By Menachem Posner – Chabad.org
The Spanish island of Ibiza has long been famous for its pristine Mediterranean waters, stunning and often secluded beaches, and rollicking nightlife. For the past month, however, it’s seen something new: a Chabad House on its shores, co-directed by Rabbi Mendel and Rina Baitz.
Just days after the couple arrived, they received a call from Esther, a native of Southern California. As she planned to visit the island with a friend, a quick Google search led her to the couple’s brand-new Facebook page, and she “connected instantly with the rabbi and his wife,” whom she describes as “super nice and welcoming.”
“Welcoming” is an apt term to describe the couple who station themselves at portside, offering Jewish yachters challahs for Shabbat, information about the Jewish services they provide and even the opportunity to do a mitzvah on the spot.
“We reach out to every single Jew we meet,” attests the rabbi. “Many of them did not come here looking for Judaism, but we are here for everyone, no matter what.”
He continues: “Immediately after we came last month, someone called saying he would be here during his father’s yahrtzeit and wanted to know if I could put together a minyan for him to say Kaddish. I needed to use every connection I had at that point, but we managed.”
This past Shabbat, Esther and her friend found themselves sharing Friday-night dinner with a family from France and a young man from Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It was so comforting to know that wherever I go in the world, there are people who are working to make sure that others can have a place to pray with a minyan, get kosher food and celebrate Shabbat,” says Esther, who has visited many other Chabad centers around the world in her travels (and who asked only to be identified by her first name), but was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a Chabad center on an island as remote as Ibiza.
“They went above and beyond,” she says. “The rabbi called us before Shabbat to make sure we had directions, and his wife prepared so much delicious food. It felt great to know that wherever we are in the world, we will be welcomed with open arms.”
“It’s tourist season right now,” reports the rabbi, “and every day, we meet new people and help them get kosher food, challah for Shabbat, access to prayer services and everything else they may need while here.”
Some 150 kilometers from the port city of Valencia, the island is not a place that carries kosher food, particularly meat. The rabbi’s most recent shopping trip entailed taking a ferry to Madrid and back.
But the rabbi says the daylong schlep is was worth it. “There are people from all over from the world who heard we are here and are asking that we help them with kosher,” he says. “If not for these trips, there would not be any kosher items for them.”
Chabad opened its first center in Spain in 1977, when Rabbi Yitzchok and Meyta Shifra Goldstein settled in Madrid. In the following decades, additional centers were opened in Barcelona, Marbella and Valencia. This year saw the founding of centers in Girona and now Ibiza.
The Israeli-born emissary couple came to the Island from Odessa, Ukraine, where they had been assisting the local Chabad emissaries there since 2012. Already conversant in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Russian, they are now working on improving their French and Spanish.
Rina Baitz says that her children—ages 2, 4 and 6—are a big part of their work. “We walk around with them near where the yachts dock, and Jewish people from all over the world come over to us, attracted by the sight of an obviously Jewish family in a place you’d least expect it.
‘Much to Accomplish’
They heard about the island’s unique needs from Rabbi Dovid and Nechama Dina Libersohn, who co-direct Chabad Lubavitch of Barcelona. In addition to serving tourists from all over the world, the couple is also getting to know Jews who live on the Island full-time—an estimated 60 households, including many children.
The local Jewish community draws from numerous countries; almost none are Spanish natives. Home to a Jewish community since ancient times, Ibiza wasn’t spared in 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain forced all Jews under their rule to either convert to Catholicism or flee. Some Jewish families were reported to have remained on the island, secretly practicing Judaism for hundreds of years. Yet little trace of those brave souls seems to have carried on into the present.
Until they can arrange a permanent center to house a kosher restaurant and a synagogue (real estate is prohibitively expensive on this uber-trendy island), the couple has been hosting Shabbat dinners, Torah classes, and other events in their home, which also doubles as an ad-hoc kosher bakery, catering facility, synagogue and community center. This past Shabbat, they held prayer services with a minyan.
“We came knowing there was no Jewish infrastructure,” attests the rabbi, “but that challenge is part of what drew us here in the first place. In Odessa, there were kosher restaurants, schools, synagogues—everything. We were one of 12 emissary families in the city. Here, there is so much for us to do and accomplish.”