On the northern
coastline of Peru lies the small beach town of Mancora—a surfing and party
destination which has become popular with Israeli backpackers in recent years.
Our colleagues who visited in August 2015 hosted 20 Israelis at their Friday
night dinner, and this past Passover saw 30 guests at the Chabad-sponsored
Seder. When we arrived in Peru this summer and met with Rabbi Shneur
Blumenfeld, Chabad emissary to Lima for close to 30 years, we planned a weekend
trip to Mancora to share the light of Shabbat and Judaism with our Israeli
There was plenty of work
to do in Lima, but before long, our Shabbat in Mancora was approaching, and so
we reached out to our only contact, an Israeli named Kobi who lives and runs a
tourism-based company there. His reply was terse and direct. “It’s an empty
season, there are no waves; I haven’t seen any Israelis at all recently. I
don’t think you should come.”
That definitely put a damper on our plans, but our tickets were already booked and we resolved to give it our best shot. We gathered up lots of food and supplies, courtesy of the restaurant and bakery at Chabad of Lima, and headed out.
After an incredibly scenic trip, we entered Mancora, and scouted for suitable accommodations. As is typical in a developing country, it took several hours until that was sorted out, and it was already late Thursday afternoon by the time we were ready to deal with the project at hand. We had posted a Facebook message about the Shabbat dinner, and hadn’t yet received any replies. We elected to ignore that and headed outside. If we wandered around long enough, we were bound to find some elusive Israelis.
Three hours later, after
walking from one end of town to the other, we only had aching feet to show for
our efforts. Things weren’t looking good—perhaps this was all a mistake? We
were stewing in these negative thoughts when we suddenly heard voices behind us
calling “shalom” in that distinctive Israeli accent. We were ecstatic to meet
three Jews, and they were excited about joining us for Shabbat dinner! We
exchanged contact information and promised to keep them posted about the
Next, we headed to the
hostel where Israeli backpackers tend to stay, Loki Hostel, and left a sign at
the front desk advertising the Shabbat dinner.
Our last stop of the
evening was a visit with Koby at his home. Koby is a warm Jew who is strongly
connected to his heritage despite living in a place where Jewish infrastructure
is virtually non-existent. In the past, he had hosted the Shabbat dinners and
Passover Seders. As luck would have it, though, he was leaving town the next
morning, so his house was no longer an option.
Friday morning, we made our way to Loki Hostel again, and had a chat with the manager. She was a big fan of Jews, she told us, and would happily allow us to use the property. The downside was that with all the partying going on there, we didn’t feel that the atmosphere would be conducive to a Shabbat dinner. We thanked her for her generosity, and said we would look elsewhere before accepting her offer.
What now? We only had a
few more hours to find a place, and we also had to allow some time to make the
Shabbat preparations. We decided to inquire at the other hostels nearby, hoping
that we would find something quieter, or better yet, a rooftop in town.
An hour later, we were right back at square one. As we walked back to Loki Hostel, we noticed a second-floor shop called Monkey Coffee which seemed perfectly suited for our needs since it was centrally located and only one block away from Loki. Adrenalin pounding, we raced upstairs. The owner, a friendly gentleman who spoke English, immediately agreed, noting that it was a good idea for us to use it then, since his shop was never busy at that time. Later, we learned that he felt a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, since an Israeli had been there for him when he was getting his business off the ground.
We thanked him profusely, and quickly whipped out our phones to give word about the location and times. It was now three hours to Shabbat, and although most of the Shabbat food had been prepared in Lima, we needed to make some fresh salads, which required a trip to the local market—a story for another time.
Back at our bungalow we prepared the food and packed everything into several large boxes. It suddenly occurred to us that while we had advertised Shabbat services, we hadn’t brought any prayer books with us. With less than an hour to spare, we split up—Mendel to Monkey Coffee to set up, while I hailed Peru’s version of a taxi, the tuk tuk. With only an approximate address of a printing place, it took a very long while to find it, and trying to ask for help in the print shop using Google Translate was an exercise in patience, but miraculously, I left with several booklets which would serve as our prayer books. I made my breathless arrival at Monkey Coffee at exactly 6:15 pm, the time we had called the Shabbat services for, and was greeted by the beautiful sight of four Israelis! We helped them put on tefillin, one after the other, lit the candles, and then commenced the most inspiring Shabbat services we have ever experienced. Our guests, who hadn’t been inside a synagogue in years, sang every song with heart and soul, and ended each prayer with spirited dancing. It was such a transcendent moment, we could hardly believe that we were in Mancora, so remote from anything Jewish!
As we about to start the Shabbat dinner, we were joined by another Israeli. Everyone, including the owner and his friend who were watching the proceedings with avid interest, partook of the delicious food, and enjoyed the Torah teachings. Conversation flowed until close to midnight.
We considered the evening a resounding success, and on Shabbat day, when we bumped into our guests again, they repeatedly thanked us, explaining that when they leave Israel for their nearly year-long traveling stint, it is crucial that they have some Judaism in their lives, so that they experience what is true and meaningful and not lose sight of their identity.
This is our small tribute to the all-encompassing vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory, who visualized a world we had briefly glimpsed that Friday night.