We had known for a while that we would be spending Pesach in Peru, but it was only a few days before the holiday that we were informed that our final destination was Arequipa. Our initial reaction was a mixture of excitement and trepidation—through the roving rabbi grapevine, we had heard that Arequipa was a really nice place, but for our purposes, there were only a handful of local Jewish families—Israelis who work in the mining industry living there for a few years at a time. And while droves of Israeli tourists had visited in the past, the current trends were pointing in other directions.
After some discussion, we resolved that we would put our best feet forward and prepare for a Seder for five or ten with the same excitement as one for five hundred. After all, we reminded ourselves, the roving rabbi program is a tribute to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, who had inculcated his followers in the value of every Jewish soul. Thank G‑d, when we arrived in Arequipa a couple of days before Passover, we already had twenty reservations—on par with the previous years! We ended up having thirty people for the first night and six for the second.
Yehoshua, 19, along with his mother and older brother, was a tremendous help to us before Passover began. They spent several days with us in the kitchen, peeling, chopping, and asking questions. These visits are their sole connection to Judaism, and they were hungry for any morsel of information about their heritage. In previous years, our colleagues had broached the idea of Yehoshua attending yeshiva, but the family hadn’t been ready for such a drastic move. Not anymore! Yehoshua will be traveling to Argentina this summer to begin his yeshiva career, G‑d willing! Meanwhile, he and his mother have enrolled in J-net, where they will be matched with a suitable study partner and learn the Jewish topic of their choice every week via telephone.
Marom moved to Arequipa two months before Pesach. A fellow Israeli expat had connected him with us, and he made reservations for both Seders. After the first Seder, he shyly inquired if he could join us for the festive day meals as well, since he hadn’t been able to procure kosher for Passover food. Of course, we said that we’d be delighted to have him, and we spent most of the afternoon enjoying each other’s company and discussing Jewish concepts. When we headed back home after the first days of Passover, we dropped off a care package of our leftover food, and put him in contact with the Chabad rabbi in Lima so that they could arrange periodic shipments of kosher food to Arequipa.
Tzachi, an Israeli doing his stint in the mines, initially made reservations to attend the first Seder with his family. We were thrilled when he told us late Friday night that he would like to attend the second Seder as well. He was noticeably more involved the second night, singing along and asking questions. Tzachi’s eagerness to learn more about his Judaism was so refreshing to observe! With his permission, we plan on passing along his contact information to the rabbis visiting Arequipa this summer, so that they can continue to help him explore his Jewish identity.
David and Linda, a lovely middle-aged American couple, were checking into a local hotel Friday morning. By Divine Providence, an Israeli family was checking in at the same time, and they struck up a conversation. Naturally, they were soon talking about Passover, and the Israelis invited them to join our Seder. While they were shocked that Arequipa would be host to a Chabad Seder, they said they would be happy to participate. We were pleasantly surprised when they did indeed show up! It seemed like they very much enjoyed the Seder, and meeting all sorts of Jewish people in a place far removed from any semblance of Jewish life.
Last but not least, Jamie, a young man from London doing the popular South American circuit, found us through fellow roving rabbis he had met in Ica. He was dynamic and enthusiastic and really enhanced the second Seder. We hope to have made a significant difference in his Jewish life as well—we connected him with Chabad at Manchester Universities, where he will commence his college studies in a few months.
When we returned to the US, our friends and family wanted to hear all about our experience. Some were skeptical about the need for roving rabbis in a place like Arequipa, where there isn’t the potential to touch a great number of Jews, like Lima, Cusco, or Kathmandu. Still, we firmly believe that we were needed in Arequipa. Numbers may tell part of the story, but the impact one can have on a fellow Jew—when motivated by love for the Torah and love for each other—is truly immeasurable.