Passover celebrations in Northern Cyprus coordinated by the republic's new Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries went off without a hitch as some 45 people congregated in a local hotel Saturday night for a grand Seder supplied with kosher food cooked on the premises. The hotel's kitchen was specially koshered for the occasion.
But for Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov, the newly arrived co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of North Cyprus, the most inspiring part of the holiday was successfully delivering matzah, grape juice and other kosher for Passover food to an Israeli Jewish inmate of a local prison. Although he was granted permission ahead of time, the prison turned him away four times last week.
"It was hopeless," said Azimov. "But right before Passover, I focused all my energy on it, and thank G‑d, it turned out well."
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The rabbi said that some last-minute intervention from the Israeli Consulate in Ankara, Turkey, and Israel's Foreign Ministry enabled the prisoner to celebrate Passover.
Meanwhile, for the celebrants at the hotel in Kyrenia, kosher food has been provided every day of the holiday, which ends next Sunday night.
After the first night's event, they attended a second Passover Seder the next day at Azimov's home, where fellow co-director Devorah Leah Azimov provided a feast.
Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov helps a Jewish resident of Northern Cyprus don tefillin.
The couple moved to Northern Cyprus with their two daughters last month, just four days before Purim. Immediately after their arrival, they organized a Purim party for some 100 community members.
"It's different to be able to celebrate the holidays with the family, to give the children a feel for the holidays," said Osnat Doron-Dadush, 43, a two-year resident of Northern Cyprus who said that last year her three children didn't even know it was Purim.
Doron-Dadush's son Omer will soon be learning with the newly-arrived Azimov for his upcoming bar mitzvah.
Last fall, the Azimov's held a Chanukah party for 50 people at the Doron-Dadush home.
"We gathered here, celebrated, sang songs, ate jelly dougnuts and the children played with dreidels," related the mother.
The rabbi said that progress has been steady since then. He estimated that about 200 to 300 Jewish people live in the area, although that on any given weekend upwards of 2,000 Israeli tourists pass through.
"Slowly, slowly we're meeting more Jews," he stated, adding that many people hail from Israel or England. "There are also a lot of business people who come through."
With the Seders behind them, the Azimovs are looking to start community Shabbat services.
Rabbi Arie Zeev Raskin, the Larnaca-based co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Cyprus who oversees the Azimovs, praised the efforts of the new team.
"We're very happy to have brought new emissaries to the region," he said. "It's important for every Jew to feel that they have a warm spiritual home to go to."
Funding for the Azimovs was made possible in part by a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation.