It was Tuesday night—three days before Passover—when we landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. Since Lima is a popular destination for Israeli backpackers, we knew we would be hosting a large Seder. We divided our time between visiting the local hostels to invite people to our Seder, and preparing for the actual event.
Having witnessed the full gamut of reactions in past years, it was particularly gratifying when the Israelis received us so warmly, and happily agreed to put on tefillin. When they stopped by the Chabad center, we stopped whatever we were doing to make them feel welcome. Rabbi Blumenfeld, Chabad rabbi to Lima, operates a kosher restaurant in the Chabad center where hungry travelers can grab a bite to eat. We supplemented this with some spiritual nourishment, offering them the opportunity to put on tefillin and sign up for the Seder.
A whirlwind of activity lead up to the Seder night. We were expecting 200 people and had set up 20 tables in a massive tent. Thank G‑d, we made sure to prepare extra food, because 60 more people showed up! We quickly arranged seating for them and proceeded with the Seder. It was a spiritually uplifting and heartwarming evening. For three hours, we read the hagadah, ate, told stories, sang and danced. Even after we’d officially finished the hagadah, many stayed on to delve deeper into the message of Passover.
Over the next two days, we received tremendous feedback. “It was a real Passover, spent with family,” and “What an experience!” were the most common sentiments. Between services, meals, schmoozing, and the second Seder, the time passed quickly, and we soon found ourselves at the airport once again, this time minus all the boxes of Passover goods. It’s safe to say that we were the only ones present wearing kippahs and tzitzit, so we weren’t surprised at the odd looks thrown our way. But then, a middle-aged gentleman approached us.
“Shalom!” he said.
“Hi, shalom to you, are you Jewish?” we asked.
“As a matter of fact I am! I’m Max from San Francisco.”
We quickly found a quieter place where we could sit and talk with Max, a CNN reporter returning from assignment in Lima. When we learned that had not had the opportunity to eat matzah yet, we pulled several pieces out of bag, which Max accepted gratefully. “Now I feel like it’s Passover,” he told us.
We spoke for over an hour, covering a wide range of Jewish topics. At the end of our conversation, we mentioned that even though he didn’t attend the Seder this year, the final days of the holiday were approaching, and he could relive the Passover experience then.
Max was pensive for a moment. “You know what, because I met you guys here, I am going to make every effort to go to synagogue and have a holiday meal when I get back home.”