Travelers and members of the Jewish community in Cozumel, Mexico are gearing up for not one, not two, but three Seder night dinners this year, for a total of some 550 people - the largest amount of people Chabad Cozumel has hosted since it opened five years ago.
The biggest of the events is for some 350 travelers visiting the Caribbean island, the second is for the island's 90-person strong Jewish community and their guests, and the third is for English-speaking visitors to the island. Twelve members of Chabad staff have traveled to the scuba-diving tourist magnet to help with this Passover operation, bringing with food necessary for the Seder that cannot be found in Cozumel.
The founding of Chabad Cozumel for travelers led to the establishment of another eight of this kind, located along the route that most Israeli travelers opt to take in central America. Rabbi Shalom Peleg and Rabbi Dudi Caplin are the founders of this Chabad house, and they took it upon themselves to make a visit to Cozumel as pleasant as can be for Jewish travelers. Bearing in mind that most Israeli travelers are post-army, cash-strapped youngsters, they set about getting acquainted with every business on the island, resulting in "Chabad bracelets" that get the travelers 50 percent off at every joint on the island.
"First we help people on the materialistic level, then on the spiritual level," Rabbi Caplin told The Jerusalem Post. "This is the only place in the world where all restaurants are considered kosher," he says, explaining that there is a kosher beach-side restaurant from which all hotel guests can order hot meals. There is also a kosher grocery store and gender-separated luxury mikveh for both men and women, as well as a small Jewish school for the 30 Jewish children living on the island. "Even if it was just one kid we would open a school," Caplin said.
The small Jewish Cozumel community is made up of retired Americans, some Turks and a few Mexicans. According to Caplin, many Israelis "rediscover Judaism" in Cozumel, far away from the religious-secular tensions that exist in Israel. "Here they see Judaism without politics. Many Israelis have no clue about the basic stuff ... they come here and it's an open-minded atmosphere and we have good vibes, we have fun," he said. "People like it and start to ask questions." He adds that many travelers end up staying longer than planned and described their experience at the island as a "big intersection" for them.
Caplin said the result is a giant virtual community, much of which comes together at an annual party thrown in Israel and attended by Chabad shlichim (emissaries) and travelers alike.
Aharon Appell, a member of Chabad from Jerusalem who is responsible for the Americans who visit the house, said Cozumel's Passover event is the best in the whole world, drawing travelers from around Latin America. "We dance the whole night," he tells the Post.
See how the Chabad staff made their Passover cooking more efficient: