Every day, hundreds of tourists visit the city of Cuzco, and among them one group stands out from the rest— Jews. You may wonder how can a Jew go to the Andes and actually keep kosher, well as we know by now, Jews have done absolutely everything necessary to survive and keep their costumes and traditions alive. And being in the Andes was no exception.
In my first visit to Cuzco, I stayed in two different hotels. One of them was the Shlomi hostel right next to the Chabad of Cuzco, better known as Beit Chabad. Yes, you read that right—there is a Chabad in the middle of the Andes that helps visitors with prayers, kosher food, socialize and of course observation of the important religious holidays or Shabbat. I myself couldn’t believe it when a friend from birthright mentioned it to me.
Located at Calle Vitoque #631 Beit Chabad started over 11 years ago by Rabbi Ofer Kripor and his wife Yael Kripor. They wanted to support the many Israeli travelers in South America, better known for the locals as “mochileros.”
Beit Chabad became the first Chabad to open in the entire South American continent and has been a success since its beginning. The warm welcoming Rabbi Kripor and his team offer visitors (that I got to experience first-hand) is certainly a reason for its popularity without a doubt.
When first walking into the big, old colonial house where Beit Chabad is located and see the signs in Hebrew, you might wonder if you are really in Peru and not Jerusalem. The face of the last Lubavitch Rebbe not only welcomes you at the entrance, but is also seen inside, in the restaurant and of course, around the hallways of the house. As a Peruvian - Jew myself, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was to have the best of both worlds in one place. I had my indigenous Peruvians working in the kosher kitchen, and Jews from all over the world enjoying dinner in the land of the Incas, my land.
As I was waiting for Rabbi Kripor’s wife [Yael Kripor] to give me an interview I sat down in the restaurant and looked over the menu. The choices were many and picking a meal was tough. They have a lot of diversity. The menu can go from choosing different salads, to hummus, shnitzel, to steak, spaguetti and the list goes on. There is so much to choose from, but unfortunately, it was late and my choices were limited – so I picked the spaguetti and vegetables. The chefs cook everything from scratch, so my wait was between 15-20 minutes, which gave me time to look around and try to come to my senses that I wasn’t in Israel, but in my own native country. It was as if I had Machu Picchu on one street and Jerusalem on the other. I felt so complete having the Chabad of Cuzco it made me feel more proud about being Peruvian and Jewish.
One of the servers, a lovely girl from Crown Heights, gave me the schedules of the food hours.
As she gave me a tour to the kitchens, she explained to me that the restaurant had dairy and meat hours in separate kitchens and eating areas. She also added that during every Shabbat extra help was welcomed due to the excess of 200 people who come to Beit Chabad observe it. In disbelief, I clarified,
“over 200 people come to a regular Shabbat dinner?” to which she replied,“sometimes more.”
Also, during a conversation we had, Yael Kripor told me that during high holidays such as Pesach, the Chabad can hold over 2000 people making it perhaps, one of the biggest Jewish Seders in the world.
As I finished my food, I knew this place deserved more recognition than just a regular article. The way that Rabbi Kripor and his wife unify Jews from all over the world in the land of the Incas is unique and kind. The will and dedication this power couple has shown by supporting Jewish travelers in Cuzco is beautiful to observe and quiet mind-blowing.
In my opinion, being an observant Jew in Cuzco is not so bad. Travelers have no choice but leave their wallets and cellphones at the hotel and enjoy what the Incas left in between their expansive walls. Jews in Cuzco can make friends, talk to strangers and interact with the indigenous people. But ultimately, the most beautiful part about being an observant Jew in Cuzco is that no matter how tough the circumstances may be - there is no need to leave your traditions or culture behind. And the Chabad of Cuzco is there to help. There is no doubt that after seeing the hard work and love Rabbi Kripor and his wife Yael have put into Beit Chabad gives me hope for international Jewish development and growth in the future.