La Paz, Bolivia, is a wonderful place. It’s beautiful, vibrant and filled with opportunities for shlichus. There are also, unfortunately, things that Bolivia lacks. There is no vibrant frum community here. It is not a place where we have family who can jump in and lend a hand when we have a baby. It is not a first-world country with top-notch medical care. With all that in mind, but mostly the latter, whenever my wife is due to give birth, we usually head to Eretz Yisrael.
Our seventh child, ka”h, was due this past spring. In order for the baby to be born in Eretz Yisrael, my wife would have to leave Bolivia before Purim. But we were reluctant to leave our community, as well as hundreds of tourists and backpackers, without a Chabad House on Purim, not to mention Pesach. We had committed ourselves to being here for them when we took the post as shluchim nine years ago. Looking out for them is our duty and responsibility.
You may wonder, why not just bring in replacements?
Hosting over 1,000 people requires a lot of planning, coordination and hard work. It’s nearly impossible to find a family with the experience and willpower to step in.
My wife agonized over this for days. If we left, what would be with our community? If we stayed, what would be with the baby? Finally, with great mesiras nefesh—and comforted by the idea that Bolivia’s medical care had advanced slightly since we first arrived—my wife chose to stay. With the decision made, we continued to plan for Purim, Pesach and the impending birth.
Then COVID-19 hit Bolivia. First it was one case, then two, and then the authorities closed the borders. We continued to prepare for Yom Tov. The 1,000 people we had stayed for would clearly not make it to the Seder, but the 100 or so who would were just as important. Eventually we realized that it was going to be only us and some locals.