Walking down the street just before Rosh Hashana in Puerto de la Cruz, a city on the island of Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, Anna saw a Chassidic-looking man walking down the street. “Go run after him,” she told her daughter. “Hashem brought us together!”

Her daughter flagged down the car. “They’d been here for a week when we found them,” says Anna. “We saw them as we were walking in a neighborhood we never visit,” she continues. “We’d been talking about doing something as a family for Rosh Hashanah—just us. It was so sad.”

The next thing she knew, “we were sitting around a table with 35 people for Rosh Hashanah. It was amazing!”

The Chassidic man Anna's daughter saw was Rabbi Noam Rosen, who together with his wife, Chava, will be establishing Chabad of the Canary Islands-Tenerife. The couple will be moving to Tenerife together with their daughter in time for Chanukah.

The Canary Islands have a long Jewish history, dating back to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 when some Jews found a safe haven on the autonomous Spanish territory just off the tip of Morocco. More Jews arrived from Morocco in the last century and even had a synagogue on Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the islands. But as the years went by, the community struggled to stay afloat. The synagogue closed, and its Torah scroll lay in a closet collecting dust.

The Rosens visited Tenerife for the High Holidays, and when the Torah scroll was dusted off for use during services, the community they’d brought together was moved beyond words. “The man holding the Torah was trembling,” Doron Peretz, an Israeli expat living in Tenerife with his family for two years, tells Chabad.org. “Another woman was crying as she watched. This Torah hadn’t been used in 30 years.” When an older Israeli gentleman was honored with reciting the Haftarah, reports Peretz, he couldn’t get through it, breaking down in tears.

The congregation right after the conclusion ofl Yom Kippur.
The congregation right after the conclusion ofl Yom Kippur.

Assembling a Congregation, Seemingly out of Nowhere

Rosen is among the more than 120 young rabbis attending the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim) for the first time this year, part of an international cohort of 120 couples who are establishing new Chabad centers to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Like most of these young couples, he and his wife spent some time visiting the community before establishing a permanent Chabad center there.

This year, the Rosens brought together dozens of local Jews for the High Holidays, all seemingly out of nowhere. Many had never met before, says Peretz. “We were about to leave Tenerife,” says Doron’s wife, Rubi Peretz. They wanted their young son, Yaar, 2, to have a Jewish education and celebrate the holidays, and after two years doing everything on their own, they decided it was time to move somewhere with an active Jewish community—one like they’d experienced at Chabad of Shanghai where they’d lived until the pandemic.

“It really bothered us,” adds Doron Peretz, “we had nobody to celebrate with.”

Their first year on the island, they thought they were the only Jews there, says Rubi Peretz. “There was nothing, no community framework. Eventually, we met some other Israelis and Spanish-speaking Jews.”

They were elated to hear of Chabad’s plans, and the other Island Jews have been very supportive, says Doron. “Chabad has a reputation: They bring together all kinds of Jews, religious or not. People want to connect with them.”

The Rosens will be working under the auspices of Rabbi David Liebersohn, director of ,Chabad-Lubavitch of Barcelona, who has been coordinating visits to the islands by Chabad’sRoving Rabbis for decades and is responsible for expanding Chabad-Lubavitch in Spain.

Rosen wraps tefillin with an Israeli tour guide on the island.
Rosen wraps tefillin with an Israeli tour guide on the island.

Ben Elsner from Prague who visited Tenerife last October, spending the entire winter there, had been hoping to find Chabad on the island. “Having been familiar with Chabad for 20 years and its vast worldwide network, I was wondering why there wasn’t one on Tenerife,” he says.

He decided to do something about it, calling Liebersohn in Barcelona and suggesting that they work together on establishing a local center. “And in September they arrived! It should be very successful—Tenerife is the ‘Florida of Europe’ and many of the tourists are Jewish. This is a great achievement and necessity.”

“They have created such a beautiful link between the Jews here, so many young families with children who have never met,” says Anna. “The Rosens are the glue that makes us all come together. We absolutely love them! They’re wonderful people, really sweet, giving and dedicated. They taught us a lot about things we’d never know. Having grown up in Tenerife and living in Tel Aviv for years, I had no community besides my family. They would only celebrate the main chagim, and nobody ever explained anything. Finally, I had someone who explained everything.”

Anna hopes that the Rosens will live in the north of the island (“I want them near me!”) but Rabbi Rosen says that those in the south are equally insistent. “We’re going to travel all over Tenerife and to the neighboring islands, such as Gran Canaria, where there is a small Jewish community, and connect with everybody,” he affirms.

“This is so important to us,” says Rubi Peretz. “We never dreamed it … and then we had 18 kids sitting together on the floor with Chava!”

“You think you’re alone,” adds her husband, “and suddenly, you see this.”

Sukkot in Tenerife.
Sukkot in Tenerife.