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Ibiza: Sun, Sea & Challah

Thursday, 17 August, 2017 - 11:00 am

Ibiza has long been famous for its pristine Mediterranean waters, stunning beaches, and perhaps - some may say infamous - for its nightlife...

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For the past month, however, it’s seen something new: a Chabad House, co-directed by Rabbi Mendel and Rina Baitz, who recently moved from Ukraine after 5 years of assisting that community.

Just days after the couple arrived, they received a call from Esther, based in 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 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. It was a challenge but we managed.”

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This past Shabbat, Esther and her friend found themselves sharing Friday-night dinner with a family from France and a young man from New York. She says, “it is so comforting to know that wherever I go in the world, there are people working to make sure that others can have a place to pray with a minyan, get kosher food and celebrate Shabbat… they went above and beyond.”

“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.” Situated some 5 hours by ferry from Valencia, and another 3 hours by road to Madrid, the island is not a place that carries kosher supplies so it’s all down to Rabbi & Rina Baitz but the rabbi says the daylong schlep is 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 be nothing kosher for them.”

Chabad has been in Spain since 1977, when Rabbi Yitzchok and Meyta Shifra Goldstein settled in Madrid. In the following decades, centres were opened in Barcelona, Marbella and Valencia. 2017 has also seen the launch of the centre in Girona.

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Rina Baitz says that her children - aged 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. In addition to serving tourists from all over the world, the couple is also getting to know the Jews who live on Ibiza full-time - some 60 households, including many children.

For the time-being, until they can arrange a permanent building on this prohibitively expensive island, the couple has been hosting Shabbat dinners, Torah classes, and other events in their home, which also doubles as a bakery, catering facility, synagogue and community centre. “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 Shluchim families in the city. Here, there is so much for us to do and accomplish.”

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