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Jewish Sparks in the Land of Stone

Jewish Sparks in the Land of Stone

A Report from Cyprus

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Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbinical student Getzy Markowitz gives a class in Aiya Napa, Cyprus to a group of tourists.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbinical student Getzy Markowitz gives a class in Aiya Napa, Cyprus to a group of tourists.

Each summer the educational arm of the Lubavitch movement, Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, sends pairs of rabbinic students to small Jewish communities around the globe under its Rabbinical Student Visitation Program, which has become colloquially known as the "Jewish Summer Peace Corp."

The pairs teach classes, disseminate Jewish publications and plant the seeds of Judaism in the hearts and minds of Jews who have no access to Jewish schooling. Initiated of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, the 50 year-old program aims to touch each and every individual Jew.

This summer 250 groups of rabbinical students are visiting thousands of cities in 83 counties. Before they left, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, reminded the budding rabbis of the Rebbe's charge to reach out to every individual Jew at his or her own level.

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Getzy Markowitz, 22, is part of a group of students who are visiting communities across the rocky Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Below are some excerpts of Markowitz's daily report.

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007 - 11:47 AM:

As our European Airways flight flies above Washington, and later Paris and then London, I realize that today is an historical day – and not only because of Tony Blair's scheduled resignation as Britain's top member of Parliament. For myself for each of the Jews we will be meeting, this marks the beginning of hopeful relationships that will transcend the world's capitals and the blowing political winds.

We are looking forward to arriving soon in Larnaca, Cyprus, for a six week mission to Larnaca, Ayia Napa, Kyrenia, Limassol, Nicosia and Paphos. We hope we can humbly live up to the expectations of the many Jews we hope to meet.

Friday, July 06, 2007 - 11:49 AM:

This Shabbat we expect more than 200 Jews to pray, sing, dance and eat with us, while sharing words of Torah and Jewish experiences.

One of the things that I have found to be most meaningful here is reciting the Grace After Meals along with our guests. Abraham our Forefather would receive guests in his desert tent to partake in bountiful meals and then share with them the blessing to G‑d for the bounty He gives us.

Aiya Nappa is by all accounts a desert, a spiritual wasteland. In this desert we have pitched a tent, welcome Jews that are "passing through" and, together with them, learn ever deeper ways to recognize and express our gratitude to G‑d.

Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 11:17 PM

Lighting Shabbat candles prior to Shabbat Friday night services, organized by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbinical students in Aiya Napa, Cyprus
Lighting Shabbat candles prior to Shabbat Friday night services, organized by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbinical students in Aiya Napa, Cyprus

As I rushed the hill leading to our "Chabad House" on Kavo Greeko last night, I gazed at a stunning setting sun suspended in a perfect sky. It seemed as though it just paused as the arrival of Shabbat nears.

More than 200 Jews came to our Friday night meal. Dozens arrived before sunset and kindled the Shabbat candles.

The Shabbat Friday night prayer service was possibly the most beautiful that I have ever experienced. A group of 30 or so Sephardic boys led the congregation in the Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, which is customary to sing in many synagogues Friday night. The strong assembly of voices filled the room with song and prayer.

One of the guys told me, "We planned on clubbing and having dinner that, to be honest, wouldn't be kosher. Instead, we are sitting here in the Chabad House, singing, talking, learning and growing. So far this Shabbat has been the most amazing Shabbat of my life – and, of all places, here in Aiya Napa!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 3:15 PM

It is a competitive world out there.

Aware of the potential here, we knew that today's traffic at the Chabad House would be considered less than satisfactory. "Where have all the Israelis gone?" Well, they didn't come here today so we went to them.

When we found where everyone was hanging out we discovered that we weren't the only "salesmen." There were many others distributing flyers to the tourists (and they weren't offering religious services…).

Tefillin and flyers in hand, we set out to do our work. A few questioned our garb and appearance and offered us some wisdom: "There is no Jew, Muslim or Christian in Aiya Napa; there are only people who want to party. So why don't you just chill out and enjoy like everyone else?"

"G‑d is everywhere," was our reply.

We spotted some Israelis on motorbikes and ATV's packing into the parking lot, mixing with others exiting the beach area. The next thing we knew, we had a queue waiting to don Tefillin…

Our neighbor salesmen watched in amazement. How could we possibly explain to them about the "pintele yid," the spark of Jewishness within each Jew waiting to be discovered and fanned?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 8:25 PM

So many experiences, yet so little time to commit them all to writing.

The day is filled with all kinds of encounters. At times we encounter people, sometimes they encounter us, and sometimes we all encounter ourselves.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - 2:32 PM

After dragging myself into bed last night, I fell asleep. It was a peaceful rest that lasted less than ten minutes. Why had I awoken? It made no sense, it wasn't as though there were any disturbances. Still, I could not sleep.

After several failed attempts to get some rest, I went out to get a bottle of water. Grouchy and exhausted I took a book of Maimonides with me and had a seat on a bench at the street corner. At 2 AM the town was still full of life.

Chassidic teachings about individual Divine Providence came to mind. Surely there was a reason for me to be awake at this hour.

I heard a group of teenagers pleading with taxi drivers. It seemed that they were short one pound and wouldn't be able to get home. I offered them the missing money.

As I began walking back to my hotel room, thinking that my purpose in awakening had been fulfilled, an Israeli guy surrounded by friends joked aloud, "I've never seen a religious guy here before. Hey, you see? Even the religious come here to party!"

"Nu, why haven't we seen you guys at the Chabad House?," I asked. They had no idea that there was a Chabad House here. Now they did.

After giving them the address my bed beckoned loudly. Surely now my mission for the night was complete.

But the sound of screeching tires brought the bustling surroundings to a standstill and everybody froze as a boy was thrown from his ATV after impact.

I rushed to his aid. Testing his senses I shouted: "Aych kor'im lecha?" (What is your name? Most rentable motorbikes in Aiya Napa seemed to be hired by vacationing Israelis.) Thank G‑d, he responded.

At first he begged me not to phone an ambulance, claiming that he would be fine after getting some rest at his hotel. An argument ensued and seeing his injuries, I insisted that he needed medical attention and called Mario, a paramedic and trusted friend of Chabad.

The boy's friends attempted to persuade him not to go to the hospital. It seems that many of these kids promise their parents that they won't ride motorbikes here and they didn't want them to find out about this.

Mario wouldn't hear of it. The boy's shoulder had been dislocated and his side seemed discolored.

I assured him that I would accompany him to the hospital and stay with him. This finally calmed him.

At the hospital, the doctor on staff told us that the boy needed treatment and would need to be kept under observation for a couple of days. Mario explained the boy’s initial concerns and the episode that transpired back in town to the doctor.

As they wheeled the injured boy out of the emergency room, the doctor turned toward me and said: "Rabbi, you saved this kid's life."

What a sleepless night can do.



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