I visited Paraguay 4 years ago, in December of 2007. I didn’t really have a plan. I just realized I’d been to every other country in the Southern Cone and that was the one I was missing. So on a whim I bought a plane ticket and off I flew!
The first thing I did when I landed in Paraguay was to call the local Chabad rabbi. I didn’t have any hotel reservations – the only things I really had with me were some empanadas to eat, a few clothes, and my camera. The Chabad shliach there was great! He told me on the phone the address for the Chabad, what roads to tell the taxi driver to take, and exactly how much it should cost. When I arrived, he heaped kosher food on me – I guess I didn’t need those empanadas after all!
Later that evening, as we gathered in a local park for one of Chabad’s many community events, the rabbi asked me where I was staying. When I just shrugged and said I’d find something, he ran off and came back immediately, telling me I could stay with one of the local families. This family was so warm, welcoming, and open that they let me stay with them for my entire trip to Paraguay – almost a week! – and even let me join them in their family celebrations and for all their meals.
When I visited Paraguay, there were only 3 families there that kept kosher, including the family I stayed with and the rabbi’s family. There is a large community of Jews who are not religiously observant and Chabad events are very well-attended. It’s difficult to keep kosher in Paraguay because there are too few people to make it worth it for shops to supply them. Still, they have a shochet (butcher) come twice a year from Argentina and many other products are imported from Argentina.
Aside from doing lots of things with the Jewish community, I also saw some of the sights. I walked around old Asunción, which has some beautiful historic buildings. I went shopping in the big, modern malls, where top quality clothes can be bought for very cheap. I also went to a ranch, an estancia, where I went horseback riding most of the day and then relaxed for a few hours in a hammock while I drank fresh juice. By the end of my stay, I had become so friendly with the owners that they refused to let me pay!
My experience in Paraguay was fantastic. Not only was the Jewish community one of the nicest communities I’ve ever met, but all of the people in Paraguay seem to be really, really nice. I even sat down one day and talked for a while with a homeless family who dig through garbage to find recycleables. Even though they were poor, they were some of the nicest people I have ever met. Paraguay might be a difficult country in which to keep kosher, but if you visit the Chabad, they will feed you well and be incredibly welcoming. It’s definitely worth a visit!