Three Questions about the Jewish Community of…Cancun, Mexico

With Karen Duek and Brenda Sametz, Women’s Committee of the Community

Tell us about the Jewish community of Cancun:

In the ’90s, several families from Mexico City arrived in Cancun looking for a better quality of life. It was very important to us that we continue to live a Jewish life. At the beginning we met in private houses to celebrate Shabbat, each one brought food until the Marcos Family set up a place in a commercial plaza, to gather to pray, have classes during Shabbat and celebrate the Chagim. During that time, we hired chazanim from outside to support us.

The number of families has always remained around 50, as some families leave when their children grow up, but new ones arrive.

In 2000, thanks to donations from community members, we inaugurated the house that today serves as a synagogue. As of that date, the community has been in constant growth and development and has become a recognized Jewish community by the Central Committee of Mexico. Later, an alliance was achieved with the Amiel Institute, who have supported us by sending Rabbis to Cancun, including Rabbi Eli Bari, who has been with us for a year and a half.

What are five things that characterize the Jewish community of Cancun?

Unity. Each member of the community becomes part of a large family, with whom you celebrate their achievements with the same joy. The participation of each member, from the largest to the smallest is equally embraced.

Commitment. All members want the community to grow, to be strengthened day by day and that there is always a community and a synagogue in Cancun where our Judaism is preserved and continued. We hope that this commitment to assist and maintain our community will never stop.

Respect. Being a Community that integrates people from many different places, traditions and customs – sometimes Ashkenazi other times Sepharadi – we try to make the prayers, activities and classes to everyone’s liking.

Empathy. There is a lot of diversity among our members: from complete families, single men or women, young and old couples. You always want everyone to feel valued.

Job. Being a small community and in the province, the work done by both Board of Directors, Administrative Committee and Activities Committee is greater, we must ensure that people attend, get donors, look for outside activities, and always keep Judaism alive and present in Cancun. It is not an easy task, there are times that while we have activities, getting people to attend is complicated when we are so few. We have many programs; activities for children talks for ladies, we are part of WIZO, Bikur Cholim, we receive visits from Keren Hayesod, OTS Amiel BaKehila and others. We are always looking out for the best for the Community.

Please share a community program or activity that you consider beneficial for other communities:

Shabbat is an ideal day for everyone to get together. Here at the beginning of the year, we make a calendar for each family to donate a Shabbat dinner and a Seuda. It creates a special connection between the community members and families who do not attend regularly feel honoured and special to be hosts.

Thank you for your interest in the growth of our Community. You are always welcome.

Karen Douek & Brenda Sametz

Yahav Kriti – “Chef on Wheels”


Hi friends,
My name is Yahav Kriti, I’m married and the father of five lovely children, I’m a professional chef and owner of “Chef on Wheels”, which specializes in experiential and entertaining cooking shows throughout Israel as well as Jewish and Israeli communities around the world for the last fifteen years.

My cooking workshops teach about a wide variety of amazing food styles from around the world. Everything is done in a humorous and fun manner with lots of laughter, combined with entertaining tips and stories as well as audience participation. 

The end result is an amazingly delicious and fun Israeli culinary experience that everyone enjoys (and eats!)

I was honored to participate in two OTS Amiel BaKehila delegations last year, as an ambassador of Israeli food, bringing the joyful Israeli spirit to distant communities through food, colors, spices and smells that come out of the pots of the Holy Land … making everyone fall in love over and over again with Israel. Over the coming year, I will participate in three additional delegations to the United Kingdom and the United States.

During my recent visit to Ottawa, Canada, we held a huge Culinary Workshop for the wonderful community at the Machzikei Hadas Synagogue, all of whom were invited to prepare a joint Israeli meal. It was amazing and heartwarming to see how everyone prepared the sumptuous meal together. Adults who had difficulties cutting the vegetables were assisted by the youngsters next to them, all of whom rolled up their sleeves to chop, mix, season and cook together a delicious Israeli meal of fresh salads, squash, chickpeas, fried eggplant and bread with Za’atar.

In every journey and encounter with the communities, I felt the warmth, caring and togetherness of everyone I take pride in being a part of this people who always reach out, learn and give. I take it upon myself to give – to the communities.

around me and specifically to my own community in the city of Holon, in the Land of Israel.

It is exciting for me to fly to the other side of the world and to bring the wonderful flavors of the Land of Israel to the far-flung communities to build and maintain the amazing connection we built through food – with a serving of Israeli humor on the side.

Thank you OTS Amiel BaKehila for the amazing experience of visiting those wonderful communities.

Three Questions about the Jewish Community of…Buffalo, NY (USA)

With Rob Goldberg, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Buffalo

Tell us about Jewish Buffalo:
Jewish Buffalo is a relatively tight-knit community of approximately 10,000.  While it only represents less than 1% of the greater population in the region, its impact is felt through the leadership of so many families in law, medicine, education, and the arts.  Nearly 75% of the population lives in suburban areas, concentrated mostly in the Town of Williamsville.  There is a JCC system with both a city and suburban building, two Reform congregations, one Conservative congregation, 6 Orthodox shuls and a variety of other non-affiliated worship groups. The Federation system raises nearly 3M annually and supports a range of agencies – from the Hillel on the campus of the University of  Buffalo to a Jewish Family Service and Holocaust Resource Center – as well as a number of educational and engagement efforts that touch all sectors of the community.

Tell us five things that are unique to the Buffalo Jewish community? 

  • An overall spirit of cooperation among synagogues, rabbis and leaders
  • A warm and welcoming atmosphere that is symbolic of many Midwestern communities
  • An embrace of our reality as a smaller community (60 years ago we were double the size) and the commitment to be “small” and “mighty”
  • Innovation – Buffalo is a city known for innovation in aerospace, manufacturing, architecture, the arts and a variety of other sectors, and the Jewish community reflects that, in particular, the Federation that is always seeking new ways to engage more Jews in having a meaningful Jewish experience
  • Our proximity to Niagara Falls and the Canadian border
Please share a community program or activity that you feel would be beneficial for other communities to know about:
Security has been at the forefront of our agenda since the Tree of Life massacre last fall. Buffalo moved swiftly to raise funds (over $225,000), hire a dedicated security professional, and to begin to distribute grants for synagogues and agencies to harden their buildings, train leaders, etc. In less than a year, we’ve accomplished that and so much more and serve as a model for other communities of our size. There is, as a result, a general sense of appreciation among community members for this commitment to ensure a safer and more secure Jewish Buffalo, and the need and effort have brought us even closer together.

OTS Amiel Bakehila Partner Profile: Deborah Jacubovsky – Actress, Singer, Dancer and Playwright

Deborah Jacubsky

I traveled to Israel for the first time on a study trip at the age of fifteen and felt an immediate and deep connection with the land of our ancestors, our present and future. Since then I understood that Israel would one day be my home. Following my Aliyah from Chile in 2012, I met my husband in Shuk Machane Yehuda and we have a wonderful son. Kibbutz galuyot!
I am a creative mind that dreams day and night. Within my itinerary of activities with the communities is “Soul Dance”, Theater, music and artistic workshops with Jewish content.

Soul Dance
Seven years ago I created a dance movement called “Soul Dance”. It is a circle of tribal Jewish dance that is composed of Afro Latin rhythms, song and prayer in motion. Together we create a dance that reactivates the lost or sleeping heritage of the Jewish woman and reignites traditions we shared in ancient times prior to 2,000 years of exile. This dance helps us connect with God, with ourselves, with the circle of women in brotherhood and with the natural cycles of the planet and our bodies.
Through this experience, we let go of fears, anxieties and conventions about what is beautiful and aesthetic. We let go of personal and collective judgments and concepts about coordination and rhythm in order to learn to listen to the movement of our souls. It is incredible for me to see the transformation of women from the beginning to the end of the sessions. It fills my heart to be able to share tools that encourage living a more conscious and meaningful life. These dances he us understand that we are warrior women who fight in an internal war, one that makes us better human beings, using all the wisdom that lives within our wombs.
Every time I shared Soul Dance, without exception, the women enjoyed and managed to connect in a way that they did not know and that many times did not think possible. On several occasions, women who did teshuva or converted to Judaism approached me, and with tears in their eyes, they thanked me because they have not felt that level of connection for a long time. For many, it is a gift to know that they can find a way to express themselves, dance and sing with holiness.

Comedy is a very high form of healing for people. When the audience laughs collectively, it often ignores the fact that in addition to entertaining there is an even deeper phenomenon that is taking place. Laughter helps the person release endorphins, which in addition to relieving pain strengthen the ability of white cells to defend the body against viruses and bacteria. In short, laughter is both physical and spiritual medicine.
It has been a giant pleasure to be able to act for hundreds of people who have laughed out loud and also taken an important message to reflect. On these trips I have presented a monologue called “Bite The Tongue” based on the teachings of proper speech.

What has impacted me most has been the opportunity to meet the emerging communities that are made up of men and women who converted or are in the process – devoted and committed people of humble nature and exceptional values. They gladly receive the knowledge we share to feel closer to Israel, reaffirming the path chosen in the decision to live as Jews. It is inspiring and overwhelming.

To date, I have had the blessing and opportunity to travel to six countries and fourteen different cities with OTS Amiel BaKehila delegations. It has been an immensely rewarding experience for me on a personal and professional level.
My work brings joy, Jewish values ​​and empowerment on a personal and collective level. For me it is a blessing to be able to connect with the greatest number of people, listening to their stories and dreams, giving my support and maintaining connection with these people even at a distance. It is very inspiring and helps them feel closer to Israel.
Being able to represent Israel by sharing culture and spirituality with Jewish communities in the Diaspora is an honor and a huge privilege, and for that I feel grateful.
In November I will, God willing, be traveling with OTS Amiel BaKehila to Paraguay and Chile, the land where I was born. I hope to continue doing this beautiful and enriching work to continue connecting with the soul of those who live so far away but who are also part of our people.

We are creating indestructible bridges, from heart to heart.