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Chabad emissaries at the four corners of the Earth help Jews who seek help, yiddishkeit and kosher food

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The Chabad House in Cusco, Peru | Photo: David Sachs

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There are market stalls in the streets and alleys, and the smell of pig and chicken carcasses hanging in the open, in clouds of flies and dust. The Andean mountains hang in the sky above, ringing the city. In the brown-and-tan streets, brick buildings butt against the ornate masonry of the Conquistadores, and every so often, the massive, fitted blocks of the Inkas themselves. This was the capital of their ancient kingdom; the ‘navel of the world.’ At 3,400-metres above sea level, the Cusco air is thin, but heavy with ghosts.

The Catholic invasion never completely penetrated here, as it did in coastal Peru. Many continue using the temples hidden in the hillside caves for their ancient traditions, ancient rituals. Perhaps as old as the one I was going to.

I had Levi in Cusco. It was Rosh Hashanah.

Remember Apple’s slogan, “There’s an app for that”? Now, travel to Cambodia, Kathmandu, Cusco, or the Cayman Islands—need a minyan for a holiday or yahrzeit? Kosher food or a home-style Shabbat dinner? There’s a Chabad for that.

Chabad-Lubavitch has ceased to be simply a branch of Hasidic Judaism. Travelling around the world for a year with my family, I saw Chabad as part of the world Jewish ecosystem.

In a posh hotel ballroom for a seder in Vietnam. In the hyper-bustling streets of Thamel in Kathmandu. In holy Pushkar, India. There was Chabad.

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The movement is over two hundred years old, but it was in the 1950s, under the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that Chabad really turned outward. The Rebbe sent emissaries to decimated post-war communities, to reignite the spark of Judaism. Immediately after President Kennedy’s famous 1961 speech announcing the Peace Corps, the Rebbe riffed off it for his own followers. He demanded that they leave their privileged living “off the fat of the land” in those few Brooklyn blocks, and devote themselves to their fellow Jews across the world. Just a few years after Israel’s founding gave the Wandering Jew a home, Chabad began giving Jews a home away from home.

Rabbi Yisroel Mochkin, Chabad director from the Quebec ski town Mont Tremblant, explains their philosophy, “Wherever a Jew is, and no matter what type of Jew it is, we’re all brothers, we’re all sisters. Every time you do a mitzvah, you’re adding light to the world. You didn’t put on tefillin yesterday, but you did today? You added a mitzvah.”

Today, there are over 3,500 Chabad institutions in 85 countries.

A resort retreat Shabbat put on by Chabad Montego Bay | Photo: Courtesy Chabad of Jamaica

Chabad’s role in Jewish urban centres and universities is a boon. But it is the work away from these centres that is the most unique.

They’ve opened the world for Jewish travel—for Jews who would not otherwise travel, without access to kosher food or shul services at the holidays, but also providing a taste of Jewish life to those who would normally just travel without it. This facility feels a bit like a miracle. (Rabbi Ofer of Cusco, Kathmandu’s Chabad, said that in 2019, his center hosted the world’s largest seder, at around 2,000 guests.)

The Chabad emissaries, known as shluchim and shluchos, are part Indiana Jones, part Mother Teresa, part Jewish A-Team. They work always as a married couple, providing, foremost, a Jewish home. To talk to them of their experiences is to hear of more miracles: of lifelong relationships formed from chance encounters; arranging emergency medical or consular help; rescuing an Israeli stranded at sea during the Coronavirus border closures; providing funerary rituals, from telephoned instructions, for possibly the only Jew buried in Cusco. When Jews are in trouble, far from home, who they gonna call?

All set up for Kathmandu Chabad’s Seder, one of the world’s largest | Photo: Courtesy Chabad of Kathmandu

Rabbi Ofer Kripor, of the Cusco Chabad, describes working in a remote setting rather than a Jewish centre: “The biggest difference is that we need to do everything on our own. I’m the shochet, the rabbi, the manager, the cheese-maker, the security man.”

Of shluchim and shluchos, he says: “They need to be a little crazy. Mishuggas”

In Israel, all the strands of Judaism separated by millennia of diaspora have come together. In a small way, the same thing happens in many Chabad houses.

Rabbi Mochkin described what makes Chabad at a place like Mont Tremblant special.

“I get Jews that are not from one sect or one city. They’re from all over, and all types, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, secular, Orthodox, Reform, they all come by. I’m personally touched by that, when you see so many Jews together who, in the city, they don’t really interact with each other, or know each other,” he said.

“But they come to Chabad Tremblant, and suddenly you see everyone get together like one big family. I’m lucky to get to see that on a weekly basis. It’s beautiful, actually.”

David Sachs is a political commentator and activist, and the bestselling author of The Flood, Safari, and Tragically Hip, Twisted: Illustrated Stories Inspired By Hip Songs. His blog and articles are at www.davidsachs.com

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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