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Although our destination this Pesach was Mancora, Peru, our flight landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, and our plan was to spend several days there helping the Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Blumenfeld, with a variety of Passover-related activities before travelling to Mancora the day before the Seder. We set up a website to let people know about our Seder which enabled us to track reservations from afar.

Mancora attracts Israeli tourists primarily as a surfing destination, and because the weather had been pretty bad, most people were staying away. On Saturday night, we found out that the two local Jews we had been in contact with in Mancora had decided to leave town for the duration of the storm, leaving us with just one confirmed guest, a Jew who lived in a town 30 minutes north. A Seder for one Jew who would otherwise not attend one is just as important as a Seder for two, ten, or fifty, so we got to work assembling all the Passover necessities, making the conscious decision to think positively about our upcoming experience.

We flew from Lima to Piura, and when we landed we turned on our phones only to discover that Jacob, our only guest, would be unable to attend. The driver we had ordered for the four-hour drive to Mancora had arrived, so we loaded the car up with our many Passover-related parcels, and began the drive to Mancora, unsure if we would be making a Seder for anyone other than ourselves.

The roads were unpaved, it was a steamy 90 degrees in a car with no air conditioning, and we were wedged between the pots, burners, matzah, paper goods, wine, and raw chickens we had brought for the seder.

After stopping twice to refill the air in the tires (a common occurrence in these parts), we finally made it to Mancora at around 5:00pm, leaving us with a mere 24 hours to find guests and prepare for the Seder. We registered at the hostel, schlepped our things inside, and headed out, grabbing the posters with the Seder information we had printed in New York.

We hadn't walked three steps when two Israelis came running towards us, yelling “matzah, matzah!” What a relief—we now had two guests for the Seder! After a brief conversation, they told us that they were planning to leave town the next morning, but since there would be a Seder, they would extend their tickets.

While we were out hanging up our signs, we received word that the people who had previously canceled would be there after all. Things were definitely looking up!

We spent the rest of the night preparing our room in the hostel, which involved lots of cleaning, rearranging, and covering, doing our best to make it kosher for Passover.

The next morning, while we were outside burning the chametz, three more Israelis approached us, and were thrilled to hear that there would be a Seder that evening.

Time was racing by and there was still much to do. Shopping for fresh produce at the market, cooking, setting the table, reviewing the haggadah—there wasn’t a moment to spare. Thank G‑d, everything went smoothly, and we were soon welcoming our guests to our Seder table in the hostel garden.

We were in the midst of reading the haggadah together when we noticed a couple staring at us instead of entering the hostel. “What’s going on?” the woman asked.

Photo taken before the holiday
Photo taken before the holiday

“It’s a Passover Seder,” one of the Israelis replied.

“Passover?! You mean Pesach!” she exclaimed.

They explained that they were both Jewish, knew all about Passover, but didn’t know when it actually started. They had been traveling for a while and were somewhat disconnected from “real life”.

It was a beautiful Seder, with perfect weather, good camaraderie, lots of singing and sharing of Passover insights, and the food was pretty tasty too, if we may say so ourselves.

Looking around at the nine Jewish souls at the table, we almost had to pinch ourselves. It felt like a personal Passover miracle. We hope that our small Seder brought some nachas to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, who was the champion of all Jews, no matter which remote corner of the world they may find themselves.

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 brethren.

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 details.

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.

Our Shabbat guests. (NOTE: Picture taken before Shabbat)
Our Shabbat guests. (NOTE: Picture taken before Shabbat)

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