Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Warming Jewish souls in Chile: an interview with Rebbetzin Debbie Waissbluth of Santiago

C. B. Gavant

She was born and bred in Great Neck, New York, an area famous for its suburban lifestyle, the US Merchant Marine Academy, and large Jewish community. So how did she end up a rebbetzin in Santiago, Chile, a Catholic, Spanish-speaking city with many museums, pollution, and a minuscule Jewish population?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Santiago is a city of contrasts — a bustling, modern city set in the center of a mostly third-world region. With the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Santiago is a massive metropolitan center, complete with a sophisticated subway system, world-renowned universities, and thriving commercial centers. It is also the home of 80 percent of Chile’s Jewish community and the site of one of the busiest kiruv networks in Latin America.

The majority of the Jews in Chile are descendants of immigrants from Germany, Eastern Europe, Greece, and Yugoslavia, who arrived in the years before and after World War II. Although culturally Jewish, most have very little Torah knowledge; this is why Debbie Waissbluth and her husband, Rabbi Chaim Waissbluth, have such a receptive audience. As the rabbi and rebbetzin of Aish HaTorah Chile, the Waissbluths are at the forefront of a growing kiruv movement in a population thirsty to learn about its heritage.

But how did a young New Yorker come to be an instrumental force in a community on the opposite side of the equator?


The Address on the Napkin

Debbie’s story begins years ago, when she was still in high school. Always cause-driven and involved in various pursuits, Debbie excelled in Spanish, a skill her mother recognized as valuable. When she decided to major in speech therapy in college, her mother encouraged her to continue studying Spanish, pointing out that the ability to speak Spanish would increase her earning potential in the field. Little did they know where else this would take her. 

In the meantime, Debbie had begun traveling to Eretz Yisrael on her semester breaks to learn more about Yiddishkeit. “My parents, unfortunately, were very nervous about the security situation in Eretz Yisrael, and every time I went they were terrified,” says Debbie. “When the second intifada broke out, they begged me to come home, and that was the end of that!”

Debbie dutifully returned home, but she found herself itching to travel again and looked around for somewhere else to go. A seminary friend, Chana Libedinsky, mentioned Rabbi Avi and Shira Horowitz, the North American rav and rebbetzin living in Santiago, Chile, who had been instrumental in her path to Yiddishkeit. Chana scribbled Rabbi Horowitz’s e-mail address on a napkin, and Debbie came across it several months later in Maryland.

“All kinds of things started happening, and before I knew it I had decided to travel to Chile,” Debbie relates. She planned to go for five months and participate in a foreign study program.

Things didn’t go exactly according to plan, though, since a student strike broke out as soon as Debbie arrived. For three of the five months she spent in Chile, there were no classes to attend, and Debbie gradually found herself, with the Horowitzes’ encouragement, getting involved in the Jewish community. Although her Spanish was rudimentary at this point, she learned quickly.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"