Update: With hundreds of passengers traveling to and from Israel while utilizing Chabad House services around the world, now is a good time to bump and share this post.
Over the years I’ve spent Shabbos at Chabad Houses from Melbourne to Paris, Chiang Mai to Buenos Aires, Kobe to Hong Kong, Tokyo to Venice, Sao Paulo to Oxnard, Hollywood to Singapore, and Cape Town to Kyoto. Each one stands out as an incredibly memorable and moving experience.
And Antarctica, naturally.
Mrs. Freidy Orgad’s viral op-ed is an excellent place to start before reaching out to Chabad Shluchim for help. It surprised me, but it seems many people don’t realize that Shluchim are not funded by any central organization and every dollar is self-fundraised.
She notes on the DansDeals Facebook group that the article was translated from her original version in Hebrew and does have some differences, including that her article was written for all travelers and not just frum travelers.
I’m not a Shliach, so I can share some additional insight from a traveler’s perspective. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Do your own research BEFORE contacting Shluchim.
- Shluchim as a whole are incredibly busy. The majority of them cater to their local community’s needs, but some of them do focus on tourists. Be sure to do a deep dive into their websites, which are often linked to via Chabad.org’s Chabad House locator (or the DDF thread for unofficial Chabad Houses), before contacting them. Those websites often, though not always, will have answers to your questions about the services available in that Chabad House.
- Shluchim aren’t your Google Maps or trip planners. Type in your location into the Chabad House locator to find the closest Shliach, rather than guessing who it might be and then asking how far they are from you. It’s not fair to call a Shliach asking about kosher food availability 100 miles away from him.
- As I’ve said for years, I do wish the Chabad.org team would make a simple FAQ on the search results page with information such as, is there a daily minyan, does the Chabad House offer kosher takeout food on weekdays or Shabbos, are Shabbos meals available, are there kosher restaurants nearby, are there hotels within walking distance, etc. It would solve a pain point for both Shluchim and travelers looking for quick information about a Chabad House. But that being said, many Chabad House websites do have that information available on their sites (such as Bal Harbour, Flagstaff, Orlando, Puerto Vallarta, and many more), so take the time to research before you contact them. If Shluchim keep their information updated and organized like that it will certainly save them from having to deal with an abundance of information requests.
- If you are visiting somewhere with Shluchim, ask them what they need before you travel.
- Shluchim sacrifice the comforts of living in a Jewish community in order to connect with Jews in every corner of the planet. Whenever possible and even if I don’t need their services, I reach out to Shluchim to see if I can bring them something from home. Before I traveled to Kyoto earlier this year, I reached out to the official and unofficial Shluchim to see what they needed, which was good as I learned that the official Chabad House had closed over COVID. Rabbi Moti Grumach gave me lots of Kyoto travel tips and told me that they had no need for meat products, but that there are no cholov yisroel dairy products in Japan. I asked him for specific requests and loaded a Polar Bear bag up with them. His kids shrieked with happiness at seeing goodies like yogurt and cream cheese that we take for granted!
- Set your expectations at a reasonable level.
- Most Shluchim will be happy to accommodate you when possible, but sometimes feel abused by visitors that expect the world from them. Shluchim have various standards in whether they accommodate tourist’s needs and they certainly are not obligated to provide you with a comfortable vacation or trip planning. In some locations, it’s simply not possible to cater to tourists’ needs at all and travelers need to accept that and not bad-mouth the Shliach for not doing more for tourists.
- After researching, you can politely ask a Shliach if there will be a minyan or let them know that you have half a minyan with you, but just realize that there’s only so much that can be organized in small communities that may not have any frum local congregants. If a Shliach says that he can’t help you, take that at face value and decide if you need to find another locale to vacation based on that. On the other hand, some Shluchim will be happy to help organize a minyan, especially if you can bring most of one to them.
- Also on that note, some Chabad houses will have lavish Shabbos meals with five-star dining, while others may leave you wishing you brought some extra crackers to eat on Shabbos, and others won’t have anything on Shabbos at all. Some Chabad Houses are run out of a Shliach’s home and may not even get a Minyan together on Shabbos, nor do they offer meals. Again, do your research (much of this can be found or asked on DDF), reach out to the Shliach if things on their website are not clear, and temper your expectations as to what will be offered.
- Don’t expect things to operate as they do back home.
- Many Chabad Houses primarily serve people who are still learning about their Jewish heritage and may not yet be Sabbath-observant. The Chabad approach to Judaism is that every mitzvah and good deed is worth going to the end of the world to accomplish and not to push people away for what they don’t do. The shul may not be geared towards you, so don’t try to shape the experience around what you’re used to, just take it in and enjoy something that might not be in your comfort zone. And certainly, act appropriately around people who may not yet be frum and leave the rebuke at home.
- Don’t kvetch about food pricing.
- Almost all Shluchim that sell food do so as a fundraiser for their local activities and price the food accordingly. You wouldn’t kvetch about pricing to a restaurant or a hotel in middle of nowhere that had kosher food, so give the Shliach the same respect. If the pricing doesn’t make sense for you, just bring your own food.
- There are exceptions to this rule, such as in Thailand and other Southeast Asia Chabad Houses with restaurants, where food costs are heavily subsidized by donors so that Israeli backpackers will keep kosher. You should definitely leave a donation to cover those subsidies.
- Of course, there are differences between a Chabad House that happens to have Shabbos meals in exchange for a donation and Chabad Houses that operate restaurants for tourists. It’s certainly within your rights to complain about a restaurant order that wasn’t to your satisfaction, but please don’t do that to a Chabad House offering you a Shabbos meal!
- Shluchim are humans too.
- Shluchim have many responsibilities. They are not in the hospitality business and sometimes their job (it’s not really a job, it’s the life they’ve chosen to live) can be very stressful. When they may not have your food order ready, they could be arranging a Jewish Burial for a community member. A Shliach can have a bad day with many demands and it’s important to keep in mind that they are only human. You have to be prepared to take things in stride and have alternative plans as they aren’t there to cater to your needs.
- Shluchim have to fundraise every dollar, a generous donation and a thank you will go a long way.
- If you utilize a Chabad House for a minyan, or especially if a Shliach has gone out of his way to help you, be sure to leave a generous donation. Shluchim receive no central Chabad funding, they need to fundraise for their operations and salary. It’s an easy way to say thank you and make them feel appreciated. There’s no greater investment than in somebody that is sure to pay it forward.
- Sometimes you won’t have any interaction with the Shluchim directly, but you will benefit from their years of hard work. For example, guests at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar have an incredible kosher experience, but that is only possible thanks to years of sweat and labor from the local Chabad. It’s always a good idea to donate to something you benefit from, the vast majority of people don’t do this, so really any amount helps!
- Regardless, if you have taken advantage of any service, be sure to say thanks in person to the Shliach and Shlucha and/or write them a thank you note via email after your trip. It can mean the world to someone!
And for heaven’s sake, don’t be a kafui tov (roughly translated, an ingrate) with derogatory comments or jokes while enjoying what Chabad and the Shliach are able to offer you, to make your vacation more comfortable.
A Shabbos in a far-flung Chabad House may be one of the most unique experiences of your life. I’ve seen more lives changed at a Chabad House over a Shabbos during my travels than can be imagined. Take it all in slowly and go along for the ride while remaining laid back and appreciative for the infrastructure that exists because of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s incredible foresight decades ago in setting up the most incredible global network that Judaism has ever seen!
Where have you experienced a memorable Shabbos with Chabad? What other tips do you have?