Merkos Shlichus: Chess, Cows and Some Chocolate

By Dovber Grunblatt & Levi Shemtov

Meet Gabi, champion of “chess sub-18” in South America. He’s only 11 years old, and he has beaten professional chess players 7 years his senior. He’s a bright boy. And he’s Jewish too.

His bar mitzvah is fast approaching, and his parents, Oscar and Sandra, are getting worried. “He’s had many chess teachers, and he has learnt well,” says Oscar, beaming, “But he knows almost nothing about Judaism. And here in Dolores, how’s he going to learn about his heritage and prepare for his bar mitzvah?”

We tell him that in today’s technologically-advanced world, almost nothing is impossible. We make a commitment to learn with him once a week on Skype. Gabi is thrilled.

After a few chess games, which we understandably lose (Levi almost drew once), we move on to our next meeting.

On our way, in the middle of nowhere, a tire pops. To make matters even more interesting, the only living things around us are cows staring at us from behind a fence. We try calling, but our cellphones indicate there’s no reception.

After what seems like forever, a car passes by. The kind man takes us to a nearby police station, where we meet Officer Pedro, our new friend, who comes back with his police car and helps us fix the wheel. No, he’s not Jewish… 🙂

We move on.

Jack owns a big clothing store. After chatting a bit, he says he wants to tell us something: “I didn’t grow up religious like you guys, and I never had a Jewish education. In fact, I never knew what Shabbat was or what it implied. Then I got married. I knew that Friday night was a special night, because that’s what dad always said. So in order to honor the Shabbat, my family and I sit down to eat chocolate every Friday night. That’s our way of commemorating the special day.”

Now that’s inspiring!

After explaining to him a little about Shabbat and some traditional ways of celebrating it, we leave…a little different than before we walked through Jack’s door.

_ _ _ _ _ _

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 For more stories, photos and the latest news of Merkos Shlichus please visit

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