All of eight days old, little Shalom Dovber Kripor made history as the first Jewish baby to be circumcised in the Andes mountains of southeastern Peru.

With a ritual circumciser flown in specially from New York, the traditional ceremony was a treat for the group of local Jews and visiting tourists who have made the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Cusco a second home. According to those who attended, the baby’s parents, Chabad House co-directors Rabbi Ofer and Yael Kripor, succeeded in hosting a very emotional and beautiful ceremony.

“It was the first time I’ve ever been to a bris,” said New York native Amy Bakal, using the Hebrew term for a circumcision.

Bakal, 46, who’s been living in Cusco for the past six-and-a-half years, said that she first stumbled upon the Chabad House last year when she noticed a young rabbinical student making photocopies of flyers at a stationary shop.

“I noticed it was in Hebrew,” related the woman, who directs a local free library.

Once the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is especially popular with Israeli backpackers hiking the world after their mandatory army service and other foreigners with a sense of adventure.

Not conversant in Hebrew, Bakal started speaking Spanish to the young man.

The student, however, didn’t speak Spanish and “kept saying the word ‘Pesach.’ ”

Soon, she discovered that he was from Connecticut. When the conversation switched to the mutually-agreeable English, she learned of a large Passover Seder being held at the Chabad House.

When she entered the Chabad House, Yael Kripor “was waiting for me at the door.”

That first meeting began a friendship that now extends to their young daughters, who play together.

“We create our family here, and these people, whether travelers or new residents, become part of our family,” said Kripor. Tourists, especially, “fall in love with the place and stay.”

Clutching his older son, Rabbi Ofer Kripor speaks at the celebratory meal following his newborn son’s circumcision.
Clutching his older son, Rabbi Ofer Kripor speaks at the celebratory meal following his newborn son’s circumcision.

Fighting Altitude Sickness

While the Kripors consistently get more than 200 guests for Shabbat dinners during the peak travel season, some 40 people attended the bris, which occurred smack dab in the middle of the winter rains. For the couple, who had their older son’s bris in Israel three years ago just before moving to Cusco, arranging the ceremony was far from easy.

“It’s hard sometimes,” she said, “but mostly you just find strength in yourself beyond reason or what you think you are up to.”

Situated at almost 11,000-feet of altitude, the city’s location presented special challenges for the Kripor family. Travelers not used to the thin, mountain air are frequently struck by headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and other symptoms of altitude sickness. So Rabbi Levi Heber, who performed the circumcision, had to be prepped for what to expect.

“When doing a bris, you have to be in control,” said Heber. “I didn’t understand the seriousness, though, until I landed. I felt different and somewhat dizzy.”

The veteran circumciser followed Ofer Kripor’s instructions to the letter, taking care to not overexert himself, to climb stairs too quickly, or even to carry his own luggage. He credited a special herbal tea for helping him feel better.

In the end, the bris took place on time on Nov. 27, doubling as a bar mitzvah for one traveler who donned tefillin for the first time.

“Many times, this one mitzvah leads to many more,” said Heber, who performs an average of five circumcisions each week.

For her part, Bakal described the event as “beautiful.”

“Everyone got to hold the baby,” she said. “I felt very included.”