“It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” (Avot 2:16)

In December 2019, my family visited Nicaragua, a beautiful country in Central America. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to a picturesque city on the Pacific Ocean called San Juan Del Sur.

More than 100 countries in the world now have Chabad Houses that serve local communities and also welcome traveling Jews. This is the case in San Juan Del Sur, where Rabbi David and Chana Atar established a home away from home for anyone who needs kosher food, Shabbat accommodations, warmth and unconditional acceptance.

The story of this particular family and their dedication is incredible. In April 2018, in an attempt to overthrow the government, the people of Nicaragua went into the streets, burning buildings, creating roadblocks and turning the country into absolute chaos.

Rabbi David and Chana decided to remain in the country until there were no more travelers that needed them, even though the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous. There was no more food or gasoline to purchase since the roads to the capital city and all the big centers that supplied the coastal area with basic necessities were blocked. The family had three small children and Chana was pregnant with their fourth. The situation was stressful and unpredictable. There was an abundance of unreliable news, making it hard to objectively judge the reality of the unfolding situation.

Finally, in May of 2018, the Atars packed one tiny suitcase with not much more than their Torah scroll and took a taxi for the 40-minute drive to the border of Costa Rica. There, they managed to arrange for their entrance stamp and find safety.

I would have thought that this family would be traumatized enough to never want to return to Nicaragua. Yet 10 months after the revolt had been put down and the country regained stability, Rabbi David and Chana, together with their four children, returned to the Chabad house in San Juan Del Sur.

Lighting Chanukah candles at the Chabad House in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Lighting Chanukah candles at the Chabad House in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

We had the honor of spending time with this brave family during a Chanukah celebration in 2019. By that time, Nicaragua was peaceful and safe for both locals and travelers. Together with Jews from all over the world, we joined Rabbi David and Chana in their Chabad House, celebrating Chanukah and lighting an outdoor menorah. The Atars don't complain or look back on the difficulties of the past, but continue serving in that part of the world.

While walking around the city center of San Juan Del Sur, my family came upon a local park where a free folk performance was taking place. As the dancers came on stage and the show began, one dancer’s flowerpiece fell from her head. She didn’t flinch and continued to follow the beat of the music. There was something so courageous about her ability to just keep on dancing.

As I watched this graceful dancer, I remembered a parable taught by Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement:

Once, a musician came to a village. He found a spot on a street corner and began to play. Those who stopped to listen were captivated by his beautiful music, and before long the entire street was transformed into a magnificent celebration. A deaf man walked by but couldn’t hear the music and wondered why the townspeople were jumping, waving their arms and turning in circles in the middle of the street.

While the deaf man couldn’t hear the music, if we’re attuned to our Divine purpose, we can learn to extract music from every moment.

Perhaps the secret of the Atar family’s undeterred attitude is their ability to “hear the music” of their mission and continue to passionately “dance” despite any difficulties.

Celebrating Chanukah in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Celebrating Chanukah in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

The Baal Shem Tov taught that G‑dliness can be found in every circumstance. Everything that we see, hear and experience presents us with an opportunity to know and serve G‑d. Realizing that every situation is an opportunity to reveal the light hidden within allows us to be attuned to the song radiating from each moment of existence and to rise above all challenges—to continue with the next step of the dance.

This year, as I light the Chanukah candles and watch their flames gracefully dance, I will remember that just like those flickering lights do not cease to ascend from their wick, we, too, can choose to elevate the mundane. Our mission is not just to subdue the darkness but to turn the source of chaos on its head, revealing its Divine vision and illuminating our world.