July 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Pesach in Guatemala: Different From All Others

An interview with program promoters Ari Malowitsky and Adam Eggers, J.D.

Tell us about the inspiration for this program.

Adam: Guatemala City (GC), in the heart of Central America, is home to several hundred Jews. Orthodox community life revolves around a beautiful and expansive shul campus with sports facilities, playground, cafe, preschool, etc. Despite being in the heart of the hotel district, just a 10 minute drive from the airport, most tourists “pass over” the community there and spend Shabbat in the historic town of Antigua about 1.5 hours away. After catering to a large group of visiting YU students in the summer, they expressed to the program leader, Rabbi Coleman, that hachnosas orchim is really important to them and that they’d love to welcome more groups. He reached out to us, knowing that we are well traveled in the region. (I learned Spanish there before starting work in the hospitality industry).

Ari: We want guests to interact with the community, not fly 4.5 hours from New York or New Jersey only to sequester themselves in a hotel where the only local resident they meet is their cab driver from the airport. Our vision is to connect with, learn about and support the Jewish community wherever we travel, as well as having fun along the way.

Adam: With a historic downtown, a zoo, malls, palace, museums and even a city square dedicated to Jerusalem all within a 10-15 minute Uber ride, and plenty to do in walking distance, we considered doing the entire program in GC. But Antigua is one of the most visited towns in Central America with its own lovely shul that caters to thousands of Jewish travelers each year. They also have dozens of activities within easy walking distance or a short drive away. So we decided to do both: we’ll interact with the locals during davening and meals in the capital’s shul over the first days of Yom Tov and then move to historic Antigua for the remainder. Guests are going to have their kosher for Pesach cake and eat it!

Ari: Right after Oct. 7, the beloved assistant rav in GC flew back to Israel to fight for us in Gaza; 90% of the Jewish tourists to Antigua returned to Israel and canceled future travel plans. The major source of income for the shul there is tourism so all the tours and meals they coordinate for our guests will really help to support them. That’s when we decided to donate our time and help the community by promoting the program.

What about safety?

Ari: I wouldn’t drink the tap water, but in terms of physical safety you’re going to feel far safer here than in parts of Baltimore, New York City and other American cities. Like everywhere else in the world nowadays, the shuls have extra security, but unlike most other places, Jews can walk around freely with a yarmulke and tzitzit because it’s a very pro-Israel country, consistently voting for Israel in the U.N. … those who were at the DC rally will remember that Guatemala was one of the few countries to send their ambassador to the event.

Adam: The country’s incoming president is a no-nonsense guy promising to crack down on the few remaining neighborhoods that aren’t safe to walk at night. If he’s even half as successful as the president in neighboring El Salvador, I forecast flights going up from $100 to $500 and hotels tripling in price.

Ari: Fun fact: the new president speaks Hebrew!

Will he be one of the guest speakers?

Ari: We do have some fun surprises in store for guests but we’re keeping them under wraps for now. The shiurim will be given by the local rabbonim and some of the guests have graciously volunteered to give shiurim too.

Tell our readers about Chol Hamoed trip options.

Adam: Everyone’s highlight is going to be one of the volcano tours, whether by foot, horseback or jeep. Few countries have anything comparable. Then there’s ziplining, avocado or coffee farm tours, your choice of jade or leather factory tours, artisanal markets, waterfall or lake tours, ATVs, nature hikes, adventure parks. Between the activities and the sights it’s an Instagram heaven!

Ari: You could also save something for a future visit and just relax in a hammock or on a swing. I meet so many people that have been to Guatemala multiple times because there’s so much to do, it’s cheap to get to, and the weather is incredible all year round.

I know some of this on your website, but how do you keep program costs so low?

Adam: Costs of labor are generally much lower than the U.S. or Europe. While kosher food is more expensive to import, both shuls have their own catering staff and are kashering their kitchens for Pesach so we don’t have the added expense of kashering hotels or hiring staff, plus the community negotiated discounted rates with local hotels. And the ads are being generously sponsored by a supporter of the community, Len Glass of MORRE-TEC Industries for which we and they are very grateful.

Who should come on your program?

Ari: Modern Orthodox adventure, culture and history lovers. Singles, couples and families with older kids (Antigua’s cobblestoned streets make strollers challenging) that want to see two very different parts of a beautiful country and don’t need multiple outfits for each day of Yom Tov.

Adam: It’s a one-of-a-kind program with room for 75 people. We’re over halfway there and looking for a few more people open to trying new things — maybe even a locally influenced Pesach dish! Reach out to us via pesachcentral.com.

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