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In Austin we met a driven student whose goal was to launch a successful startup and become an angel investor. He was inquisitive, with a solid base and appetite for Judaism. We spent a lot of time with him, learning together, taking part in the Seder and just schmoozing. He was with us every step of the way, smiling, asking questions, sharing insight and actively participating. A few days after Passover we got together just to talk.

I wanted to know more about him, and he was happy to share. He is of Iranian ancestry. His mother was tenth in her family and the only child to be born in Israel. He grew up in Texas in a traditional home. As a child he went to Chabad Hebrew schools and was friends with the children of the Chabad emissaries there.

I wanted to know more about him

I turned to the conversation to his future. "You’re a junior; do you have plans for after you graduate?"

"Well, I have always wanted to start my own business. I have an idea for a startup, and friend who lives in California. This summer I plan to go there and lay the groundwork, meet people, etc. I want to buy my ticket next week actually."

"Interesting," I replied.

"Yeah, you mentioned some entrepreneurial ideas you had. What did you study in school?"

"Environmental studies with a concentration in ecological economics with a double minor in philosophy and studio art."

"Wow."

"Yes, broad liberal arts," I said with a smile. "I spent many years working in Israel advocacy, soft diplomacy through service learning trips, designing and teaching immersive experiences in Israel, working with Jewish college students, and running my summer camp. I had plans for land-based enterprises and to grow my camp into a school focused on Judaism and experiential education through agricultural enterprises. But to be honest with you, my future really started to click once I pushed myself to go to Yeshiva.”

"Really,” he said, “I have always wanted to go. Just for two years though..."

"What!? Just for two years? Listen go for a week, a month or a summer program. Take the time now, before you start a business. Believe me it’s hard to pull away from a business after you start. Thank G‑d I was able to pull away this year and G‑d willing I will be able to for another year.

"I hear that, but..."

"But what? Is there something that is holding you back?"

"I'm just afraid I'll like it."

"I'm not following,” I said “I have heard people say that about many other things, but not learning Torah!"

"I just have a feeling I will be pulled in for a while."

"AndI'm just afraid I'll like it what’s wrong with that, if that is really what your soul needs? Listen, I would not be telling you a thing, let alone advocating for you to go, unless I knew it would be a positive experience. It will help focus you, sharpen your mind, and give you a foundation for the rest of your life. Plus, being a student in yeshiva is like being in the Garden of Eden. Everything you need is there."

"That makes sense."

"Listen, honestly, before I went myself, I had similar feeling. But once I settled in and got into the swing of things, I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long."

"How old are you?"

"Thirty,” I said. “Trust me, use the time you have now. Whatever you want to do in life will be enriched with the time you spent in yeshiva.”

”I'm going to have to think about it," he said.

"For sure. Perhaps we can set up a fixed time to learn together weekly?”

"That would be awesome. Like, on Skype?"

"Sure. Skype, FaceTime, whatever works . . . as long as it’s steady."

"Ok, cool."

We prepared to learn, but there was one more thing to do.

“By the way,” I asked, “Have you put on tefilin today?

"No, that’s a good idea."

After he put on tefilin we took out the HaYom Yom and learned the day’s portion. I shared a relevant story about keeping the mind focused during prayer. It all seemed to tie in, our conversation, the topics we had discussed, the weekly Torah portion and now this entry in HaYom Yom.

“It’s interesting how we can flow from one thing to another and still have the same thread," he said with a broad smile.

"Yeah, Judaism is awesome."

Meet Aaron, a young Jew and lifelong resident of Reykjavik, Iceland. His mother Nora, was one of the most active members of the Icelandic Jewish community in the ‘90s. She organized events for Jewish families and tried to teach others. . . Tragically, she passed away at an early age, leaving two young sons. Aside from the occasional box of matzah, and the printed scroll his brother used in lieu of a real Torah at his bar mitzvah, Aaron did not get much Jewish exposure.

Who were these guys? What did they want?

It's Thursday morning, Aaron is doing some work, and he receives a phone call:

"Hi, my name is Berel. I'm a student rabbi visiting Iceland in honor of Passover. I would love to be able to get together and if at all possible, to bring you some shmurah matzah…"

Who were these guys? What did they want? His curiosity piqued, Aaron agrees to meet them at a local cafe.

Meet Berel and Aaron, two rabbinical students taking part in the Merkos Shlichut Passover program. They’ve traveled halfway across the world armed with matzahs, Haggadahs, tefillin and a lot of love.

They meet Aaron at the cafe, and the three of them begin to talk. They talk of this and that, of Jewish life in Iceland, and of the Jewish soul found in every Jew and bound eternally to the Creator.

Then Berel takes out the box of matzah and a big smile appears on Aaron's face. Naftoli brings out the tefillin. Aaron's never seen tefillin before and has no clue what they are.

After some explanation, Naftoli assists Aaron in putting on the tefillin and saying the Shema prayer. He shares some insight about this unique mitzvah. Two non-Jewish Icelandic's approach and start snapping pictures. They ask Aaron what exactly is he doing, and he replies, "This is not my typical Thursday, I don't know what this is and I can't even see it on my head, but it is something a Jew does and I feel good doing it".

AaronIt is something a Jew does and I feel good doing it tells Berel and Naftoli that he hasn't attended a Seder since he was a young child, and feels sorry that he will be in Copenhagen on the Seder night. After his meeting with these two rabbis, the idea of the Seder they will be hosting in central Reykjavik suddenly seems highly appealing.

But nothing is lost!

"Hey,” they say, “We can put you in touch with Rabbi Yitzi Lowenthal and you can go to a Seder in Denmark!"

And what of Aaron’s brother? What are his Seder plans?

"My brother is out in rural New Mexico,” he explains. “I bet there is no Chabad there…"

A quick search on Chabad.org and they discover that sure enough there is a full time Chabad House with a Seder in this town with a population of just over 5,000!

Whereas two parties had entered the cafe, now as they left, they were one. Three Jews, bound by their heritage and the Jewish moment they shared.




Kazakhstan has some 3500 Jews. Since the fall of Communism, many of the younger Jews have left the country, looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Those who remain are, for the most part, older and unable to leave. They live in dire poverty; the average salary is only $300 a month.

We arrived in Astana, the capital, where we stayed with the local Chabad emissaries overnight. The next morning, loaded with supplies for the Seder, we took an eight-hour train ride to our destination in Petropavlovsk.

When we arrived at the house we’d be staying in, we put mezuzahs on the doors. Later, some of the community members told us that they felt differently in the room with the mezuzahs, and they asked us to send mezuzahs to them when we got back to America.

Thirty people joined us for Seder. While on the first night guests slowly began to slip out as the evening progressed, with the last one leaving at 12:30a.m., on the second night people were glued to their seats, having tasted what the Seder was like the night before. No one wanted leave; many of them stayed past midnight.

At the end of the Passover, a 17-year-old girl came over to thank us for making the Sedarim. She described her difficulty living Kazakhstan with her grandmother, and spoke of her desire to grow as a Jew. We are currently searching for funding and a program that would best suit her needs.

When it was time to leave, several of the people we’d met came to our house to take a picture with us. They thanked us for coming and expressed their hope that we would come back again.

Petropavlovsk is ripe for a growing Chabad presence. The community told us that they get some 60-200 people on Rosh Hashanah, but no one knows how to blow the shofar properly. Hopefully in the years to come, this need can be addressed.



We landed in Kathmandu a week before Pesach, en route to Manang, a two-and-a-half day journey away. Our mission was to service the Jewish hikers on the Annapurna Mountains, and give them the opportunity to celebrate Passover and receive some much needed nourishment for the body and soul.

On Wednesday afternoon, we loaded our jeep with matzah, wine, a Torah, and other Passover goods, and began our trip, planning to be in Manang in time for Shabbat. The trip was uneventful until we reached Chame, a small village on the mountains where the road ended and the only way to travel was via trails. We exchanged our jeep for motorbikes and arranged for our provisions to be transported Nepal-style, by a herd of donkeys!

Friday at noon, we reached Manang. We did some investigating and learned that there were forty Israelis in town for Shabbat. But there was a slight problem - the donkeys were nowhere in sight, and we had no way of contacting anyone to find out when they would arrive. So we opted for plan B, to buy some food and pots and start cooking, which was easier said than done. Our search for a shop that carried pots proved futile. On to plan C. We borrowed some pots from the hotel, koshered them, and began preparing Shabbat dinner for forty. We still didn’t have wine, our Torah, or any of our Passover supplies, and snow was falling and swiftly covering the mountaintop.

Ten minutes before Shabbat, there was a commotion outside the hotel. The donkeys had arrived! The look of delight on the faces of our guests was priceless. Everybody helped unload our precious cargo, and then it was time to light the candles and welcome the Shabbat. And what a euphoric Shabbat it was! Lots of singing, meaningful discussion, delicious kosher food, and the highlight - the first Torah reading in the heart of the Himalayas.


Russian Jews, no matter where they live, they have a unique understanding of yetzias mitzrayim - the Exodus from Egypt.

We spent our Passover in West Hartford, CT, under the auspices of Rabbi Joseph Gopin. Our primary rolewas to make a Seder for the Russian Jews of the city.

As Passover began, the tables quickly filled. By 7:30 we were happily hosting 65 guests.

We read the Haggadah together in Russian and Hebrew, taking turns to lead the reading, and stopping to discuss various passages. It was profound how innately they all understood the story. One by one they all spoke of their own personal experiences fighting to live as Jews in the former Soviet Union.

“How lucky we are,” one of them said, “that we can be in a country where we can freely live as proud Jews!”

They thanked us before we left, but in truth, we were the ones who needed to thank them. It’s not every day, after all, that you spend time with people who confronted Pharaoh.

To the world at large Curitiba has become known as a center of industry in Brazil, and the future home of the 2015 World Cup. Over Passover, however, we experienced a very different side of the city.

We approached an Israeli backpacker and asked him if he would like to put on tefillin on. Most Israelis are at least somewhat familiar with tefillin, but this particular backpacker was able to put them on like pro.

“I used to be religious,” he told us. “Today however, I no longer practice.”

He paused for a moment and then asked if we could take a picture together. “I want to show my father that I’m doing this mitzvah,” he said.

He joined us for the Seder and was incredibly moved by the experience. We spent the night talking and singing, exploring what it means to be a Jew today in the most literal sense.

After we had finished the fourth cup and wished each other the traditional “Next Year In Jerusalem,” he became very serious.

“I can’t thank Chabad enough for this experience!" he said. "All my life I've viewed religion as a burden and overbearing fanaticism. But you guys have shown me a side of Judaism I never experienced growing up in Israel. This was such a joyful and enlightening experience. It has really changed my perspective!”


Cambodia is remote by most anyone’s estimation. After nearly 20 hours of flight, we finally arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital. Our rest, however, was short lived. After staying the night, we embarked early in the morning for the 10 hour bus ride to Siem Reap.

Home to the famous Angkor Wat ruins, Siem Reap is a tourist haven. Our mission was to not only find visiting Jews and invite them to our Seder, but to find a place to host the Seder as well!

Arriving the night before the Khmer new year, it seemedCambodia is remote by most anyone’s estimation as if all the hotels in the city were already full to capacity. It was only after some two dozen attempts that we were able to find a hotel with space for our Seder. Imagine our surprise and delight when, minutes later, a woman and her daughter approached us asking if there was a Seder they could attend!

We were unsure how many people to expect, but as the holiday began, Jews from literally all over the world began to trickle in - France, Canada, Israel, Singapore, Germany, America, Portugal...

As the Jews in Siem Reap celebrated the city’s first ever public Seder, the awe in the room was palpable. Some of the guests began to cry as we sang holiday songs and discussed the story of Passover.

After the second cup of wine, I stepped outside to get more matzah for the Seder. As I opened the door, I saw a small group of people giving me a very long look. I looked back at them and during that moment it clicked. Speaking to them, they told me that they were Israelis. Not having a Seder, the four of them decided to head to a nearby restaurant and drink four cups of (non-kosher) wine to ‘honor Passover.’ They were completely taken aback that here in Siem Reap there was a Seder they could join. We invited them in as we began a stirring round of the song, Had Gadya. What a celebration!



Kathmandu is known for hosting the largest Seder in the world. But during our Passover travels, perhaps no event touched us more than a seemingly chance encounter we had on the street.

On the Thursday before Passover, we had been walkingThe experience left him feeling amiss through the streets of Kathmandu, looking for Jews who wished to put on tefillin. Suddenly, someone tapped me on the back.

Turning in surprise, I saw a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Yair. He told me that despite being born in Israel, for the past 20 years he had been living in southern India. Recently he had come to Nepal to tackle his next great adventure - summiting Mt. Everest. He had just returned from the peak, having successfully scaled the mountain, but the experience left him feeling amiss. During his descent from the summit, he found himself entirely unable to breath. In fear, he began to pray for help.

“You have to understand,” he told me. “If you up the word chiloni (secular) in the dictionary, you'll see my picture! It was entirely uncharacteristic for me to start praying.”

Yet pray Yair did, perhaps for the first time since moving to India, perhaps even longer.

“I decided that if I made it down that night,” Yair continued, “Then I would go to synagogue to say the "Gomel," prayer of thanks.”

So there Yair was, in Kathmandu, looking for a minyan to say the prayer.

I invited him to join us for Shabbat when we would definitely have a minyan. Yair arrived promptly but didn't want to enter the synagogue until it was time for his prayer, so we waited outside, getting to know one another better.

In the synagogue, Yair was overcome with emotion andYair was overcome with emotion found it difficult to speak clearly. He mumbled the prayer and rushed out of the synagogue. I followed him, and saw he was crying uncontrollably. Between sobs, Yair told me that he had spent his entire life running away from G‑d and Judaism, but here in distant Kathmandu, he had discovered that Judaism was what he had unknowingly been searching for all along.

I asked Yair if he would join us for the Seder but he was going back to India the next morning. We spoke for a little while longer and as we said our goodbyes he looked at me with a serious expression. “You know what?” He told me, “There is a Chabad emissary in Bangalore, not far from my home-town, I'm going to join him for the Seder!”

On our flight to Berlin, we had been hoping that the third seat in our row would be empty. After all, who couldn’t use some more space? Right before they closed the cabin doors, a man came huffing down the aisle and took the seat next to me. At first, we sat in complete silence. Suddenly though, he turned to use and asked “Why Berlin?”

We let the question hang in the air for a moment. Why Berlin . . . after the Holocaust? Why Berlin after Nazis, and deportations and Kristallnacht? Why Berlin after decades of communism and the Berlin Wall?

“Actually,” we explained, “Today Berlin has a large and thriving Jewish community.”

It turned out that our new friend was Jewish - through his mother. He told us about his quest to reconnect, as of late, with his Jewish roots. We spoke to him about the Divine hand that had clearly led us all together.

“Do you want to put on tefillin?” we asked.

“Will I make a bracha(blessing)?" he asked excitedly, relishing the Hebrew word on his tongue?

When we landed in Berlin -- that Berlin -- we put tefilin on with our new-found friend.


We arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Thursday night. After Shabbat we traveled 3 hours up a mountain to the city of Cuenca. Wandering the city’s historic streets, we found a an older Jewish woman, one of the 50 year-round residents of Cuenca. We asked her about her Seder plans, but she had none. Unable to join us in Guayaquil, we gave her matzah and a haggadah so that she could make a Seder of her own.

Less than a week before Passover we received an urgent call from the Jewish community of Curaçao. They had arranged for a rabbi to visit the Caribbean island and lead their Seder, but he had suddenly cancelled at the last minute. Remembering the Chabad rabbinical students who had visited them the previous summer, they turned to them for help. So 5 days before Passover, we set about shopping for Seder essentials.

He had suddenly cancelled at the last minute


When we arrived in curaçao we were greeted enthusiastically by Ivan, the community president. Like so many of the other people we met in Curaçao, he was warm and welcoming.

On Shabbat we met other members of the community, including a Jew named Carlos who was visiting the Synagogue for the first time in his life. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, Carlos had just found out he was Jewish,

Carlos told us about his encounters with Jewish people as an employee in the Prime Minister’s office. When we discovered that he had never had a bar mitzvah, we decided to remedy the situation and Carlos agreed to put on tefillin Monday morning in his office. Moreover, he offered to help us set up a meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Ivar Asjes!


On Monday morning we arrived at the parliament building together with Ivan. The Prime Minister greeted us very warmly and inquired about the local Jewish community. We discussed the Mikveh Israel Temple in Curaçao, the oldest functioning synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and thanked the Prime Minister for the financial aid he contributes annually for its upkeep.

The Prime Minister was delighted to receive the matzah weThe Prime Minister greeted us very warmly brought for him. Our conversations stretched on, and what had been scheduled as a 5-minute photo-op soon became a half hour discussion about Judaism.

After our meeting we went to Carlos’s office where he excitedly told all of his staff that he was about to have a bar mitzvah. When we explained the significance of bar mitzvah, Carlos became very emotional. He put on the tefillin and was at a loss for words. So moving was the experience that he committed to start coming to shul regularly in his quest to explore the meaning of being Jewish. We gave him shemurah matzah and we danced “Mazal tov!”



Bariloche, Argentina, is a tourist hotspot, popular with backpackers and sightseers who are drawn to the city's amazing natural wonders. Our attraction to Bariloche, however, was somewhat different. We were there to help Rabbi Boaz and Rebbetzin Frady Klein prepare a Seder for the hundreds of Israelis that visit the city.

Arriving after 17 hours and two plane rides, we were greeted at the Chabad house by dozens of Israelis that visit Rabbi Boaz and Frady, getting their advice about the region.

Bariloche, Argentina, is a tourist hotspot

After resting, Mendel and I went to the local supermarket. Not knowing what was kosher and unable to speak the language, we paced the aisles of the store, turning each item in all directions, checking for a kosher symbol.

As we were busily checked for ripe avocados, a middle-aged lady strolled by and exclaimed, “Shabbat Shalom,” in a heavy Spanish accent. Now, this was an extraordinary event because the Jews who go to Chabad Bariloche, are almost all Israeli backpackers. Here was an Argentinian Jewish woman, who really lived in this remote city!

I turned to her and said, “Wow. It’s so nice to hear a “Shabbat Shalom.” I never imagined hearing those words in a grocery store in the south of Argentina!”

The lady explained that she attends the Reform synagogue in Bariloche. She said that she has triplets…three boys ages 17, none of whom had had a bar mitzvah. Of course, we were more than happy to help them put on tefillin

The triplets were ecstatic to say the least. We spoke with them and decided that they should come to the Chabad house after their school for their bar mitzvah.

Just as they had promised, the triplets showed up promptly at 6pm . . . with their class of thirty students in tow! None of them had ever seen tefillin before.

None of them had ever seen tefillin before

Taking turns, the boys put on the tefillin. We put on Jewish music, made a l’chaim with everyone present, and soon the entire class was dancing. It was a sight to behold… The entire class, Jews and non-Jews, all dancing for this triple bar mitzvah!

The mother kept shaking her head in disbelief, repeating, “I never saw such a lively and heartfelt bar mitzvah in my life.”

We invited the family back for Shabbat, to hear the Torah reading and give each boy an aliya. Sure enough, the brothers did return with their mother and with them another Jewish mother and her 17-year-old son.

After each aliya to the Torah, we picked up each one of the twins on a chair and danced with him throughout the synagogue. The energy cannot be described in words. The mothers and their sons were completely consumed with joy. Of course, we then invited them all to the Chabad Bariloche Seder, scheduled to take place the following Monday night.

The night of the Seder, the mother of the triplets arrived with all four new Bar Mitzvah boys! They participated in the Seder, enjoying the matzah and all parts of the Seder that night. They told us that after this whole experience, they want very much to stay connected to Chabad of Bariloche. Their lives, and ours, will never be the same.

We arrived in Seoul a week before Passover. We needed the extra time to kosher the kitchen and help with the food preparation. With the enormous tasking of kashering the kitchen, selling kosher food to the locals and preparing for the seders, we had little chance to see the country before the holiday.

The Jewish community is very small, with no more than 1000 Jews at any one time in the country. Most of those who do visit are either stationed in the military or part of the many two-year programs that teach English to Koreans.

The Jewish community is very small

Despite the small number of local Jews, on our first outing into the city we managed to bump into a few. We were able to give them matzah and put tefillin on with them.

One particular man we gave matzah to was returning to England the next day. When we asked him if he had ever put on tefillin before, he said he hadn't. Imagine that! He had to travel halfway around the world to Korea in order to have a bar mitzvah!

The seders were both beautiful. They were held outdoors. The weather was perfect. With some 80 people the first night and 50 the second, we spoke and sang late into the evening. It was a truly profound and spiritually moving experience.

The city of Temuco has the oldest synagogue in Chile.

It also have the closest airport to Pucon, where we'd be hosting our Passover seder.

Despite its small size, Temuco is home to a beautiful Jewish community of 25 very devoted members.

We were greeted by the president of the community and his wife

The day of our arrival at Temuco was on the auspicious day of 11 Nissan, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, birthday. It would set the tone for the events to follow.

Earlier that day, we filled up a minivan with four rabbinical students, a few Israeli guests, some drink and cakes and off we went on the two hour trip to Temuco.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the president of the community and his wife, along with nearly every other member of the community. A sign of their excitement, they had prepared food of their own to commemorate the special day we'd spend together.

The atmosphere was very lively! We sang Chassidic melodies, told stories and shared Torah thoughts.

A truly interactive event, many of the participants shared their personal connection with the Rebbe.

At one point a Jew named Jaime expressed his appreciation to the Rebbe, on behalf of the entire community, for not forgetting the handful of Jews in remote Temuco.

Jaime expressed his appreciation

Jaime shared his thanks for the precious moments of contact that he had with Chabad rabbinical students throughout the year. To Jaime it was his only connection to Judaism.

We gave the Jews of Temuco some of the matzahs we brought from New York and they committed to host their own Seder.

Back in Pucon before the Seder, preparations were underway for the annual mega-seder. Pucon is an adventure-filled Mecca that attracts thousands of Israelis each year. Before the holiday we went around to the tourist hotspots, connecting with 100 Israelis.

When the day of the seder came, it seemed that the people we met had brought friends as well - 200 backpackers joined us!

Together with the rabbinical students and the local Chabad rabbi and his family, we were able to craft a meaningful and lively seder.

Many happy faces were seen leaving the seder as they chanted the final verses of the traditional "who knows one" song.

We arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday morning. We immediately got to work, calling locals, visiting people and inviting them to the Shabbat meal, our “Model Matzah Bakery,” and the seder itself. People were excited to speak to us and many of them were interested in getting shemura matzah as well. All told 150 people reserved matzah with us. While all seemed to be150 people reserved matzah with us going as planned, we suddenly got word that our shipment of matzah and wine was seized by customs. We were able to secure a shipment of matzah and wine from France, but we there was a lot of doubt if there would be enough for everyone who wanted.

Friday came and we prepared for a dozen guests to join us for the meal. We were incredibly disappointed to find out when Shabbat was approaching that some local festival was making it difficult for people to get to us. They were all canceling!

We brought in Shabbat but no one came. After two hours of waiting, we decided to call it a night and daven maariv and eat the Shabbat meal alone. You can’t imagine our shock and delight when an one Israeli guy walked through the door. Unlike the others, he lived close enough to walk, so he was able to avoid the festival traffic!

During the meal we mentioned the issue we were having securing matzah and wine for Passover. We were somewhat surprised that when we mentioned our predicament, he became very excited.

“You won't believe this,” he told us. “I just startedThe Divine providence of this meeting was truly amazing working on importing Israeli wine to Nigeria and the companies I'm working with sent me a batch of sample bottles. I can give you guys whatever I have for the seder!”

The Divine providence of this meeting was truly amazing. Even though our shipment from France arrived on erev Yom Tov, we saw that without his bottles, we would never have had enough matzah and wine for the 60 guests who joined us for the Seder. What’s more, we’ve managed to continue our connection with him, and when he visits New York over Sukkot, he’s going to join us in Crown Heights!

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