Celebrations have a way of bringing people together, and in the case of one recent bar mitzvah, a cruise ship stocked with kosher food helped ensure a large crowd.

But according to Douglas Mishaan’s family, the whole bash could have come out quite differently were it not for an enterprising travel agent, a twist of fate and the work of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Caribbean.

When the bar mitzvah boy’s father, Eddie Mishaan, phoned his agent several weeks before the big date, he was looking for something out of the ordinary. Jack Ezon says the call couldn’t have come at a better time: A cruise-based executive retreat had recently been cancelled, and the boat’s owners were willing to lease the vessel for four days at an attractive rate. The best part was that the Sea Dream II could sleep up to 112 people, making it possible for a large extended family and a few friends to join the Mishaans in the celebration.

As for the only catch – the cruise had to depart S. Juan, Puerto Rico, necessitating special arrangements for kosher provisions for everyone on board – Ezon turned to Rabbi Mendel and Rochi Zarchi’s Chabad House.

“We do a lot of booking for religiously observant Jews, so we have these kinds of questions all the time,” said the travel agent, who works for Ovation Vacations, “and it has put me in touch with Chabad emissaries all over the world. They’ve never failed to come through, whether what we needed was a place for people to pray with a minyan or a list of kosher places to eat.

“So I called Chabad in Puerto Rico,” continued Ezon, “to find out if we could get kosher provisions before booking the yacht.”

As he’s done for hotels and other travel companies, Zarchi helped ensure the presence of more than just kosher groceries. He loaned the Mishaans one of the Chabad House’s two Torah scrolls, a velvet-covered parchment scroll donated by Richard and Elka Cohen.

(Interestingly enough, when the scroll was used on the Thursday morning of the bar mitzvah, one of the children onboard recognized a good friend among the names of the Cohens’ grandchildren embroidered on the Torah’s cover.)

Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, center, ensured the presence of kosher provisions on board the vessel.
Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, center, ensured the presence of kosher provisions on board the vessel.

Coming Full Circle

The yacht sailed from S. Juan to a small island in the nearby British Virgin Islands, where it docked at an isolated beach before resuming its voyage and eventually heading back to Puerto Rico. The Zarchis joined the cruise for the bar mitzvah itself, and the rabbi led prayer services the morning of the ceremony. Afterwards, guests disembarked for a kosher barbeque on the beach, while the Zarchis flew back to prepare for Shabbat guests at their Chabad House.

“The whole experience was really beautiful,” said Douglas’s mother, Monet Mashaan, “and the bar mitzvah itself was magical. That’s all I can say.”

For his part, Zarchi said some Puerto Rican Jewish history came full circle in the form of the celebration.

“Eddie Mishaan’s father used to spend quite a lot of time in S. Juan,” stated Zarchi, adding that the father would often stay at the Hilton hotel not far from the Chabad House in Isla Verde.

“There was no Chabad House here back then, and he was pretty isolated Jewishly,” continued the rabbi. “But this time, when his son came, thank G‑d it was a different situation. There’s an active Jewish community here, and we were able to have a minyan for Eddie Mishaan to say Kaddish for his father.”

Ezon said that he and the family noted the difference.

“They were very grateful to the Zarchis for all of their help,” reported the travel agent, “and so are we. The rabbi was extremely integral to the success of this event, both for helping us get kosher food and for organizing the prayer service in S. Juan and at the bar mitzvah. This is someone who really cares and wants Jews to have what they need available to them.

“Our customer base is mostly Jewish,” added Ezon, “and there are certain things that you don’t go on vacation from, namely your Judaism. Chabad has always been able to help us and our clients in terms of making sure that when people travel they can still be connected to the Jewish community and their Jewish identity.”