Chabad couple detail life as full-time members of Aruba's Jewish community
A Caribbean island [Illustrative]
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The current modest Aruban Jewish community entails 120 full-time residents, timeshare holders, cruise ship tourists and visitors from all over the world.
Rabbi Ahron and Chaya Blasberg, formerly of both Jerusalem and Leeds, England now reside on the quaint island of Aruba in the Carribean running the Chabad Jewish Center of Aruba, according to a Chabad.org feature - which the couple established there in 2013 to support the local diaspora community in a location that has been reportedly referred to once or twice as paradise.According to the couple, the formally Dutch-colonized island has a long-standing Jewish history, with influxes and defluxes of Jewish immigrants, settlers and citizens dating back to the eighteenth century, the turn of events surrounding have built a truly divergent Aruban Jewish community. The clear waters and sandy beaches first attracted a Portuguese-Jewish settler named Moses Solomon Levie Maduro in 1754, who settled in Aruba with his family while working for Dutch West Indies Company.
"There is still an old Jewish cemetery here with fewer than a dozen graves, some of which date back to the early 19th century. It is not believed that the Jewish community of the 1800s was ever large enough to build a synagogue, and they eventually faded away," The Blasbergs told Chabad.org. "During the Holocaust, there was an influx of Jewish people here, and they eventually organized a community center and then a synagogue. Over time, many of the children of those people have moved away, but others have come to replace them."The Blasbergs detailed the extent of the current modest Aruban Jewish community, which entails 120 full-time residents, timeshare holders, cruise ship tourists and visitors from all over the world - you're considered a member whether it be for a few hours or an extended period of time.The couple moved to Aruba after being married for a number to become "emissaries" for the late Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendal Schneerson, known as the leader of Chabad movement and the last Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubivitcher dynasty. The two happened upon Aruba after getting in touch with leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, as well as the Prime Minister of Aruba Mike Eman who is also Jewish, and after a visit they decided to settle down in Aruba.The truth is that although we founded the first permanent Chabad center here, Chabad has been involved here for decades," the couple told Chabad.org. "The Rebbe founded the Merkos Shlichus Program, which dispatches hundreds of rabbinical students to communities all over the world during summer break and for Jewish holidays. Every summer, pairs of students would fly from island to island, bringing mezuzahs, Jewish literature and a connection to the outside Jewish world."According to the article, the Chabad center in Aruba assists many families who want to keep kosher on the small Caribbean island. While the couple explains most grocery items are imported from the US so there are kosher certifications allowing those who want to keep kosher to do so, but the Chabad center has set up an "arrangement with a wholesaler in Miami.""We have a small kosher catering outfit in our Chabad House, which supplies meals to hotel guests and anyone else who wishes to keep kosher," the Blasbergs said. "On Shabbat and Jewish holidays, we host large meals at Chabad where both locals and tourists enjoy kosher food, good company and an all-around nice experience."While the Blasbergs enjoy living in Aruba they did note some challenges. Along with some language barriers, considering the national language is Dutch and informally a mixed-language called The island of Aruba is just nineteen miles long and six miles wide, therefore the couple claims they get a sense of "island fever—the feeling of being stuck on a small island with nowhere to go." Having four children, and no Jewish schools to send them to, Ahron and Chaya homeschool their children making it inevitable in having to balance both home-life with outreach work. Finally, most of the island's Jewish community depends on them to get the necessary amenities, hold services and literally cater to the diaspora in Aruba.However, the couple adds in total Chabad fashion, "Of course, these are all real blessings. We have a lovely family and a fantastic community we love dearly, so there’s nothing to complain about."While the Chabad lifestyle is one of openness, love and kindness - it is not an easy path to embark on. To keep motivated, the couple holds on to fond memories of moments that have positively impacted their lives or someone elses.As an example, the couple tells Chabad.org about an experience they had after meeting a Jewish couple from the former Soviet Union both estranged from their Jewish identity, "We asked the gentleman if he would put on tefillin. He said that it was too late for him. His grandchildren were getting a solid Jewish education in Hebrew school in America. But he had already been robbed of his Jewish identity. Eventually, he agreed to put on tefillin. As we said the Shema together, he began crying. He told us he felt that he finally broke free of the chains of communism."It was a life-altering experience for him and for us. It brought into focus why we left our families and moved to Aruba: to be able to share the joy of Judaism, one soul at a time," they concluded.