Roving Rabbis

Jews on a Cruise

May 26, 2015 4:45 PM

You’ve probably seen Chabad rabbinical students like us, standing at street corners and inviting Jewish passersby to don tefillin, light the shabbat candles, or accept a holiday treat. Only we weren’t in a Jewish hub like New York City, Paris, or Tel Aviv, but in the small town center of the Western Australian city of Fremantle.

We had been at our post for over two hours, and had met and distributed matzah to several Jews, both tourists and locals—quite a success for a place like Fremantle. We were about to head home when we noticed a distinguished-looking gentleman approaching us.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish by any chance?”

“No, I'm not.”

“Can we ask if you have any local Jewish friends?”

“Well actually, I'm not from here,” he replied. “I'm on a cruise and we have a short stopover before traveling again. But it’s funny that you ask me, because I’ve heard that there is something Jewish that will take place on the ship, something called a Seber.”

We quickly realized that he was referring to the Seder. We thanked him, and then our brains went into overdrive: How would we get some matzah to the Jewish passengers on the cruise?

As we neared the water, the magnificent ship, the Queen Mary II, came into view. There was a drawbridge leading to the ship, and we briefly contemplated boarding and giving the matzah to the crew to pass along, when out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a middle-aged couple walking in the direction of the ship.

We had to try our luck.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”

They stared at us, wide-eyed. “Yes, we are!”

We quickly discovered that Alan and Sara were from England, and enjoying their long-awaited vacation. The last thing they expected was for Chabad rabbis to approach them and give them handmade matzah (enough for all their Jewish friends, and some Passover guides as well) for their Seder! They thanked us profusely, and then they disappeared into the ship, precious package in tow, while we recounted the incredible Divine Providence we had just witnessed. This was the only day we had scheduled to spend time walking through town—all the other days were jam packed with appointments, home visits, shopping and preparing for the Seder. We happened to bump into the person who told us about the ‘Seber’, and from the thousands of passengers aboard the ship, we met Alan and Sara! It’s doubtful we would have succeeded in convincing the crew members to let us board this exclusive ship, or to distribute the matzah for us.

It was clear as day that G‑d had guided our steps, as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, to have the great privilege to supply matzah for the Jews celebrating the Seder on a luxurious ocean liner in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Seder for 200... Plus 60!

May 6, 2015 10:41 PM

It was Tuesday night—three days before Passover—when we landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. Since Lima is a popular destination for Israeli backpackers, we knew we would be hosting a large Seder. We divided our time between visiting the local hostels to invite people to our Seder, and preparing for the actual event.

Having witnessed the full gamut of reactions in past years, it was particularly gratifying when the Israelis received us so warmly, and happily agreed to put on tefillin. When they stopped by the Chabad center, we stopped whatever we were doing to make them feel welcome. Rabbi Blumenfeld, Chabad rabbi to Lima, operates a kosher restaurant in the Chabad center where hungry travelers can grab a bite to eat. We supplemented this with some spiritual nourishment, offering them the opportunity to put on tefillin and sign up for the Seder.

A whirlwind of activity lead up to the Seder night. We were expecting 200 people and had set up 20 tables in a massive tent. Thank G‑d, we made sure to prepare extra food, because 60 more people showed up! We quickly arranged seating for them and proceeded with the Seder. It was a spiritually uplifting and heartwarming evening. For three hours, we read the hagadah, ate, told stories, sang and danced. Even after we’d officially finished the hagadah, many stayed on to delve deeper into the message of Passover.

Over the next two days, we received tremendous feedback. “It was a real Passover, spent with family,” and “What an experience!” were the most common sentiments. Between services, meals, schmoozing, and the second Seder, the time passed quickly, and we soon found ourselves at the airport once again, this time minus all the boxes of Passover goods. It’s safe to say that we were the only ones present wearing kippahs and tzitzit, so we weren’t surprised at the odd looks thrown our way. But then, a middle-aged gentleman approached us.

“Shalom!” he said.

“Hi, shalom to you, are you Jewish?” we asked.

“As a matter of fact I am! I’m Max from San Francisco.”

We quickly found a quieter place where we could sit and talk with Max, a CNN reporter returning from assignment in Lima. When we learned that had not had the opportunity to eat matzah yet, we pulled several pieces out of bag, which Max accepted gratefully. “Now I feel like it’s Passover,” he told us.

We spoke for over an hour, covering a wide range of Jewish topics. At the end of our conversation, we mentioned that even though he didn’t attend the Seder this year, the final days of the holiday were approaching, and he could relive the Passover experience then.

Max was pensive for a moment. “You know what, because I met you guys here, I am going to make every effort to go to synagogue and have a holiday meal when I get back home.”