Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Fireworks War Zone

December 25, 2013

Fireworks War Zone

The staccato of explosions had a skull-crushing force. The display was not Disney World. It was Mogadishu or Beirut at the height of war. Thousands of rounds of fireworks must have been launched into an innocent sky in the space of less than an hour within a one block radius. While the light show was pretty, we got the idea after the first hundred explosions. The screeching of the colorful missiles came uncomfortably close to our home. There were launch pads surrounding us just over the walls of our house. The sound of shattering glass gave a unique musical interlude to the symphony of chemical destruction as an errant firework destroyed someone’s window. An ambulance siren that stopped on our block was a quick sign of the harm such concentrated firepower could easily cause.

This is how Christmas night is celebrated in Montevideo. The other custom that I didn’t have the opportunity to see is called “The burning of Judas”. An effigy of historical Judas, betrayer of Jesus, is filled with firecrackers, hung and burned with explosive results. I’m told it is a wildly popular tradition, with children on the street begging for money to fund their violent play-acting.

Seeing as this is my first post in almost a month, I’ll cover some recent history.

Netanel having his English and Hebrew speeches translated to Spanish
Netanel having his English and Hebrew speeches translated to Spanish

The Bar-Mitzvah was fantastic. It was wonderful to host my parents, in-laws, aunt and uncle, brother and two nieces. I think they enjoyed very much seeing us in action, meeting the community and getting a first-hand look at our new existence. There is something extremely special about being able to share such an event with family members from whom we are currently geographically distant. Every single person that came multiplied the joy and celebration.

We felt a clear divine intervention in bringing us to Montevideo to celebrate the Bar-Mitzvah. Had we been in Alon Shvut, we would have been snowed in, evacuated from our cold, electricless house, unable to host anyone or to celebrate the Shabbat of Netanel’s Bar-Mitzvah. Instead we had summer weather while vicariously enjoying our friend’s pictures of snow.

Captive Bar-Mitzvah audience
Captive Bar-Mitzvah audience

Work has been around the clock as we finish off the calendar year and make plans for the coming year. Last week I ended the week with a funeral, grateful for the Jewish custom of performing a shortened ceremony on Friday afternoons, as I rushed home to make it back in time for Shabbat. I then started the week with a funeral Sunday morning. I felt anguish for our grave-diggers in the blistering heat, cutting through hardened earth, racing to complete the grave before the body arrived for burial. They were one man down, with our head caretaker in the hospital after having suffered a heart attack.

I am deep in preparations for what is likely to be our first Beit Din (Jewish tribunal) that will intervene in a local financial matter. We are preparing for a binding arbitration that is in line with local statutes and will be enforceable by the local courts.

Dancing at Chabad Chanuka Candle-lighting extravaganza
Dancing at Chabad Chanuka Candle-lighting extravaganza

I helped conduct a wedding where I just took care of the Ketuba (marriage contract) and witnessed the ring ceremony in order to give Orthodox approval to the marriage. I also gave a lecture in the social hall of the local Conservative synagogue. There was some apprehension by some people over the move, but I received both local and Israeli rabbinic support for it. I was very warmly received with an excellent turnout and fantastic feedback, not just on the presentation, but on the efforts of communal unity. We also participated organizationally with Chabad’s annual Chanuka candle-lighting event. It was a great success with a larger crowd than usual and yet another step in community unification.


With January approaching, Montevideo has started emptying out, with most people making their annual pilgrimage to Punta del Este or other beach resorts. Montevideo apparently becomes a hot, humid ghost town. We may just enjoy the quiet here and/or seek other places to explore.

More pictures:


Women's dancing, men's dancing, food for all.
Women’s dancing, men’s dancing, food for all.
Bar-Mitzvah party-goers
Bar-Mitzvah party-goers



Chabad Chanuka event on the Rambla
Chabad Chanuka event on the Rambla
Addressing Chanuka event
Addressing Chanuka event


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