvador, one of the 700 islands comprising the Bahamas, becoming the first Jew to set foot on the New World. Today, the Luis De Torres Synagogue, the only synagogue in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is the pride and joy of this small Jewish Community.
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The Merkos Shlichus Student Visitation Program is celebrating 65 years since it was initiated by the Rebbe at the behest of the Previous Rebbe. Under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the program has grown to dispatch nearly 500 students across the globe each summer.
With permission from RovingRabbis.com. For more stores, photos and the latest news of Merkos Shlichus please visit RovingRabbis.com.