My friend Meir and I landed in Panama City about two weeks ago. Rabbi Mendy Karniel, the local Chabad Rabbi, had arranged for us to stay with a good friend of his, Nir S. We arrived at his beautiful apartment, put down our suitcases, and accepted Nir’s invitation to join him on the balcony. It felt good to stretch our legs after the long flight, and take in the serene ocean view.

“So, where in Israel are you from?” Nir asked conversationally.

“I’m from KiryatWe didn’t know her address, or the name of her hotel Malachi,” Meir offered.

“I’m from Kfar Chabad, do you know anyone from there?”

“Yes! I do have a friend there, do you know Mordechai Rivkin?”

I could hardly believe my ears. “He’s my father!”

It turns out that Nir and my father go back many years. They met each other through their respective businesses, but over time have become quite close. As soon as dawn broke in Israel, my father was awakened by a phone call from Nir, marveling over the fact that in remote Panama City, a world away from Kfar Chabad, the son of Mordechai Rivkin was his houseguest!

We felt that we were off to an auspicious start.

The next day, we received our marching orders: a list with the contact information of the Jews of Panama. We decided to start with Miriam, who lived and ran a small hotel in a village near Coronado, about two hours away. There was a slight technicality: we didn’t know her address, or the name of her hotel! Meir suggested that we make some inquiries at the local fire station. Our Spanish is not great, and they didn’t speak any English, but somehow, they were able to direct us to Miriam’s home. We knew we had found the right address when a large photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe greeted us from the foyer. Miriam welcomed us warmly, and we sat with her for a while, mostly listening to her fascinating life story.

“Miriam, are there any other Jews in this village?”

“No.” She was emphatic. “I know everyone around here. No other Jews except for us.”

We weren’t going to take her word for it, especially since we had several more leads to investigate. Sure enough, David, the first person we called, was Jewish, andAre there any other Jews in this village? ecstatic to meet us! We set up an appointment for that afternoon.

Using our handy GPS, our trip to David in the nearby village went without a hitch.

We had a wonderful visit with him and his wife, Esther, schmoozing, discussing some Jewish concepts, and hearing about life in Panama. As we were preparing to leave, we mentioned in passing that we had spent some time with Miriam.

“What?” David and Esther were shocked. “There is another Jewish family nearby? We were sure we were the only Jews for miles around.”

“Are you going back to Miriam now? Would it be alright if we join you? We must see her with our own eyes!”

We were happy to oblige, and even happier to witness David, Esther, and Miriam greet each other like long lost relatives. Their unadulterated joy in being in the company of other Jews was a sight Meir and I will carry for a long time. We've kept in touch with them, and last we heard, they are planning a grand Shabbat together in Miriam’s hotel...