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Cool to be Frum in Chile

Avi Friedman

He was just a year away from a PhD in Physics at Cal-Tech, when his one-year leave for yeshivah turned into a lifetime calling — eventually bringing him back to the Chile of his secular youth. Today Rabino Matias Libedinsky might be aptly described as the face of Santiago’s Torah revival.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When Matias Libedinsky left his hometown of Santiago, Chile, to pursue a PhD in Physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1998, he said goodbye to a typical, small Diaspora Jewish community. Though about 15,000 Jews lived in Chile, its Jewish community bore little semblance to South America’s strong Torah communities in Brazil and Argentina, both home to many shuls and Torah learning programs. From a Jewish perspective Santiago was a poor backwater. Assimilation and intermarriage were rampant, kosher food available, but scarce and expensive, and the three Orthodox synagogues and a mikveh were basically unused.

Fast forward to 2011, and Jewish Santiago bears little resemblance to that “poor backwater.” Kosher food is freely available. Hundreds of people pack five shuls every Shabbos, dozens more take part in daily and weekly Torah learning programs. There are two K-12 Jewish schools and post–high school yeshivah study in Israel is becoming the norm. With several kosher restaurants to boot, Santiago’s religious community is thriving in a way most cities only dream about.

And Matias Libedinsky, the secular university student on the cusp of physics fame, helped bring it about.

 

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