Ten years in the making, Shluchim Rabbi Benny and Sonia Hershcovich organized the inauguration of the Jewish Center of Cabo in the Mexican seaside resort. The “temple-like” architecture is inspired by the ancient synagogues of Europe. Full story, photos, video
A majestic white dome sparkles at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. Between scenic mountains and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Cabo’s brand new Jewish Center is the stunning culmination of years of community building.
There were a lot of Jews in Cabo S. Lucas at the beginning, but no Jewish community. American Jewish tourists came to enjoy the spectacular beaches and world-famous fishing off the coast, and some stayed nearby. A few Israelis, California spiritual seekers, and businessmen from Mexico City’s large Jewish community have also ventured into Cabo over the years.
At the other end of Baja California, Rabbi Mendy polichenko, director of Chabad Without Borders in Tijuana, has maintained contacts throughout northern Mexico. Seeing the lack of programming for the growing Jewish population in Cabo, Polichenko and his close friend José Galicot Béhar quickly transported huge packages of kosher food to Cabo to welcome Shabbat at a hotel.
Thirty Jews showed up on that first Shabbat. It was a bit awkward at first. “You had three different groups speaking three languages,” Polichenko said. “But when we started singing Shabbat songs, Lecha Dodi and Shalom Aleichem, everyone came together in song,” he recalls with a smile.
The “Chabbatons” have become a monthly event. But still, there was no synagogue. “If you are so proud to be Jewish, where is your synagogue? A friend asked a freshly minted Cabo resident. Johnathan pikoff. “I decided that was it, so I met some friends and we each made a commitment to participate and bring down a full-time rabbi,” Pikoff explains.
Chabad Rabbi Benny Hershcovitch and his wife Sonia answered the call. They flew on the last Shabbat in 2008 and never left. “We came with nothing but an education that taught us to bring the warmth and light of Judaism to those around us,” said Rabbi Hershcovich. It was more than enough. “Rabbi Benny understood the needs of the community,” said Sergio Adler, a Mexico City elder. “He understands that we each have different customs and that we each come from a different background.”
Rabbi and Rebetzin Hershcovich operated a synagogue out of various small apartments for the next thirteen years, but nevertheless became the address for the city’s Jews. Yet the absence of a permanent synagogue produced a certain sense of the ephemeral. “We always thought it was just a small town, we’ll never have anything bigger than a storefront somewhere,” Rabbi Benny recalls.
But in 2011, Dr. Raymond Schinazi, a chemist specializing in biological medicine who grew up as a traditional Jew in 1950s Egypt, came to a Hanukkah Menorah lighting event in Cabo. Following this event, he told Rabbi Hershcovich that he wanted to build a Jewish center. And as they searched for properties and started planning for construction, Cabo’s population exploded. Their vision of the scope of the project widened as a result.
Ten years in the making, the Cabo Jewish Center marked its official opening this Chanukah on November 28. The iconic “temple-shaped” architecture is inspired by the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. It adapts to the full range of Jewish community needs; housing a large sanctuary, a wedding hall, a mikvah, a full restaurant and three bedrooms. Here, Chabad hosts after-prayer breakfast clubs, adult and teen classes, and incredible Shabbat meals.
“Everyone is blown away seeing this place,” says Sonia Hershcovich. “If you want to have a healthy experience in Cabo, both physically and spiritually,” says Rabbi Benny, “you have to visit the Jewish Center in Cabo.