Cabo San Lucas in Baja, Mexico, is a piece of paradise on this earth. It is known for its gorgeous beaches, competitive fishing, snorkeling and water sports. Its lavish golf courses are surrounded by majestic cactus and splendid, blooming, flamboyant flowers. Its stunning sunrises and sunsets and perfect climate make this place so majestic, as well as a great place to escape the cold winters.
Unfortunately, observant Jews had been reluctant to visit, as they were unsure if the beachside destination had any places of worship or if they would be able to find a kosher meal. Fortunately, my husband and I had heard about the new Jewish Center in downtown Cabo San Lucas. We both decided to embark on this adventure and to attend the inauguration of the Jewish Center on the first night of Chanukah, last November.
Plans for the center began 13 years ago, when a young Chabad rabbi, Benny Hershcovich, and his wife Sonia arrived in Cabo from cold Montreal, Canada. The couple had intended to establish a Jewish presence in Cabo. However, this expanding community had no synagogue and prayers were either held in a room inside a shopping center or in the rabbi’s apartment. The rabbi and his family were determined to make Cabo a destination for Jews from all over the world, but they were really struggling.
Dr. Raymond Schinazi, a professor at Emory University who specializes in infectious diseases, had spent nearly three decades vacationing in Cabo. When he met Rabbi Benny, he was drawn to his positive energy, tremendous care, healing heart, sincere enthusiasm and endless devotion. Schinazi decided that this young rabbi and his family needed a formal Jewish center to accommodate the local Mexican Jewish community, in addition to American and Israeli tourists.
The doctor was convinced that if he built the center the Jews would come! He also understood that numbers alone do not determine the strength of a community.
Soon, land was found and construction began in February 2018. Today, the majestic center houses a synagogue, a mikvah, two restaurants, four guest rooms for tourists who are Shabbat-observant, as well as the rabbi’s quarters. The building is conservatively modern but has a very warm and inviting ambience.
This tremendous work of art provides a spiritual anchor to the community. It meets the needs of all who wish to come and pray, to wed, to celebrate bat and bar mitzvahs. It is a true Jewish center, with elegant modern facilities (https://www.jewishcabo.org/).
The center is named Eliyahu HaNavi in honor of the synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, which Dr. Schinazi and his family attended until being uprooted by the Nasser regime in 1964. In addition, the Center embodies the doctor’s Italian and Egyptian heritage. The ark (Aron Kodesh) was a copy of the one in Alexandria, the floors of the synagogue are similar to the one in Florence, in white, pink and black marble with a symmetrical Medici design.
The men and women are seated separately. Hebrew quotations visible from the women’s side read, “From Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem;” on the men’s side, “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.”
A partly transparent cupola with a central Magen David allows light to shine into the synagogue. The walnut seats are hand-carved. The architecture is stunning; the building is white with arches all around. The inner courtyard is decorated with four orange trees, a Moorish fountain and a large, modern open space. The atmosphere is breathtaking day and night. In addition, the upper level contains a large open space for ceremonies. This is where the beautiful opening ceremony took place.
On this holy night the sky was dark, the stars were shining and the lights added to the uniqueness of the space.
This major contribution by the Schinazi family was strategically located near the Cabo San Lucas marina where cruise liners large and small arrive. As Jews disembark, they are stunned to see this amazing center in the middle of town. The Schinazi family wanted to give back to their beloved Cabo and to support the mission of Rabbi Benny to help everyone in the community, Jews as well as non-Jews.
The ceremony, limited to 200 people, was very meaningful for this small Jewish community. They were amazed to see their dream come true. Various speakers shared the history of Jewish Cabo from its humble beginnings to the present. The mayor of Cabo San Lucas, other local dignitaries and friends from all over the world were also present.
Rabbi Chaim Kassorla, who is the Schinazis’ rabbi in Atlanta, spoke a few words, as did Rabbi David Blumenthal, a retired professor of Judaic studies at Emory University (and also my husband). This was followed by formal remarks from Rabina Sonia, who does everything behind the scenes, including Shabbat dinners, classes for children and preparing young women for the mikveh ritual prior to their wedding. Rabbi Benny spoke lovingly and kindly of Cabo, Dr. Schinazi and Chanukah.
For us, nothing could have been more moving than being present for a moment in Jewish history. We witnessed how the past — Alexandria, Egypt; Florence, Italy; and Atlanta, Ga. — connected to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. All of those who were present will never forget the impact this exceptional inauguration had on the first night of Chanukah.
Now, visitors from Atlanta and elsewhere are assured not only of a lovely vacation spot, but also of the availability of Jewish services, kosher food and warm hospitality.