February 23, 2020

The Eventual Honeymoon


Being an observant Jew in Los Angeles is great, if you can afford it. So after my wife, Chanie, and I were married, the starting gun went off and the race was on. We had a future to prepare for, and that future included children, tuition, a house — there was no time for a honeymoon. The idea of a “newlywed” vacation was tabled for another day.
Sixteen years and six kids later, and I am now the director of Jews for Judaism, a job that requires me to visit Jewish communities worldwide. Chanie is a full-time teacher. So between my busy itinerary and my wife’s demanding schedule, our dream getaway was going nowhere.

But then I received a call from Rabbi Shneur Hecht, inviting Chanie and me to their upcoming Shabbat 180, a program intended to deepen community ties, where I would have the honor of visiting as their guest speaker.

Hecht and his wife, Mushkie, are emissaries of Chabad of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, where they oversee a successful Jewish community center, featuring a synagogue and religious day school. They also run Vallarta Kosher, a full-service restaurant that offers kosher food to Jewish locals and tourists. As their guest, I would have the opportunity to spend the weekend speaking to fellow Jews in one of the most beautiful locations in all of  Mexico  and my wife would be joining me. The offer was irresistible.

We landed safely in Puerto Vallarta, and as any red-blooded Orthodox Jew will tell you, there’s nothing like a hot, kosher meal after a long flight, which is exactly what was waiting for us at the hotel, compliments of the Hechts. Chanie and I enjoyed a relaxing lunch together — just the two of us.

That evening, we walked the boardwalk and joined Shneur Hecht at the local farmers market. Each week, Mushkie Hecht bakes hundreds of challahs in preparation for Shabbat, and sets aside a large number of them for her and her husband to sell at the busy outdoor mall. I was amazed at how many Jewish community members came out to buy the homemade loaves.

The rabbi explained that aside from its many tourists, Puerto Vallarta has about 250 Jewish residents and snowbirds, and most of them grew up with almost no connection to Judaism. That being said, they were inspired to move to Mexico by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who always stressed that the act of inspiring one person is akin to saving the entire world. The Hechts believe and live by the rebbe’s words.

“Before the Hechts arrived, there was practically no organized Jewish life in the entire area.”

Friday came, and Chanie and I spent most of the day preparing for my presentation. Shneur Hecht had rented space at a hotel, anticipating a bigger crowd than usual. Meanwhile, I was wondering how many people would even attend. Sure, many people turn out for challah but will they show up for my lecture on “Cults and the Power of Persuasion”? 

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised.

We arrived to find the hotel lobby packed with Jewish locals. Women lit candles, Shabbat services followed, and dinner was served. I shared my presentation, and a large portion of the audience remained for an impassioned discussion. The atmosphere was harmonious and lively, and Saturday was equally as meaningful. 

One community member told me that before the Hechts arrived, there was practically no organized Jewish life in the entire area. Synagogues were nonexistent, and only a few Jewish residents would gather on Passover to perform a seder. 

The Hechts changed everything, and they did it together. 

On Sunday, Chanie and I toured the area as a couple. We agreed that it was our time to focus on each other, and the busy world would just have to wait. The rabbi and rebbitzen reminded us that success within the home is vital to success outside the home.

This was the honeymoon we should’ve taken long ago, and we look forward to our next one.

Rabbi Zalman Kravitz is the director of Jews for Judaism and host of #SMARTalks, a weekly webcast that strives to develop young leaders.