With the arrival of Rabbi Shimon and Michal Pelman, the Dominican Republic became the newest country to host Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

The Caribbean nation, which was the first sovereignty to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, has a Jewish community dating back to the 15th century, when Spanish Jews fled the Inquisition. Today, it numbers some 300 individuals, who congregate primarily in the city of S. Domingo, where the Pelmans opened the new Chabad House.

"What is special about the Jewish community of S. Domingo is its diversity," said local English teacher Sandy Berkofsky-Santana. "Our members come from many different countries and backgrounds, speak many languages, and have different customs and traditions, yet we are one community."

Shimon Pelman, 26, learned of the Dominican Jews as a rabbinical student several years ago when he helped his older brother, Rabbi Shalom Pelman of Chabad-Lubavitch of Guatemala. Last year, he and his wife, a seventh-generation Israeli, approached Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, about heading up outreach in the republic.

Kotlarsky and Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Puerto Rico and the head emissary to the Caribbean, together made the decision to send the Pelmans to the Dominican Republic.

Michal Pelman, also 26, said that when they got married, they both knew they wanted to become emissaries. That they would uproot their two young daughters and establish themselves far away from home was never a question.

 Rabbi Shimon Pelman, co-director of the just-established Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic, teaches a class to children of the local Jewish community.
Rabbi Shimon Pelman, co-director of the just-established Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic, teaches a class to children of the local Jewish community.
"The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, taught that one must have love for a fellow Jew to the point of self-sacrifice," she explained. "So when we heard that there was another place on the map that needed help, we wanted to devote ourselves to them."

Isac Lalo, 43, whose wife Michelle teaches in the local synagogue's Hebrew school, said that the Pelmans have been well received by the Jewish community.

"The rabbi has met a lot of people who come for business, or stay for a couple of days or weeks," said Lalo, whose lived in the Dominican for 15 years and sits on the board of directors of the synagogue. "I didn't know all these people existed."

Amos Radian, the newly-installed ambassador of Israel to the Dominican Republic, said that he looks forward to working with the Pelmans. Locals estimated that anywhere from 20 to 30 Israeli families live across the island nation.

Radian, who arrived six months ago on a three-to-five year tour of duty, said that when he was the vice-ambassador to Rome several years ago, his son was backpacking throughout South America. For Passover, the father flew in to Chile to take his son to the Seders at the Santiago Chabad House directed by Rabbi Menashe and Chaya Perman.

Turning to the Pelmans, the diplomat said that because they came to "guard and strengthen the Jewish tradition," they "should be blessed."

"On behalf of the community, I am very excited about the Pelmans' arrival here," added Lalo. "We wish them much success."