Nestled between Thailand and Vietnam, Laos presents a daunting challenge to new Chabad reps Rabbi Shalom and Tammy Glitzenstein. With poor access both to clean drinking water and electricity, the communist country is plagued by humanitarian issues and struggles to contain the opium trade that thrives thanks to its remote border areas.
Driven by their desire to make a difference, the idealistic couple gave up a comfortable life in Israel and put down new roots in the third-world country, making it the 92nd country on the map of Chabad.
Focusing their efforts on Israelis who visit Laos yearly, they are working to create Jewish infrastructure in a country that, perhaps for its remote location, appeals to Israeli backpackers. According to Laos’ Tourism Development Department, 4,734 Israelis visited Luang Prabang in 2014, and that’s just Israeli Jews—countless more visit from around the world.
One of Chabad’s first priorities: to open a full-service kosher restaurant, an ideal meeting point for Jewish travelers. The couple is also planning to open a Chabad House in the city of Vang Vieng, a popular tourist spot located a four-hour drive south.
“Right now, programs are all centered around Shabbat and holiday meals. That opens conversations and allows us to get to know people personally,” says the rabbi.
Yehuda Ben Shitrit, a Canadian Orthodox Jew, was traveling the area recently, intending only to spend Shabbos in Laos and continue on to Vietnam for Shavuot. After meeting the Glitzensteins, he decided to extend his visit.
“I felt like I was at home with my family for the holidays. Even better was that we threw a small bar mitzvah for one of the Israelis who hadn’t ever considered it in Israel.”
Touched by the impact this had on a fellow Jewish traveler, he reflects on the gift Chabad’s men and women bring to Jewish people in the most of far-flung places.
“If not for the Chabad House in Laos and the family-like ambiance there,” says Yehuda, “he probably would have never had a bar mitzvah.”