The Human Spirit: That Mysterious Dollar
November 4, 2011
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
How a Rebbe's dollar bill - a token of blessing, strength and success - gave hope
to Aviva Schalit as she waited for the return of her son.
Chana Canterman was a 15-year-old schoolgirl from London visiting New York
on Tuesday, October 9, 1990, when she lined up with people around the
world to get a dollar from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
The rebbe had given a long afternoon talk about how according to Jewish
tradition Tuesdays have increased potential for joy. This wasn’t the only
time she’d stood in that line after a speech. Her parents were followers
of the rebbe, and they often treated their children to visits to Crown
Heights, particularly around holidays. At home in London, she and her
nine siblings often awakened Saturday nights at 2 a.m., dressed in party
clothes, and went to hear the rebbe’s broadcasts at the local Chabad center.
“We felt a closeness to the rebbe. He was incredibly wise and intuitive, and
tuned into what you needed to help you fulfill your potential. Giving you a
dollar from his private bank account was his way of empowering you by passing
along strength from his own prodigious spiritual resources to help fulfill your
potential,” she says.
Canterman wrote the Hebrew date on her dollar, recorded the rebbe’s words to
her in her diary, and locked the dollar in a little box with others she’d collected
since she was seven. She donated a different dollar to charity to replace the
one the rebbe had given her.
Canterman was a student when the rebbe passed away in 1994. She earned graduate
degrees in Jewish history, education and social work, and married Eliyahu Canterman,
a Russian-born rabbi. The dollars and diary came with them when they settled
in Jerusalem, where Chana teaches biblical commentary and does family counseling.
Rabbi Canterman is studying to be a rabbinic judge. They also serve as the Chabad
representatives in Jerusalem’s Komemiyut neighborhood, better known as Talbiyeh.
Their apartment is around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, and
so they often walked by the protest tent for Gilad Schalit.
“At first I was reluctant to go in,” said Canterman, admitting to a mix of shyness,
uneasiness about what to say, and awareness of the well-known opinion, at least
in the past, that the rebbe was against giving in to terror. One day, their
three-year-old daughter Chaya Mushka pulled her mother into the tent and introduced
herself to the Schalits.
They took to the precocious preschooler, and wondered about her name. Canterman
explained that many Chabad hassidim named their daughters for the rebbe’s wife,
Chaya Mushka, who wasn’t blessed with children. She told them about the tenets
of Chabad, among them acceptance of all Jews with unconditional love, experiencing
joy, and a thirst for a redemption expressed in their slogan “we want Mashiah
The ice was broken. After that, mother and daughter often stopped by to visit.
Canterman joined the volunteers who prepared food for the Schalits. She was
assigned Tuesdays and made family favorites for dinner. She and Aviva often
schmoozed and swapped recipes.
“Oof, where is Gilad already? I want him to come now,” Chaya Mushka said on
one such visit, stamping her foot. Her impatience amused and moved the Schalits,
according to Canterman. They suggested that the little girl’s impatience mirrored
the Chabadniks’ zeal in calling for the immediate arrival of the Redemption.
Said Canterman, “We are sometimes taken to task for demanding Geula [redemption].
The rebbe taught that every day the Redemption is delayed, millions suffer.
There were Aviva and Noam Schalit suffering every moment, waiting for their
son. Each time I came, I took their pain more and more to heart.”
Last February, Canterman participated in the annual convention of Chabad women
emissaries in New York. She carried with her a written plea from Aviva Schalit
to the 5,000 women who run Chabad houses in far-flung cities and backwater outposts
around the world to help advance their son’s release from captivity.
Canterman bought Aviva perfume at the duty-free shop, but felt foolish giving
it to her.
“I knew Aviva wasn’t going to want perfume. All she wanted was to get her son
back. I wanted to give her something meaningful that would help her through
these dark days.”
Canterman decided it was time to part with one of her treasured dollars from
the rebbe. She took one out.
She explained the background to Aviva and how the dollar was a token of blessing,
strength, and a wish for success.
“I gave it to her in the hope that the blessing that had been invested in it
would pass on to her and cheer her. The rebbe always said that he gave dollars
for us to give away so a third person would be touched. Aviva immediately had
the bill laminated at a nearby shop.”
Gilad Schalit was freed on Tuesday, October 18. It was at this point that Rabbi
Canterman wondered what the date was on the dollar bill his wife had given to
Aviva. The following day, Canterman sent a text message to Aviva asking her
what was written on the dollar. On the following Monday, Aviva phoned. She said
that in black ink on the dollar, Chana had written, “Tuesday, 20 Tishrei.” In
blue ink, she’d drawn a line through “Tuesday,” adding “Wednesday” and the Hebrew
letter alef, signifying the number one, after the 20. The usually soft-spoken
The 20th of Tishrei was October 18, the day Gilad Schalit was freed. He returned
home on 21 Tishrei.
Canterman consulted her diary. The rebbe’s talk had begun on Tuesday, but the
sun had set by the time she received her dollar. The young Chana Canterman had
first dated the dollar on the 20th and then, thinking better of it, amended
it to the 21st. The rebbe’s words on giving the dollar were also recorded: “blessings
and success in all aspects.” The year on the bill, 5751 in the Hebrew letters
tav, shin, nun, alef, is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase meaning, “This will
be a year when I [God] will show them [the Jewish people] wonders.”
Israeli journalists heard about the dollar from the Schalit family. Canterman’s
phone began ringing with queries. Because of one garbled version of the story
in which Rabbi Canterman and not the rebbe had given out the dollar, a number
of callers requested a blessing (or a dollar) from him. Canterman was asked
if she thought the dollar was a sign of prophecy, a voice from the grave, or
“We don’t believe in magical arts or talismans,” says Canterman. “But we don’t
believe in coincidence, either. The rebbe was a righteous person, a tzaddik.
He had great spiritual insight, what we call ruah hakodesh [the holy spirit].
One of the Schalit campaign managers called me after she heard about the dollar.
She said she wasn’t religious, but that she certainly felt there was a tizmun
milema’ala, ‘timing from up above.’
“That about says it all. Timing isn’t in our hands. The Schalits were released
from their pain amidst the horrific agony of others. We continue to wait impatiently
for the true Redemption, a time when all our children will return home in joy,
not pain. Now!”