I was born in Casablanca, Morocco, where my father, Rabbi David Bouskila, ran a network of Jewish schools.
Although we were of Sephardic background, my father had very strong ties with the Chabad emissaries in Morocco. He always said how much he admired their work, and even envied “their spirit of self-sacrifice” – that’s how he put it.
At one point he was asked to translate the Tanya – the seminal work of Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi – into Judeo-Arabic. But this was a very difficult task, especially since he was very busy running all the schools. So, at first, he declined. But then the Rebbe wrote him a personal letter telling him it was his mission to do this. This caused my father to give the matter grave import, and, after studying the Tanya in depth with Rabbi Yehuda Leib Raskin, he got started.
As he was working on the translation, he would share with us words of Torah from the Tanya every Shabbat. And once he told us – all of us, his ten children – that anyone who does not learn the Tanya will never know how to serve G-d the right way. This was a very strong statement for my father to make, and it made a great impression on me.
By January 1980, my father had finished a major section of the translation, and the Rebbe invited him to come to New York for a farbrengen that January. He very much enjoyed the visit, especially his private audience with the Rebbe. He later said that, the entire time he was talking with the Rebbe, his eyes were flowing with tears, because he was so awed by the Rebbe’s holy presence which he compared to “an angel of G-d.” But he would not tell me what he and the Rebbe spoke about.
A couple months later, I myself came to the U.S. to study at the Lakewood yeshivah in New Jersey, and that is when I was introduced to my future wife and we decided to get married. But when I informed my father, he objected: “You didn’t go to America to get married, you went there to learn, and we don’t know anybody there, so how can we merge our families? Why are you doing this to us?”
There were many phone calls after that between me and my father and my mother. When they understood that I was not giving up on my plan to get married, my father said, “If that is your decision, then before you proceed, please meet with the Rebbe and ask his opinion. If he says that you should get married, then I will say Mazal Tov, but if disapproves, then you must give it up.” (more…)