I met Mrs. Ilana Benyaminson four years ago when, following an answer from the Rebbe, she, her husband Eliyahu Yona, and their daughter Tova Geula were living in Kfar Chabad. At the time they were involved in publishing a magazine for women in English called Tambourines and books whose theme is the Besuras Ha’Geula and the Goel. When they felt they had completed their shlichus in Kfar Chabad, they wrote to the Rebbe and moved to Barbados. I interviewed Ilana as someone who does just as the Rebbe says to do, transmitting all aspects of shlichus through the gateway of kabbalas p’nei Moshiach.
UTILIZING TALENTS FOR GEULA
How did you and your husband end up in publishing?
“I grew up in California in a family that was very involved in hosting guests, teaching and counseling, arranging events, doing mivtzaim, and supporting Chabad mosdos. I’ve always had a talent for writing and I knew that I would write books. My father is Israeli and I spent a few years studying in Eretz Yisroel so I know Hebrew well and can translate from Hebrew to English.”
Her husband was also involved with writing before he married, in a translation project of sichos from 5751-5752, for the purpose of conveying the Rebbe’s messages to English speakers.
“In Eretz Yisroel, the topic of Moshiach is very strong because people place a big emphasis on learning the sichos of the D’var Malchus. Still, there are English speakers who have a hard time learning them and don’t end up knowing how clearly the Rebbe says he is Moshiach and the importance of publicizing this.
“When people can learn a sicha inside a text whose language they understand, they see for themselves what the Rebbe says and this does away with a lot of confusion on the topic of Moshiach.
“When we married, I began helping my husband with his translations, because I like writing. I looked for a positive way to use my talent for the topic of Moshiach. My husband and I thought of the idea of starting a magazine for women. It was named for the tambourines that women use when they dance joyfully in anticipation of Moshiach’s coming. The magazine included excerpts from sichos of the D’var Malchus along with true stories and creative fiction. There were interesting articles and healthy recipes along with Chassidic insights about the significance of various foods. The magazine was the basis for many of the books we published.”
The Benyaminsons published the magazine for two years, but it recently became too hard to publish it on a regular basis with young children around. They might resume publishing it at some point, but it will need the involvement of more people and financial help. Until now, they did it all on their own.
But Ilana and her husband continue to produce English language material. I asked Ilana what their goal is, for whoever knows how expensive it is to write and publish, knows that making money is not the motivating factor.
“Our goal is to spread information about Moshiach to those who speak English and to use various forms of writing to do so. For example, I enjoy reading books that convey messages of Torah in a creative way. The advantage in writing novels over real stories is that you don’t need to worry about getting details exactly right, and you can write more about the inner thoughts of the protagonists and their feelings. I wrote a novel called Universal Royalty about two black girls, one who converts and one who is interested in the Seven Noahide Laws and teaches others about them, and a book of short stories called Moshiach Days in order to publicize inyanei Moshiach in a readable, enjoyable way.”
Their target audience is broad. Some of the books are suited to Lubavitchers and other religious people and other books are meant for mivtzaim outreach.
I asked Ilana to tell me about her books. So far, they have published four volumes of D’var Malchus translated into English that include all the sichos of Shmos and D’varim. The fifth volume is on the way. The translations are thorough and include all the footnotes. Their bestseller is Open Your Eyes: Moshiach! which contains highlights from the sichos of 5751-5752 with important conclusions. They also published a linear translation, from Yiddish to English, of the sicha of Shoftim 5751, called Our Living Leader and Prophet: A Linear Translation of D’var Malchus Shoftim 5751. Other books they have published to date include:
Moshiach Daily: Torah Insights on the Topic of Moshiach and Geula Connected to the Daily HaYom Yom is a quote or short message from the D’var Malchus for every day of the year.
The Real Superhero: Moshiach! A Collection of True Stories, Facts and Torah Insights is a book of information and stories about the Rebbe which is suitable for all ages and all backgrounds.
The book Alive! contains sources and explanations for the p’sak din of rabbanim that the Rebbe is physically alive.
There are two books of pictures of the Rebbe for young children, one of which is called What Moshiach Does, which has pictures of the Rebbe doing various mitzvos throughout the year.
Little “Moshiachs” is a parenting book with horaos of the Rebbe. For women, there is The Righteous Women Bring Moshiach, a collection of translated quotes and adaptations of talks and letters of the Rebbe on chinuch, head covering, tznius, etc.
There is a book for gentiles about Moshiach and the Seven Noahide Laws. There is even a cookbook with natural recipes that have Chassidic explanations about the deeper meaning of various foods.
Their new book is 115 Moshiach Activities for Kids, full of ideas for activities that teach children about Moshiach and Geula in a fun, hands-on way.
The books are available on their website LivingMoshiach.com, under “Moshiach Bookstore.”
GOING ON SHLICHUS
Barbados is a small Caribbean island near Venezuela, a five-hour flight from New York and three and a half hours from Miami. It is a beautiful island with sparkling turquoise oceans and colorful, tropical foliage. The locals speak English since it was once a British colony, and its economy was and still is based on sugarcane export and tourism, of course. It is a lively place bustling with artists and wealthy tourists. The standard of living is far higher than other Caribbean islands. Jews arrived in Barbados back in the time of Columbus. There is a Jewish cemetery, an ancient shul, and a mikva built by Jews who escaped the Inquisition to Brazil, were expelled from there, and finally founded a community in Barbados.
Today there is a newer community that was founded by Jews who came from Europe in the years prior to the Holocaust. The Benyaminsons are not the first Lubavitcher to go to Barbados. In 5719, R’ Shmuel Pesach Bogomilski was sent by Merkos Shlichus to the Caribbean along with another rabbi. They did brissin, among other things. R’ Bogomilski thought his shlichus was finished, when, to his surprise, he received a telegram from R’ Chadakov, the Rebbe’s secretary, informing him that the Rebbe wants him to return to Barbados and remain there for a year in order to teach children. He stayed with the Karp family, one of the leaders of the local community. Interestingly, one of those children grew up to be a Lubavitcher and he and his family are now on shlichus.
“We wanted to go on shlichus to a country where there is no Chabad presence. I grew up in California and I am used to warm weather. I find it very hard to deal with cold winters, so I wanted a warm place. We also thought we would do better in a place where English is spoken. We tried another island in the Caribbean but finally settled on Barbados, because there is a Jewish community and the quality of life is similar to that in America.”
By Divine Providence, her husband had helped R’ Bogomilski in New Jersey, and that helped make the connection to Barbados. R’ Bogomilski helped them with information and with contacting people in the community.
Moving to the island is a very complicated endeavor, and the Benyaminson family is still dealing with the challenge.
“The first time we went there was before Pesach. Whatever could go wrong, went wrong.”
The shluchim arrived a few days before Pesach without shmura matza. It is very difficult to bring things to the island, because it is in the middle of the Atlantic as a country onto itself. It is not a simple thing to get there or send things there. They tried to fly someone in with matzos but there was a mess-up at the airline and his flight was canceled. In the end, without matzos, they had to leave before Pesach for Miami and from there they went to California where Ilana gave birth to a boy.
“The entire experience was very hard,” she said, sharing her feelings about their failure. “I felt like a piece of matza broken into five parts, like the afikoman. Our belongings were scattered in different places in the world and we didn’t know what to do next. I say this in order to convey the message that we can never give up on shlichus. Even if we start out with failures, our shlichus can end up thriving.” They returned to Barbados for 19 Kislev and lived there for five months.
This Lubavitch family attracted a lot of attention on the part of local blacks who are friendly people and very spiritual. They repeatedly approached the Benyaminsons and were very interested in the Seven Noahide Laws. Their positive impression was presented in an article that was published in a local paper.
The Chabad House’s computer was once lost. It had been in a case together with a brochure they had published which was full of pictures of the Rebbe. They didn’t know how to find it but it was returned to them, apparently because of the picture of the Rebbe.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
The Jewish community in Barbados is comprised of Jews who came from Europe and their descendants, families from Eretz Yisroel, Jewish families from the American embassy who go to live there for a few years, and retired Canadians who live on the island during the winter. Many of the Jews are successful businessmen and the island has numerous advertisements with their names on them. There is a classy mall owned by a Jew. Many of the stores have mezuzos. This is also a place where one can often find Jewish tourists.
“Most of our work consisted of visiting Jews in offices and in their homes. We gave them a weekly brochure with information about Moshiach and candles for Shabbos. We brought mezuzos, menorahs for Chanuka, and shmura matza for Pesach. We also ran a Sunday school for the children of one of the families from the American embassy.”
IT’S ALWAYS SUMMER
In addition to the community, there are many Jewish tourists. Most of the tourists in Barbados are wealthy people from England, Canada and the US. Winter is the big tourist season when people go to the island to escape the cold weather in their home countries. It’s never cold in Barbados. In fact, one of the Jewish owned stores is called “Always Summer.”
The Rebbe says that when people are on vacation, it’s a good time to make an impact on them because they have time to talk.
“We lived very close to a popular tourist area. One night, which was actually 10 Shevat, we went out and found a Jewish tourist. He told us that his mother was Jewish and he had a Jewish friend who would always tell him to check out Judaism but he never got around to doing so. We visited him in his hotel the next day and he put on t’fillin for the first time in his life and gave a big donation to tz’daka.
“He wanted to take us out to eat, but we told him there is no hechsher at any of the restaurants in Barbados and instead we invited him to our house for lunch. He enjoyed the kosher meal and my husband farbrenged with him about Yud Shevat. He told us that he actually goes to Aruba every year, but that year something happened with his partner and that is why he ended up going to Barbados. It was just the right time and place to start learning about Judaism. We kept in touch with him and arranged for mezuzos to be sent to him after he returned home to Manchester.”
LONG DISTANCE SHLICHUS
Immigrating to Barbados is very difficult. It is harder to move to Barbados than to the US. It is also hard to communicate with people in the government because although they speak English, the mentality is completely different. For these reasons, the Benyaminsons had to leave. They now live on shlichus in Florida, but they are working on returning to Barbados as soon as possible, because otherwise, there is no Chabad presence there. Religious tourists constantly contact them, looking for kosher food and minyanim in Barbados. A few times, tourists even helped pay for bachurim to fly there so they could daven with a minyan. That is how the Benyaminsons came to send bachurim to the island and of course, the bachurim did more than make a minyan and were involved in all sorts of mivtzaim.
“Around 19 Kislev, a very rich tourist arrived who was particular about davening with a minyan. He was in touch with us via email many times since he wanted us to arrange a minyan for him. My husband asked a friend in 770 to ask the Rebbe for a bracha that there be a 19 Kislev farbrengen in Barbados. That is because the Rebbe emphasizes in the D’var Malchus that we need to make sure there are 19 Kislev farbrengens all over the world. At the time, we lived very close to a yeshiva in Miami; not a Lubavitcher one, but it had some strong Lubavitcher bachurim.
“My husband asked the rosh yeshiva whether he could take a group of bachurim to Barbados to provide minyanim for the tourists, to make a 19 Kislev farbrengen and to give menorahs to the Jews there, and he agreed. The tourist forwarded to us $5500 for the travel expenses and all the arrangements were taken care of within a few days. Then we got an email from another religious businessman who said he was arriving in Barbados from Canada and wanted to know if he could bring something. We told him it was Divine Providence that he was arriving at just the right time to join the minyanim and that he could bring cake for the 19 Kislev farbrengen! He learned Tanya for the first time, on 19 Kislev.”
The bachurim brought a warm Jewish spirit to the island. During the winter there is intersession, when many American yeshivas have a break and many religious families go on winter vacation. The shluchim arranged with tourists arriving at that time to stay within walking distance of one another and they sent bachurim to Barbados with a Torah. They asked the Rebbe for a bracha that there be a Yud Shevat farbrengen and that was fulfilled. They also arranged for a minyan and Krias ha’Torah in the old shul, which was a special experience for all the participants.
Last Pesach, they sent bachurim to give out shmura matza. They traveled around the island from one Jew to another. People were very impressed that the Rebbe cares so much about every Jew and sends people out of their way to give every Jew shmura matza.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
“Our goal is to open a yeshiva in Barbados,” concludes Ilana. “It will guarantee a minyan and available kosher food, and the bachurim will be able to do mivtzaim and even go to other small islands in the vicinity. We hope to put together an organized program for a Yeshivas Kayitz next year. We want to send a group of bachurim from a yeshiva along with a rav and mashpia to ensure minyanim, and arrange for kosher food and divrei Torah. This way, tourists will be able to use their vacation to ‘make Barbados Eretz Yisroel.’ The Rebbe says that ultimately, the real reason that a Jew goes on vacation to distant places is to help the Jews there. We try to utilize the fact that Barbados is a tourist destination to help the local community. The more that the religious tourists help us arrange for kosher food and minyanim, the more available these are for all Jews who live and visit the island.
“The Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach is the king over the entire world, Jews and non-Jews. We feel it’s a privilege to bring the flag of Moshiach and awareness about his malchus to Barbados.”