By COLlive reporter
Tacuarembó, Artigas, Salto, and Paysandú are just a few of the ‘Departamentos’ that Mendy Minkowitz and Zalmy Shemtov have visited so far on Merkos Shlichus.
Funded and coordinated by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Beit Jabad del Uruguay, the pair set out to a country which counts more cows than people, and one of the least densely populated in the world.
Some cities, like Bella Unión, which is 629 Kilometers from the country’s capital, and a major producer of sugar, have only two Jews.
And although Montevideo boasts a full-time Chabad House under the direction of Rabbi Eliezer and Rochel Shemtov, for many in the backcountry, their only connection with the wider Jewish community is through the glossy magazine the Shemtovs mail out four times a year, and the summer visits from the rabbinical students.
“They wonder and ask us why we travel all the way there ‘just for them,’ and it gives them a real sense of belonging when they hear us explain how every Jew counts,” says Zalmy Shemtov, who, being a native from Montevideo, seemed like the ideal candidate for the task.
They taught them a little Torah, helped them put up Mezuzahs, donned Tefillin with them, distributed Shabbat Candles and most importantly, strengthened their connection with their heritage.
Having visited the north of the country during the first week, the pair plans on dedicating the current one to the south.
“My Spanish isn’t the greatest, but mixing some Italian and Yiddish somehow makes the perfect cocktail!” says Minkowitz, who arrived especially from Italy to join his friend on Shlichus.
Shemtov, who studies in the United States during the year, said that meeting Jews in small towns was quite an experience for him and Minkowitz.
As an example, he recalls his encounter with Miguel Sitrin, a man in his mid 40’s, and one of Salto’s last remaining Jews; they helped him put on Tefilin for the first time in his life.
“These people want to connect to Judaism, but they have no way to express it,” said Shemtov. “We’re thankful we get to help them.”