Friday, 6 May, 2016 - 9:50 am

To my dear friends and family,

I’d like to tell you about a family that I’ve discovered three and a half thousand miles from home, off the shores of the pacific, and the cool part is… that you’re part of it!

Permit me to begin with an introduction: Chabad International runs a program, initiated by the Rebbe, to assign Yeshiva Students to Jewish communities literally everywhere across the globe to spend the holiday of Passover. With the intention of course, to bring the warmth and spirit of Passover in a location that for whatever reason hasn’t enough permanent Chabad presence.

This year I was privileged to be part of the 600+ Chabadniks (pu pu pu) placed around the globe for this amazing task. My location: Lima, Peru.

My primary task was of course, the Seder. Now, there is a Jewish community in Lima with four shuls one of them being of course, a Chabad. But my attention was to be directed rather, to the tourist. And yes… there are many of them, from the U.S. all the way to Australia, the bulk of them come from the holy land; Israeli backpackers traveling across the Americas for what can last up to a half a year.

We arrived a mere four days before Pesach, and went straight to work. Starting off by visiting the hotels and parks where we thought we might meet fellow Jews, getting to know them; and were they to be leaving town, helping them find a Chabad Seder in that specific location, be it Arequipa, Uraz, Ica, Mancora, Cusco, or Rio Colombia. The country is just beautiful, it gave us an appreciation of Hashem’s handiwork. As you can imagine our home base was the Chabad, which was a full time job, to meet and greet any passing Jews. Maybe they’re up for a Teffilin, answer any questions, or just to be helpful. Not to mention the full time kosher restaurant. It wouldn’t be fair to go on without making mention that as far as the Chabad house work was concerned, we were joining forces with the most talented children of the local Chabad Rabbi & Rebetzin. Fluent in at least four languages, they have no problem carrying on a conversation with a congregant in Spanish, getting addressed by their father in Yiddish, greeting an Israeli passerby in Hebrew, and finally as I walk in to be received with a traditional “Hello”.

The Seder was fast approaching and the reservations were rocketing. We started getting the word out via Facebook and other social networking as soon as we got the assignment, a mere two weeks in advance, and by the time we turned around it was two days before the Seder with, would you have ever guessed it… a whopping 450 reservations! And no, the emails and WhatsApps were not stopping.  Bearing in mind that it would be just the two of us (a friend and I), I realized I was in for an experience of a lifetime… And you bet it was.

The clock hit 5:30 when swarms of people started entering the hall and it simply didn’t stop. I greeted everyone, and even tried to spend a few minutes with each table individually before the program began. The crowd was primarily young Israelis, however this does not mean that they all knew each other – they didn’t, but now they do… J We started off with a joyous heivenu shalom aliechem which melted the ice. The place was rocking with 500 brothers and sisters from all walks of life, from across the globe, sharing together the evening to celebrate and relive the night we became a people, a family. At the beginning of the evening the Israeli ambassador to Peru came to give everyone his good wishes, and was simply blown away by the spirit and magnitude of the crowd.  The food, obviously the most important part, was great. The atmosphere was electrifying! The highlight of the Seder, in my opinion, was at the end of the Hagadah, when we sang the well-known “Echod mi yodeiya” (“Who knows one?”), a song celebrating all the aspects of Judaism, and at the height of it, G-d. The crowd exploded, literally. The unity and joy in the room was palpable.

Shabbat morning I woke up replaying in my mind the events of the previous night, and was totally overtaken by it. To have ran a Seder of such magnitude was far beyond my own expectations, and to have simply been part of such an awesome celebration was empowering. When I entered Shul I was greeted with a big smile from the Rabbi. He shared with me that early that morning he met a community member who happily told him that sitting in his home the night before, he was able to hear the singing coming from the Chabad down the street, and couldn’t help but join in.

I will forever remember this experience! I wish this experience on everyone. My only regret was that it was over. But it wasn’t entirely over. We weren’t leaving yet and would still have many more opportunities to spend time with our newfound family so far away from home. The following, is one of those amazing episodes that changed my life…

It was about one in the afternoon on the first of the intermediate days of Passover. I was sitting and schmoozing with some young Israelis, many of whom were recently introduced to each other at Chabad, when suddenly, in walked a young newlywed Israeli couple. One look at the women’s face told you something was terribly wrong. It looked as if she’d seen a ghost. All attention turned to the woman, as she began to share their horror story: “It was at five o’clock this morning when we hailed a cab to take us to the airport. We were finally going back home, to Israel, after a four month long tour of the Americas. Five minutes away from the airport the driver made two left turns on to some side road where he had arranged for two friends to meet him. They grabbed us from the car, stripped us of all our possessions, our money, phones, cameras, wedding ring, everything! They then took off, leaving us on the curb. We flagged down an officer who brought us to the station where they filed a report. We were then asked where we would like to go. I said home. I wanted my passport, I wanted to go home… desperately. Being that they couldn’t fulfill my wish just yet I asked them to bring us to Chabad”.

By the time she concluded retelling their story, we were all in tears, and immediately swung into action. Everyone offered their phones, two girls went across the street to buy some basic essentials for them. A guy who was staying in the Chabad gave them his room. Another gave them money, and everyone gave them a shoulder to cry on.  And when the Rabbi came he was there to assist in their legal needs.

The feeling of harmony and unity was tangible and real. It was only then that I experienced the indefinably amazing family that we are. And the fatherly love of our amazing Rebbe who has placed for us a welcoming home at every corner of the world. Thank you Hashem for this special gift, the Torah, that has kept us together. They wanted to go home… and home is where they came.


David Jacobson wrote...

Amazing story! Thank you so much for all your hard work and for sharing your great experience!