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(photo credit: courtesy of Chabad.info)
A young Chabad couple convinced they had been sent to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, by the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe had a run-in this week with local police amid a flurry of rumors of drug trafficking and an assassination attempt against the country's president.
Bolivian police raided a Chabad house this week in the small vacation town, a popular tourist site for Israeli backpackers, and ordered that it remain closed until further notice.
Two Israeli travelers staying at the Chabad house were arrested and later released, according to Rabbi Aharon Freiman, 22, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post from Rurrenabaque Thursday.
Freiman said he had not been arrested.
"Nobody from the police or from other government authorities has explained the reason for the raid or for the order to close our place," said Freiman, who opened the Chabad house two months ago.
"I've heard different rumors," added Freiman, who said he did not speak Spanish well. "Some claim that this is a crackdown against drug trafficking. A lot of Israelis who come here smoke hashish and marijuana. Another rumor going around is that this is somehow connected with the attempted assassination of the [Bolivian] president."
On April 16, President Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president and an outspoken critic of the US, said that police had thwarted an assassination attempt against him. Three suspects were killed and two were arrested.
Morales, who faces strong opposition among wealthy Bolivians, has made allegations in the past of attempts to assassinate him.
Freiman said that he and wife Sarah had come to Bolivia to bring Judaism to traveling Israelis and to spread the message that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - the last spiritual leader of Chabad, who passed away in 1994 - was the messiah.
"I have faith that we will be all right. People who are sent on a holy mission cannot be hurt," said Freiman, who answered the phone in Bolivia with the greeting, "Long live our master, our teacher and our rabbi, the messiah king forever," referring to Schneerson.
"The rebbe sent us here, so we have nothing to fear," he said.
Freiman said that he had "contacted" Schneerson by randomly placing a piece of paper with a question in a collection of the rabbi's letters. The "answer" was that the Freimans should go to Rurrenabaque and establish a Chabad House.
Rabbi Menachem Brod, an official Chabad spokesman, said that he was unfamiliar with the Chabad house in Rurrenabaque and that Freiman and his wife did not represent Chabad.
Shay Geffen, a member of the more messianic stream within Chabad and a spokesman for the National Union Party, said that several MKs were attempting to intervene with Bolivian authorities on behalf of the Freimans, including Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) and Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu).