By Avremi Wolff & Yekutiel Kalmenson, rovingrabbis.com
Paysandu, Uruguay: A city where the amount of Jews equals that of its cyber cafés (about 150).
We are greeted warmly by the president emeritus of the community, Mr. Mario Fremd, who helps us out with the addresses of local Jewish people.
He tells us that the community has an old synagogue which is only used twice a year, on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Right then and there, we make a decision. We will stay for Shabbat and help arrange a Minyan for Friday night services, followed by a Kiddush and Shabbat meal.
Phone calls to Montevideo, and arrangements begin.
We start making our rounds, inviting people to come and take part in this historic event.
“Don’t forget,” we tell them, “tomorrow night, 7 o’clock at the sinagoga, followed by chicken soup.” How do you say gefilte fish in Spanish? Coming from New York, it is hard for us to believe that people don’t know these staples of Jewish culture.
We shop, cook (oh no!) and do everything else to prepare. For how many? We’ll just have to wait and see…
By Friday night, we’re all set up (don’t ask how) and twelve people arrive.
We pray and sing like never before. Before we know it, we are all clapping, stomping, and whirling around the ancient sanctuary. This is a moment we wouldn’t have given up for anything!
After the last of the prayers, we chant the Kiddush and sit down to a sumptuous meal, of gefilte fish garnished with tomatoes, followed by some much-appreciated, delicious meat, home cooked in Montevideo (thank you, Mrs. Shemtov).
Everyone gets a chance to speak a little about themselves and about their Jewish experience.
By the time the meal is over, the decision is made to gather for services every month, no matter the turnout.
We agree that it’s a good beginning, and assure them that it won’t be long before they see the fruits of their efforts.
We say goodbye to Paysandu… and hello to Salto, a city with just twelve Jews.