It was near evening on our second to last day in Peru.
We'd spent the past three weeks travelling the country, visiting the cities of Ica, Huaraz, and Lima. While we sought out the local Peruvian Jews, our main clientele were the multitudes of Israeli backpackers who spend their post-army vacation trekking through South America. We arranged Shabbat meals, helped them put on tefillin, and spent many hours in deep discussion of Jewish philosophy. Our trip coincided with Operation Protective Edge, so we prayed together for their families and friends back home.
We were exhausted. We'd spent the day stopping at all the hostels around Lima where the Israelis congregate, and had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of them. We briefly debated heading back to our hotel before deciding to make a short detour at the local mall, hoping to find another few Jews there. But after strolling around for a while without bumping into anyone Jewish, we agreed that it was time to call it a day. We were approaching the exit when we heard someone call out “Shalom!” At first, we assumed it was a Peruvian, as many of them have picked up some key Hebrew terms from the steady streams of Israeli tourists. We turned around, and saw a gentleman who was clearly foreign, sitting on a bench with his wife and daughter. We greeted them and learned that Dave was from England, visiting family in Peru. “Are you Jewish, Dave?”
“No, I’m not.” We chatted for a bit longer. “You know, part of my family is Jewish, but it was something they kept hidden for a long time.”
“Which part, Dave?”
“My mother’s mother.”
“Dave, you are Jewish! You are a Jew like the two of us, as Jewish as Moses...”
As you might expect, this life-changing revelation left Dave stunned and speechless, but we also got the sense that he was comfortable with the fact that he was a Jew. Perhaps he had subconsciously known all along?
After waiting a few moments for it to settle in, we broached the topic of the Jewish rite of passage-the bar mitzvah.
“Dave, now that you know you’re Jewish, how do you feel about having a Bar Mitzvah? We can’t put on tefillin at night, but if you’d like, we can come visit sometime tomorrow.”
“Sure, that sounds great. In fact, I am leaving tomorrow, so morning would be best.”
The bar mitzvah was a resounding success. We began by explaining some of the basic tenets of Judaism and tefillin. We discussed the concept of Divine Providence--how we chose to go to that mall, that he called out Shalom without knowing he was Jewish--it was all predestined by G‑d so that he could discover his Jewishness. Then, the culmination--we helped Dave with the Tefillin and the accompanying prayers. His joy at was palpable and quite contagious! Before parting ways we exchanged contact information and promised Dave that we would help him find a rabbi back home in England, so that he could continue to explore the beauty of his heritage.