Before the pandemic, my husband and I used every opportunity to travel to unique places. While each trip left many memorable impressions, some experiences were so unique that they became part of who we are.

Such was our trip to Manaus, a city on the banks of the Negro River in northwestern Brazil, which we were using as a stepping-off point for our Amazon wildlife adventure.

Before beginning our journey, we reached out to Rabbi Arieh and Rebbetzin Devorah Lea Raichman, Chabad emissaries to Manaus for more than 10 years, to inquire about the availability of kosher food. We’ve learned that Chabad always makes sure Jews have their spiritual needs met, especially when far from home. Fortunately, we were correct in this assumption, and our kosher-food request became a means for introducing us to the devoted work of the Raichmans.

Our destination was the luxurious Hotel Ariau, the first of its kind in the Amazon. As we walked to our room, we were accosted by monkeys to see if we had any fruit or other sweets on us. During the night, no matter how sound asleep we were, we’d wake as nature arose and the many animals made us aware of their presence. Needless to say, we were excited for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

“When the Tamarkins contacted us, we were in the beginning stages of setting up our Chabad center, and my amazing wife was able to prepare all their meals. It would be the hotel’s first kosher meal prepared in the Amazon, and unfortunately, the last. Shortly after their stay, the hotel’s debt caught up with it, and it remains closed until today.” Rabbi Arieh Raichman recalls.

Thanks to the Raichmans, we received special kosher meals, delivered to us by boat. After a day of swimming with pink dolphins, exploring wildlife vegetation, playing with baby crocodiles and fishing for piranhas, we returned to our hotel to partake in the hot, double-wrapped, delicious kosher dinner.

Eating our double-wrapped kosher food.
Eating our double-wrapped kosher food.

Growing up in the former Soviet Union, my husband and I possessed no knowledge of our Jewish heritage. When we first married, we decided to build a family in accordance with Torah values, but it took years until we felt comfortable with the unfamiliar laws. Slowly, we embraced keeping kosher and many other milestones, and with each one we committed not to waver in its observance. While each tiny step along our journey might have seemed insignificant, together they created a ladder upon which we climbed towards our goal.

Our sages interpret a passage from Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs (5:2): “Open a door as tiny as the eye of a needle, and I will open your gates wide enough to let carts and horse-drawn carriages drive through.”

By taking the initiative and allowing G‑d to enter into our lives through a “tiny hole” of slow but consistent growth, we eventually merited to experience exponentially greater light.

After a few days in the hotel, we returned to Manaus and enjoyed dinner at the Chabad House with the Raichman family. At the time, we had plans to help build a mikvah back in our hometown of Philadelphia. The Raichmans shared their plans to do the same in Manaus. It was incredible to share a kosher meal, discussing similar ambitions for our respective communities. While they were geographically as far away as you can get with such different demographics, the issues remained the same, whether it be about kosher food or ritual immersion.

With Rabbi and Rebbetzin Raichman, and their young son, at the Chabad house.
With Rabbi and Rebbetzin Raichman, and their young son, at the Chabad house.

At the time, Rabbi Raichman also helped arrange a mikvah visit for me in Rio de Janeiro, as my husband and I continued our journey back from the Amazon. This was another opportunity for me to take my values and traditions with me, wherever our travels lead us.

I once read a quote from Maj. Gen. Louis H. Wilson: “True genius lies not in doing the extraordinary things, but in doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

These words serve as a reminder that an authentic commitment to an ordinary life aligned with the soul’s purpose creates a channel for G‑dliness. By staying true to one’s mission and purpose, every moment—no matter where you find yourself on the face of this earth—becomes an opportunity to connect to unwavering Torah truth, meaningful experiences, and the eternal wisdom of our heritage.