It is Thursday in Paysandú, and we still have to decide whether we should go back to Montevideo (the capital) for Shabbat or try to make a minyan (prayer services) here. There had once been a large community here, but time had done its work, and although the old synagogue is still open, the fifty-or-so Jews who remain here rarely use it.

Thursday night we find out that someone from the community has passed away and the Jews left in the city would gather at the synagogue for Kaddish.

We lead the services and say some words of comfort to the bereaved relatives. We invite everyone to come back the next night for Shabbat services, followed by Kiddush, challah and some gefilte fish.

After one of the busiest Fridays of our lives (whew!), we are finally ready. Expecting 15 people, we started getting worried when 20, then 25, then 30 people show up—we only have 20 pieces of gefilte fish!

We sing, we dance, and the prayers are uplifting. The festive meal is unbelievable. People are so happy, after not having such an event in many years. There are stories, memories, words from the heart and a warm atmosphere around the table.

Immersing our food-prep utensils in natural water, so that they may be used with kosher food.
Immersing our food-prep utensils in natural water, so that they may be used with kosher food.

Surprisingly, there is even enough gefilte fish.

Saturday night, we get a phone call from Mario, the president of the community. He wants us to join him for lunch and meet his family. "What could you guys eat?" he asks us, half expecting the answer. "Well, I guess Pringles, fruit and Coca Cola would be just great," we tell him.

As soon as we come, the questions start coming…and coming. Before we know it, it's been five hours! After a final farewell, we say goodbye to Paysandu, and hello to Salto, a city famous for its "termas," natural hot baths. It's not so famous for the six Jews who call it home.

Enjoying Coke and Pringles with the entire family.
Enjoying Coke and Pringles with the entire family.

We search for Henya, an older Jewish woman. We are told that she passed away two days earlier. She left behind a son, Martin, who is the supervisor of a nearby supermarket.

He's home, we are told, mourning his late mother. We go to his house, and although a bit confused at the beginning, not knowing who we are and what we want, in matter of minutes we become fast friends. He opens up to us about his mother. We offer him the opportunity to do something for his mother's soul by putting on tefillin. He starts crying. This is the very first time Martin is putting on tefillin. He doesn't know what they are yet, but he is willing to learn. After some explanation, we help him put them on. It's hard for him to finish saying the blessings. He is crying and choking over his tears. When he is finished, he says, "Thank you. I really feel at peace with myself and like I really connected with Mom. You guys are direct messengers from G‑d…"