Although far from major centers of Jewish life and even farther from their hometown of Paris, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Devorah Leah Chekly are looking forward to opening the first permanent Chabad center in the African coastal nation of Angola.

Once racked with a civil war that lasted nearly three decades, Angola has experienced relative calm and prosperity since 2002. The seventh largest country in Africa, Angola lies on the Atlantic Ocean, and is bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of Congo on the north and Zambia on the east.

Foreign businesses have taken a significant interest in the country’s vast natural resources, including oil, gas and diamonds. Jewish businesspeople from France, Israel, America and elsewhere have moved to the coastal nation because of the economic prospects, and the Angolan government is touting the country’s natural beauty and scenic coastline to build a nascent tourism industry.

The match between the Cheklys and Angola didn’t come completely out of the blue. As a rabbinical student, Chekly spent time as a “Roving Rabbi,” visiting Jewish communities in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville in the neighboring Republic of the Congo.

After his rabbinic ordination and marriage, he and his wife were contacted by Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and director of Chabad’s operations in Central Africa, about moving to Luanda, Angola’s capital. They agreed and will soon be moving there, along with their 8-month-old daughter, Chaya Mushka.

“I saw something truly amazing when visiting Jews in Africa,” he says. “The farther Jews were away from the established community—from traditional observance—the greater the thirst they had to learn. It’s beautiful.”

Growing Jewish Life in Africa

The Cheklys’ permanent presence in Angola marks another step in the long-term growth of Chabad-Lubavitch in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Chabad centers are expected to open soon in Ghana and Mozambique as well. (Map: Google.maps)
Chabad centers are expected to open soon in Ghana and Mozambique as well. (Map: Google.maps)

For the past 20 years, Bentolila has supervised Jewish activities in 12 African countries, including Nigeria, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone, serving Israeli expatriates, European businessmen and women, tourists from Europe and America, and locally born Jews. “Roving Rabbis” programs are growing during Jewish holiday periods, and permanent Chabad centers are expected to open soon in Ghana and Mozambique.

The Cheklys, who speak French, Hebrew and English, hope to reach out to both the estimated 300 Jewish families living full-time in Angola and visitors to the country, are preparing to host their first Chanukah celebration there later this month. In fact, it will be the inaugural public menorah-lighting in Angola.

When asked about their decision to move to such a remote place, Chekly replies: “I’m a Chassid; my life is given over to helping other Jews. What does distance matter? If there are people there, then we need to be there.”