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Monday, December 11, 2023 - 28 Kislev 5784
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Just One Letter

Rabbi Shalom Ber Shapiro was a successful elementary school teacher in the Yeshivah of Brooklyn. His classroom was always the most in demand by parents. He loved his students, and they as well as their parents returned his affection.

In 1981, one of the parents decided to repay Rabbi Shapiro for the excellent education he had provided his child. This parent was involved in the import and marketing of goods from Taiwan. He offered Rabbi Shapiro a sales position in Texas, in a city close to the Mexican border. All he would have to do would be to travel to Texas every two months, sell the goods to local business contacts, and rake in profits relatively easily.

Rabbi Shapiro thought the proposal was reasonable. He discussed the matter with his wife and then wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to request his blessing. After receiving the Rebbe's go-ahead he accepted the position.

Rabbi Shapiro turned out to be as successful in business as in teaching. Once every two months he made his way to the south Texas towns of El Paso, McAllen and Brownsville, sell his merchandise, and then return home with a tidy profit.

Rabbi Shapiro is the son-in-law of Dr. Nissan Mindel of blessed memory, one of the Rebbe's secretaries. In the course of his work Dr. Mindel would frequently enter the Rebbe's office, and the Rebbe would ask him about his family. In this manner Rabbi Shapiro received a number of blessings from the Rebbe for this new venture. 

On one of these occasions, when Dr. Mindel was in the Rebbe's office, he mentioned that his son-in-law would soon be making another trip to Texas. The Rebbe took out three dollars from his desk drawer, and told Dr. Mindel to give it to his son-in-law, with blessings for a safe trip. The Rebbe also asked Dr. Mindel to convey to his son-in-law an instruction of the Rebbe. In every city that he would visit, he should find at least one Jewish child and sign him up for a letter in the Children's Sefer Torah.

At the time, the Rebbe had recently introduced a campaign to get every Jewish child to buy a letter in a Torah scroll written especially for them. This campaign is ongoing to this day. In exchange for a token sum of money, the child receives a certificate indicating in which Torah portion their letter can be found.

Rabbi Shapiro was honored to be given this mission of the Rebbe. In El Paso he succeeded in signing up a number of Jewish children for the Sefer Torah, as well as in Brownsville. However, in McAllen he could not find a single Jewish child. None of his business acquaintances knew of anyone in town who was Jewish. He tried his luck with the local telephone directory, looking for Jewish-sounding names. He identified three names that could possibly be Jewish. The first person he called, Rubinstein, said that while he was indeed Jewish, his wife was not, so their children were not Jewish.

After Rubinstein, Rabbi Shapiro made another few calls, but none of those people turned out to have Jewish children, or even to be Jewish themselves.

As a chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shapiro knew that if the Rebbe had instructed him to find Jewish children in each city, there must be at least one Jewish child there. Therefore, he did not give up. Finally, after hours of inquiries he found out that there was a watch store in some distant part of the city that was owned by two Jewish brothers-in-law. He did not have the phone number of the store. Instead, he drove directly to the address he had been given.

When he entered the store, one of the owners immediately approached him with excitement. The rabbinic appearance of Rabbi Shapiro reminded him of his childhood in Brooklyn, when he used to attend synagogue hand-in-hand with his grandfather. He had been swept up in the waves of Americanism in his teenage years and had distanced himself from Judaism.

His conversation with Rabbi Shapiro struck a dormant chord in his soul. Naturally, he signed up each of his children for a letter in the Sefer Torah as the Rebbe had instructed. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between him and Rabbi Shapiro.

The next time Rabbi Shapiro was in town, he brought with him several Jewish books. The next time he bought for him a tallit and tefillin, as the storeowner had requested. His Jewish awakening was so great that by the next visit of Rabbi Shapiro, the storeowner had managed to organize a weekly minyan in his house for Shabbat prayers.

Rabbi Shapiro wrote a full report of his encounter to the Rebbe, and received a response: "Many thanks on the good news."

Today that Jew is a chassid of the Rebbe in the fullest sense, and has moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he can better practice Judaism. Two of his children, in turn, themselves serve as the Rebbe's emissaries in the far reaches of the world.


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