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Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Lighthouse in Mexico

When I read last week on Shmais.com that they were opening a Chabad House in Cancun, I just had to talk to the man they sent there. So I dropped Rabbi Mendel Druk and e-mail and he asked me to give him a call. It was a 45 minute conversation that left me so inspired, I am all ready checking my calendar to plan a vacation to Cancun to meet the man.

Mendel and Rachel Druk were married two years ago, and from the beginning they were very excited to become shluchim and take part in “The Rebbe’s Army”, so when they heard there were many requests for Chabad in Cancun, Mexico, they went down to investigate. Rabbi Druk, 25, explained that Chabad has sent rabbinical students for holidays during the past 10 years, but had yet to put anything permanent in place. On his first trip, he visited a mall and met about 10 or so Jews, excited to meet him there. But the test would be a holiday, would there be an appeal? In fact, over 100 people attended a Purim event hosted by the Druks. As if that weren’t enough of a green light, 90 people attended a seder this past Pesach. So the Druks packed up and left New York with their 8 month old daughter, Mushka, in tow.

Despite the possibility of waiting thirty to sixty days for a phone line, and despite the fact that there is no kosher schnitzel in sight, Rabbi Mendel Druk has enough energy and enthusiasm to fuel ten of the Rebbe’s Armies. In a place better known for crazy Spring Break parties, not only does Druk want his Chabad to be a light house for Jews, but he said “I want to send some of that light with them for them to take into the world.” In the one month since moving to Mexico, the Druks have received 600 emails from people all over the world, “my wife and I spend an hour going through the e-mail every night,” he said with a chuckle.

But the Druks don’t just intend to cater to the tourists, they are all ready setting their sights on setting up classes and a Hebrew School. For Shabbat dinners, they have had anywhere from 10 to 50 people stop by their house, a mix of local and traveling Jews, and despite the lack of kosher meat, Rabbi Druk said, “we don’t send anyone away hungry.”

Of course there are challenges. The Druks expect that they will have to home school their daughter. And as for Spring Break? Rabbi Druk laughed and said their job is “not to be influenced, but to have influence.” There is also that pesky phone line for the house, but as he told me the story, Druk made to potential 60 day wait seem as if it were a walk in the park.

Rabbi Druk said that every Jewish kid has an image of their grandfather or someone they knew in a black hat and tzitzit. If his mere presence can conjure that image and inspire people, then he is happy to be there. His final words were not of himself, but an invitation. He says that every Jew has the potential to inspire people with that same positive image of Judaism and show that the misconceptions have no basis.

I personally wish the Druks tremendous hatzlacha and may their actions bring the Mashiach closer. So, if you’re in Cancun, and desperate for some Yiddishkeit, or just want to meet some amazing people, stop by and say hello to the Druks for me. You won’t regret it.

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