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Gateway To The Galapagos

The Republic of Ecuador

Bitten by the travel bug? Flying is not what it used to be–not since the pandemic. Thankfully, there’s still virtual travel. Join us each #TravelThursday as we take a virtual tour of one of the 5000 communities around the globe served by Chabad. Fasten your seatbelts. 

Have an idea of which Chabad center we should feature next? Let us know in the comments!

Nestled between Columbia and Peru, on the Northwestern coast of South America, Ecuador is a country slightly smaller than the State of Nevada. Its small area belies its diverse landscape which encompasses the Amazon jungle, the highlands of the Andes and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands.

Visit the still-active Cotopaxi volcano, one of Cajas’ 270 lagoons, or check out the more than 4,000 species of plants and trees (some as tall as 40 meters) in Podacorpus. If you have the nerve, you could ride the train at Nariz del Diablo (“Devil’s Nose”). You’ll ascend a number of switchbacks as it zigzags and climbs the near vertical sides of the mountain to the viewing station at its top. Or maybe you prefer to relax at one of the country’s Pacific beaches at Salinas, Bahía, or Montañita, or the hot springs at Baños de Agua Santa. 

Plan your journey so you can spend Shabbat at Chabad of Guayaquil (Gwa-ya-kil) with the close-knit, family-friendly Jewish community, or Comunidad Judia De Guayaquil. Most people show up about an hour before services, or events begin giving them time to schmooze. You can usually find people hanging out long after services end, catching up on the week’s events over a piece of the rebbitzen’s kugel.

Lying on the banks of the Guaya river that feeds into the Pacific, Ecuador’s second largest city is known as the Gateway to the Galapagos. From there it’s just a 1000 km boat ride out to the volcanic archipelago, one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing and research.

Ecuador Facts:

Chabad reps: Rabbi Mendy and Menucha Rochel Fried, and children, Mushka and Yossi.

  • Population: 17.08 million, plus 3 million tourists annually
  • Jewish population: Guayaquil – 150, Ecuador – 1000
  • A large influx of Jews arrived in the country as they escaped the Holocaust. Their first port of entry was Guayaquil. After waves of growth and decline over the last seven decades, the Jewish community of Guayaquil built a new synagogue and community center with youth loung and women’s and men’s mikvahs in 2012. They appointed Rabbi Fried in 2017.
  • In 1990, community president, Mr. Johnny Czarninski reached out to friends in the Chabad community in New York who arranged for pairs of rabbinic students to visit the community annually and lead services on the High Holidays.
  • During his Yeshiva career, Rabbi Fried, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where his parents serve as Chabad emissaries, studied in Argentina where he learned to speak Spanish. So he arrived in Ecuador fluent in the language. For Menucha Rochel, daughter of North Carolina based Chabad emissaries, the language barrier was more of a challenge.
  • Many Ecuadorians trace their roots back to Spain. There are a number who believe their ancestors were Marranos—Jews who converted to Christianity, or pretended to, at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Rabbi Fried says locals often tell him they feel good having a rabbi in their city.
  • The community imports a shochet from Argentina so they have kosher meat. The rabbi visits a farm two to three times a year where he supervises the production of kosher long-life milk.
  • A local-Jewish owned bakery has a room set aside for the preparation of kosher bread and baked goods, supervised by Rabbi Fried.
  • One wouldn’t expect such a small Jewish community to be able to sustain a kosher restaurant, but Kosher Pita Grill’s popularity with non-Jewish locals keeps it afloat. They serve shawarma, shakshuka and burgers, cater all local Jewish events and in conjunction with Rabbi Fried they prepare and deliver meals to Jewish tourists around the country.
  • In March, the Frieds flew to North Carolina to attend a Bar Mitzvah, only to have the country close all borders due to COVID-19. For three months they led their community’s daily Zoom shacharit and maariv service, took care of those struggling with financial loss, or loneliness, and taught adult and children’s Torah classes from 4,000 miles away. Fortunately the time-difference is only one hour.
  • Two blocks from the community center sits the Jerusalem Municipal Park, or Parque Municipal Jerusalén. Last May Mr. Czarninski, who also serves as the Honorary Consul General of Israel in Guayaquil, spearheaded its construction. With a large menorah as a centerpiece and a model of Jerusalem, the park displays a brief description of Jerusalem’s 4,000 year history.

Have an idea of which Chabad center we should feature next? Let us know in the comments!

Rabbi Mendy & Menucha Rochel Fried with their children
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