Shlichus in Bolivia is one long drama, and Coronavirus just makes things crazier. Read here the story of how Rabbi Itzik Kupchik coped on Shlichus during the Covid-19 pandemic in a third world country, part two • Full Story
Written by Rabbi Itzik Kupchik, Shliach of Bolivia
(Part of a letter I wrote to my family)
Bolivia is on Lockdown. What will be with the Bris?
At the end of the last letter I told you how I went to visit Chaya after the baby was born. The simplest things have become so complicated. The whole city was in a strict lockdown and no taxis can be found anywhere.
When I had finished my visit, I left the clinic and walked 5 or 6 blocks. I stood near the main road, maybe a few meters away from the army road block. I had with me written permission to be out, but there are no cars.
It’s Sunday today, the most stringent day of the lockdown. Even food suppliers to shops are not allowed to work. For this reason the most crowded road in the city is completely empty. Once in a while, a car goes by and doesn’t stop. After 15 minutes I am resigned to the situation and think in despair of walking all the way home. To walk? It’s a steep climb here in La Paz, this highest city in the world.
Suddenly the officer in charge of the road block approaches me and asks me if I have written permission to be outside. I take out the letter from the doctor. After a short conversation he says “Wait here, I will help you.”
I wait. A nice Mercedes drives along and the road block officer stops him. He quite simply gives the driver an order to take me all the way home…
“From where will come my help? My help is from Hashem.”
Because of the danger of corona, the doctor told us to leave the clinic as soon as possible. Less than 36 hours after the birth, that wonderful Jewish doctor came to the hospital to take us home. He waited until we finished all the paperwork and bills. We do not have medical insurance so we have to pay in cash. This doctor will not let us pay him even one Bolivian coin for his personal services… I felt bad.
Thank G-d we leave the clinic with the new baby in our hands. Boruch Hashem there are six energetic kids waiting at home. A new friend has come to join this far off and isolated Shlichus. What happiness!
It takes us a day to recover as not only is Chaya tired but I am too.
However, soon enough the question starts to bother us again: What are we going to do about a Bris?
The roads are closed, the skies are closed. There is no entry and no exit.
How can we bring a Mohel here?
I cannot find a suitable answer.
I called up a Rav to ask advice and to ask what we should do and he said that if Hashem puts a person in a position that he is incapable of doing this Mitzva, then he is not obligated to do so. This was his clear answer. If there is no way to bring a Mohel then there is no way.
We begin discussing all kinds of ideas, some of them crazy.
Maybe I could learn to be a Mohel over zoom?
Maybe the Jewish doctor could do the Bris or I could do the main cut and he would finish the work?
I asked Rabbi Feigelstok from Argentina and Rabbi Yaron Amit from the Bris Yosef Yitzchok organization.
They said that these were nice ideas though they are not practical at all.
A Mohel has to be experienced, to know this holy work and to have the right tools.
Mainly, Jewish Halacha does not play around with safety and Pikuach Nefesh. There could be irreversible damage…
During the day I get a Mazal Tov call from Rabbi Blumenfeld, the Shaliach in Lima, Peru, a dear and caring friend who takes an interest in and helps our Chabad House. Most importantly he never gives up.
“So whats happening with the Bris?” he asks.
I try to explain to him that it’s impossible.
“The borders are closed” I explain to him.
“So, come to the border and do the Bris there.”
You won’t leave the country and the Mohel won’t enter the country. That’s all okay.”
“It sounds good, but which border?”
Bolivia has no coastline. It borders five countries: Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
The closest border is Peru, but Peru has no Mohel either.
The next one is Chile, and its “only” five hours away. Each direction with Chaya and a newborn.
We start checking this out. First of all, we asked the doctor. The border is at the height of 5000 meters above sea level.
“No problem,” he reassures us. “All you need to do is to take a mobile tank of oxygen along with you. And phone me on the way.”
How would we get to the border when Bolivia is under lockdown? We phone the president of the Kehilla who is also our Rofeh Yedid.
“No problem, I will give you a special permit and you know what? I will take you myself.”
“It’s a drive of 10 hours there and back…” we try to say.
He is adamant; “I said I would take you!”
We made a phone call to Berel Sokolovich from Santiago in Chile. He is our experienced Mohel who has already done a Bris on 3 of our sons.
“Can you get to the border? ”
He answered “The truth is that there is a lockdown in Chile as well and the Corona Virus is even worse there than in Bolivia”
So what should we do?
We made a phone call to Rabbi Perman who is the Shaliach in Santiago and asked him to please find out about a private plane to Larica, a city in Chile- about two or three hours away from the Bolivian border.
In the meantime, Rabbi Blumenfeld is again on the phone.
I tell him.
“Okay,” he says. “That’s good. I will try and find a Gvir who has a private plane.”
A day later he calls back with a “no” for an answer. The Gvir agreed but his crew are afraid of the Corona virus…
Rabbi Perman gets back to me with a price: $50,000 for a three-hour round-trip flight.
I get back to the Mohel who was also looking for more reasonable options.
It’s already Erev Shabbos. The next offer is $20,000
Rabbi Blumenfeld says “Don’t delay because of money. Just do it.”
Another call to the Mohel. We have a whole list of problems. There’s a lockdown in Chile. How do we get to the airport? How then, from there would we get to the border?
He promises to use his connections with those in the local Kehilla who can talk to the authorities.
I tell the president of our Kehilla in our La Paz, and he says to tell the Mohel to do a quick Covid 19 test . If he is negative it will be easier for him to come to the meeting at the border. Another headache…But he manages.
A short while before we actually arrange the flight from La Paz to the border with Chile, we are told that this is a really bad place to choose.
This is a border where hundreds and thousands of desperate Bolivians are waiting to cross back into Bolivia. No one is letting them out or in. They have set up a tent city, stranded there. The whole area is blocked off by the army. The Mohel may have permission to cross but it’s a huge risk that the soldiers would not allow it for fear of causing riots on both sides of the border. They advised against going anywhere near the area. That plan collapsed.
All that effort. So many people wanted to help. And in the end, no results. All the way we remembered we are not here for ourselves but we are the Shluchim of the Rebbe MHM. The Rebbe will take care of us. We try not to despair.