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They arrived in the city of El Nido without almost any prior knowledge of the location and they were unpleasantly surprised. Harsh conditions, stifling humidity, high cost of living, regular cessations of water and electricity services – and all this was only a part of a “welcome” that nearly broke their spirit. Rabbi Yossi Marom, his wife Efrat, and their four children are found each day on this site, called a “paradise” due to its breathtaking beauty, while operating under difficult conditions, as they prepare the town for the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. A fascinating spiritual journey.

 Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

The city of El Nido is located in the northern Philippine province of Palawan, classified by tourists visiting the site as a “tropical paradise.” The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times called the town one of the most beautiful tourist attractions, almost unparalleled anywhere in the world. You can see about a thousand species of fish in the waters surrounding the island, magnificent coral reefs, and about five hundred kinds of amphibious creatures. The El Nido coral reserve, the lakes and other channels of water, are considered a most select tourist spot – and for good reason.

“The island of Palawan spreads over an area about half the size of Eretz Yisroel,” says the local shliach, Rabbi Yossi Marom, who is now in his second year of Chabad activities in El Nido together with his family. “The tourism is located at the ‘tip’ of the island. While the island was previously a fishing village, since its development into a tourist attraction the place has changed. The views are magnificent. It feels like you’re living in a picture postcard. In recent years, thousands of Israelis, backpackers alongside families, come to the island.”

Rabbi Yossi Marom, his wife Efrat, and their children have established an active and dynamic Chabad House, a kosher restaurant, Torah classes, minyanim, and a house open all hours of the day – and sometimes even at night.

In the past few years, numerous Israeli businessmen have also come to live on the island. This made it quite clear that there was a need for Palawan to have shluchim on a permanent basis. “We quickly realized the tremendous potential for shlichus in this town,” recalls Rabbi Marom. “On Pesach last year, six hundred Israelis joined us for the Seder nights. The story is quite similar on every Jewish holiday, as thousands of Israelis each year pass through the doors of our Chabad House, which they see as the address for all things Jewish.”


It turns out that the Republic of the Philippines was the second stop on shlichus for the Marom family. They had done a previous “internship” when they replaced the shluchim in Rishikesh, India for a period of one year. When they completed their shlichus there, it was clear to them that their objective was to prepare another location on the globe for the Redemption. “When the offer came to go on shlichus in the Philippines, we wrote to the Rebbe and were privileged to receive some clear and amazing answers. These answers from the Rebbe MH”M dealt with brachos to shluchim in their outreach work. It made it clear to us that we were moving to the Philippines.

“Without much preparation and with little knowledge of the location, we made our way to El Nido.

“We first came to the Philippine capital of Manila, and from there we boarded a domestic flight to the island of Palawan. When we landed at the makeshift airport after several hours of travel, we realized that we had come to the depths of a jungle. This was a region where Western civilization was standing at the door but had yet to enter. As we came down the ramp to the beach, we looked right and left and saw absolutely nothing. An old military jeep previously used by the U.S. Army took us to an improvised wooden shack at the edge of the airport, where the luggage was slowly brought by a couple of groggy workers.”

When Rabbi Marom asked their driver where they could purchase basic kitchen supplies, he was directed to the local market. He received the same answer when he asked where to buy vegetables and other raw materials. “After traveling for about six minutes, the driver stopped and I politely asked if he would take us to the market for an additional fee. ‘This is the market,’ he said as he pointed to a few improvised wooden stands…

“We went down to the area and were stunned: There were six stalls selling a variety of products: bananas, eggplants, rickshaw engines, toys, sugar, rice, gas balloons, cucumbers, and eggs. Each of the six stalls had the same merchandise. We then realized for the first time that tomatoes and cucumbers were a very expensive commodity here. Due to the island’s stifling humidity, these vegetables don’t stay fresh for very long and it isn’t worth it for the merchants to import them in large quantities.”

The electricity on the island operates entirely on one generator, so power outages are rather frequent, as are the sporadic water services. Quite often, the tap water is mixed with lumps of mud. “Thank G-d, we recently installed a new pump in the Chabad House, which makes situations such as these far less common,” says Rabbi Marom.

“Not long ago, I experienced something quite amusing. I was sitting in the Chabad House, telling one of the backpackers about the world of shlichus. We talked about how the Rebbe sends emissaries to every corner of the globe wherever Jews may be found, even a remote village in Russia where a few elderly Jews live who draw their water from a well. He was amazed, and then suddenly we both burst out laughing for the same reason – the conditions on our shlichus are quite similar to those encountered by that shliach in the remote Russian village.”


When the shluchim and their children arrived in El Nido, they rented a room in the local guest house while they searched for a suitable facility to serve as a base for their activities. “We’re talking about a small village that had previously been used just by fishermen and suddenly attained worldwide recognition. Its residents soon became quite wealthy from the tourism industry. The smallest parcel of land on this island now costs a great deal of money, and every shack was a potential gold mine. The town had very few houses, and those that were available were transformed into businesses or hotels.

“The heat and humidity the day we arrived was simply unbearable. The blazing sun beat down on us as we went from house to house, inquiring about available accommodations. Those who were willing to rent us a place asked for astronomical sums of money, while setting other irrational conditions.”

Over a period of a week, the shluchim went around the village while they left their three [then, now four – N.A.] children with a Chabad au pair who had come with them. “The truth is that there were times when we were plagued by doubts: Why do we need all this and why didn’t we check things out thoroughly before we set out on our journey? When I felt myself breaking down, my wife encouraged me with reminders of the answers we received from the Rebbe, and when she felt discouraged, I did the same for her… During that week, all Chabad House activities were conducted from our hotel room, which served as our bedroom, kitchen, and a storage area.”

After a week of fruitless searching, the Maroms sat down on a bench in the hotel courtyard – tired and thirsty. “Maybe we were a bit impetuous when we made our decision to go out on this shlichus?” I thought to myself. “We’ve been here for a week already, yet we haven’t managed to do anything. It’s one thing not to have an organized place, but we haven’t even done any activities!” As I was thinking such thoughts, one of the tourists came downstairs with a large backpack to return his room key. He looked Jewish, and I said to him in English: ‘Are you Jewish?’ He gave me a surprised look and said no.

“These were moments when the Hand of G-d placed the words in my mouth. I was extremely tired and I really wasn’t thinking about what I was saying. I’m usually a bit more respectful and don’t try to annoy people. ‘Do you possibly have Jewish friends or acquaintances?’ I asked, even though I could see that he was in a rush. He gave me another surprised look and replied: ‘Friends? I have Jewish family. My maternal grandfather was Jewish; she emigrated from Poland to Paraguay, where she married my grandfather, who wasn’t Jewish. We don’t live our lives as Jews whatsoever. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get a taxi to the airport to catch my flight.’

“When I heard this, all my exhaustion disappeared in an instant and I started to ask him more questions. ‘Do you know what Shma Yisroel is?’ ‘Do you know what tefillin are?’ I soon realized that he knew nothing. ‘Wait a few minutes,’ I requested. I brought a few candies that I had with me, and in my excitement, I didn’t even ask him if he was ready or not – I just rolled up his sleeve and put tefillin on him. In the meantime, other Israelis arrived and began skipping and dancing around him. ‘Now, we’re going to make a bar-mitzvah for you,’ I told him joyfully as I explained briefly the fact that he was a Jew in every respect.

“At first, he was frozen in place, however, he quickly warmed up and began to dance with us. As we parted from one another, I noticed that an hour had passed. ‘What about your cab ride and your flight?’ I asked, but his eyes glistening with tears told the whole story. ‘The tefillin are far more important,’ he replied. ‘I’ll manage to get another flight.’ I took his picture wearing tefillin and then I asked him to send the photos to his grandmother, in the hope that it would arouse some positive memories.

“This spiritual reawakening also had an effect on the young Israelis who had come to participate in this joyous event. Even I got a renewed sense of strength and an awareness that there was what to do here. Clearly, we hadn’t come here for naught. Since then, the entire approach to our shlichus here has changed and has taken a more proper direction. All the previous difficulties seemed to have vanished.”


The following day, everything started working out almost miraculously. A wealthy property owner with bank debts and private creditors agreed to rent his spacious home to the shluchim in exchange for a reasonable deposit. “After checking thoroughly into the matter and finding that everything was proper and legal, we wrote to the Rebbe and received an amazing answer,” recalled Rabbi Marom. “The letter was a bracha for a yeshiva’s move into a new building… There was no need for anything more. We signed a contract and the El Nido Chabad House was opened.”

The news quickly spread, and the place became a magnet and a spiritual lighthouse for thousands of Israeli tourists and other Jews who came to the region. A synagogue was founded, Torah classes were established, and a kosher kitchen began operations. Dozens of Jewish tourists coming to El Nido from all over the world visit the Chabad House each day. Every Shabbos, about two hundred Jews gather together with the shluchim to participate in the services and Shabbos meals. Hundreds more come for the Chabad holiday programs.

“After a few months, we made the official building dedication. In honor of the official opening, the other shluchim from all over the Philippines came and we issued an announcement that a new Chabad House had opened in the country in memory of Rabbi Boaz Lerner a”h. The mayor of El Nido was the guest of honor.”

Rabbi Marom speaks with great enthusiasm about the wholehearted support of the mayor of El Nido for their many outreach programs. “He is a true friend, and he even contributes much of his own time and money to our activities… When a shliach goes out on shlichus, especially in a remote spot such as El Nido, he is solely responsible for all matters Jewish at the location. Sometimes it also requires dealing with complex and unpleasant situations. The first significant challenge we had immediately after our shlichus began was a most tragic incident, when a local Israeli restaurateur was killed in a terrible motorcycle accident.

“The telephone in our home rang at around midnight and I heard someone crying on the line. In a voice choking with emotion, a man spoke with me about the sudden death of his friend. The Israeli man’s friends were not in town that day, having flown earlier to Thailand. I got out of bed and quickly went to the local hospital to make certain that the body was not defiled. According to local custom, the deceased are usually cremated. At first, the hospital authorities would not listen to me, until I got the mayor involved and he ordered them to do whatever I requested… ‘He is the Jewish leader of El Nido, and woe to anyone who doesn’t follow his instructions,’ he reproached them.

“We went through two very difficult days. To be honest, I had never dealt with such issues before. After seeking the advice of Rabbi Yosef Levy from Manila, who was by our side during the entire process, we made certain that the matter was handled appropriately. You must remember that often there is no electricity in town – no refrigeration system, no working computers, and that makes it impossible to print release papers on a death certificate. Under normal circumstances, we would simply wait until the electricity was restored. However, these were not normal circumstances, and I would not agree to wait. Thanks to the mayor’s intervention, the necessary certificates and police permits were written by hand. After two days of strenuous work and with no sleep, we succeeded in having the body transported to Eretz Yisroel for burial – and everything was in the merit of our friendship with the mayor, without which we would have had a serious problem.”

But it’s not just for sad tidings that Rabbi Marom needs the mayor’s help; it’s also in times of joy. Last Pesach, they had about six hundred tourists (!) at the Chabad House seder table. On the eve of the holiday, Rabbi Marom realized that the Chabad House did not have a place large enough to host so many people, so he turned to the mayor, who agreed to allow him to use the municipal events hall to hold his large communal Pesach seder – free of charge.


When we asked Rabbi Marom to share some amazing stories about the Chabad House’s activities, he smiled broadly. In his words, all the programs at the Chabad House since its inception are one continuous display of Divine Providence.

“Last Sukkos, we had an incredible story with the s’chach for our sukka. We live in a town that is classified as a nature reserve, and thus, it is forbidden to pull even a blade of grass out of the ground without receiving permission from high-level authorities. However, we needed wood for our sukka, what could we do? When I asked our landlord to remove the unstable roof over one of our rooms and place s’chach over it, he rejected the idea. How would I build the sukka?

“Rosh Hashanah came and went, as did Yom Kippur, and we still had no sukka. I felt as if I was in a completely hopeless situation.

“Finally, I told the landlord that the ceiling was leaking due to the numerous typhoons that had passed through El Nido recently, and this posed a serious danger to my small children. This convinced him and he agreed to have the leaky roof removed on the condition that I secure a stronger roof.

“That took care of stage one, but the problem of the s’chach remained to be solved. I thought about possibly moving to another spot outside the city limits, but that didn’t work out. And if that wasn’t enough, the entire town was reeling from the murder of a local resident, who had been shot to death that same day – for pruning trees…

“So here I was just a day before the Sukkos holiday with no roof over my children’s room, no sukka, and no solution on the horizon. I thought to myself: I’ll go to the local market to buy the things we need for Yom tov, and in the meantime, G-d will show me the way…

“And that’s exactly what He did. As I arrived at the market, I suddenly noticed a large coconut tree with its branches tearing the market’s rooftop. It was illegal to touch the trees, but this tree was privately owned and was about to cause structural damage. Then, an idea flickered in my mind. I went over to the manager, who at first refused, but after I explained to him about how this would enable the fulfillment of a Biblical commandment, he consented. ‘I’ll use the branches for just one week and then I’ll toss it all in the trash,’ I promised. This reassured him, as he was worried that I might use the wood for commercial purposes…

“I hired an arborist, and just one hour before the holiday began, we had our s’chach. This was an amazing miracle that had all the tourists talking about it…

“And if this miracle wasn’t enough, we merited another one that same day, when our esrog arrived just a few minutes before Yom tov… That night, dozens of tourists sat with us in our beautiful sukka, as they heard from me about how only a few hours earlier, we didn’t even know if we would have a sukka…”

It seems that every activity in this remote village is a case of revealed Divine Providence, together with a lot of effort and some open miracles. Rabbi Marom shared another one of these stories: “This past Chanukah, El Nido was struck by a very powerful typhoon. As the fierce winds swept through the town, numerous trees collapsed, porches broke apart, and mudslides filled every corner.

“We couldn’t sleep with all the noise and lightning strikes. In the morning, the residents went out to check the damage and tend to those injured. Such occurrences are not all that rare here: Typhoons take place in the Philippines every year and people have to prepare well for them, while praying for no casualties.

“Before the holiday began, we wanted to make a large Chanukah menorah for our central lighting ceremony. During that week, we stopped by the house of a local blacksmith daily to check up on the construction process. This was no simple task: Several times he built a part incorrectly and we had to instruct him to do it all over again. We felt that we were giving our very souls for the construction of this menorah. We eventually had a beautiful menorah and we planned on erecting it in the center of town. However, we then learned about the typhoon that was heading straight for our area…

“On the first two days of Chanukah, we lit the menorah on the city’s main street. Then, when the winds began to intensify, we brought the menorah into our living room and lit it before numerous tourists. As the typhoon conditions grew more intense, we slept in a secure inner room. That day was Shabbos, and as the winds soon got stronger and much closer, we could hear the constant sounds of things shattering. I was certain that the living room would collapse from the raging storm and the menorah would be uprooted from its place. However, when I went into the living room the following morning, I was stunned to see that everything was still in order.

“When I went outside, I was in shock. There was not a single porch that remained standing. Rooftops had blown off and some houses had completely collapsed. I thought to myself that the Chanukah menorah had unquestionably protected and saved our home.”


During one of their first weeks on shlichus, even before moving to the Chabad House’s permanent location, Rabbi Marom went through a very difficult experience. Once as he was leaving his hostel room, a motorcycle came roaring straight for him, causing him to move quickly to the side. As a result, his hand was seriously injured by a metal pole standing there. “I went into town, had an x-ray taken, and sent the results to doctors in Eretz Yisroel, who determined that I suffered a fracture. While the pain was very intense, it was only a few hours before Shabbos, and I couldn’t make my way to a better hospital to have my hand placed in a cast. On Motzaei Shabbos, I had my hand x-rayed by a more modern machine, and the doctors in Eretz Yisroel now realized that my injury was only a minor sprain.

“The amazing thing was that before sustaining this injury, the owner of the hotel wanted to evict us. He had numerous complaints against us, some of which were quite justified. One of them was that the Israeli tourists had stopped coming to eat in his non-kosher restaurant since our arrival because we offered them kosher food instead. He also complained that the children made a lot of noise and it was disturbing other guests. When I returned from receiving medical treatment on my hand, I met the owner and suddenly noticed that he was calm, patient, and smiling. Later, I also found out why, after he asked me if I was planning on suing him and I said no. ‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven,’ I replied with a saying quite unfamiliar to him. ‘This is what G-d wanted.’ Since then, we have become friends and all the complaints vanished.

“I later discovered that this hotel owner had previously served as the town’s mayor. He had numerous connections and became a big Chabad House supporter. When Chanukah drew near during our first year in El Nido and the Chabad House still hadn’t been renovated, I turned to him and asked if we could use the events hall on the roof of his hotel, while explaining to him about the Chanukah holiday. After giving him some good ‘mashke,’ he happily agreed without even demanding a fee.

“In fact, since Chanukah, this hall has hosted Shabbos meals and main Chabad events – and it all began with a sprained hand…”


Anyone familiar with Rabbi and Mrs. Marom knows that these shluchim convey a feeling of tremendous love with a full heart. Speaking positively about others is a matter of principle for them. Anything that can interfere is transformed into a source of assistance, as has been expressed throughout this interview.

“As I have already said, electricity services in El Nido are far from organized. However, this doesn’t bother us at all. On the contrary, when there’s darkness, hearts open up,” explained Rabbi Marom.

“This past Simchas Torah, particularly thanks to the darkness, the atmosphere in the Chabad House was electric. All of the participants kept dancing until the wee hours of the morning. At a certain point, local Gentiles came up from the street and asked if they could join the joyous celebration…”

R’ Yossi brings another example how, from his vantage point, everything is for the good: “On Motzaei Rosh Hashanah, I announced that there would be a farbrengen. However, due to the heavy rains, there was no electricity. Nevertheless, this farbrengen was the best and longest farbrengen we ever had, despite the prevailing darkness.”

One story led to another, and Rabbi Marom then remembered an incident when a Chabad House visitor’s Jewish soul was aroused in the merit of the darkness. “A young man stayed with us who was known as one of the leaders of the ‘La Familia’ soccer fan club in Yerushalayim. We started our evening prayer service when suddenly there was a power outage. As someone who is used to such occurrences, I continued davening as if nothing had happened. When the service ended, we sat together for a Chassidic farbrengen. At a certain point, the young man asked if he could say something and immediately introduced himself, saying that he was a very affluent person who was lacking nothing in life. He then told everyone about the experience of the power outage and the subsequent insight that came to him during davening. Here he was at the other end of the earth – in the dark, and the rabbi remained unruffled and continued his prayers. He says that he burst into sobs; his pintele yid had been ignited at that very moment.”

What sets your activities apart?

“We have a motto that characterizes our work – all those who come to us are provided with a mitzvah and provide us with a mitzvah. If a Jew is willing to put on tefillin, great – and if not, then we’ll be privileged to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘Ahavas Yisroel’ and give him whatever he’s lacking. If it’s possible through spiritual matters, great – and if not, then by tending to his material needs. In the eyes of Chassidim, a Jew’s ruchnius and gashmius are one and the same. People sometimes come into the Chabad House with no desire to cooperate. The only help we provide them there is to listen – and that’s a lot.

“I can safely say without exaggeration that we constantly get stronger from these Jews coming into the Chabad House. It amazes me every time to see these wandering Jewish souls who never received a proper Jewish education, yet they become quite emotional when they come across some of the most basic of Jewish traditions. Just last Shabbos, we had a woman here who started to weep when we sang ‘Eishes Chayil.’ When my wife went over to calm her down, the woman said that she had been concentrating on the words of the song and they moved her so deeply that it made her sob uncontrollably. Her soul had been awakened.”


You were recently blessed with the birth of another child, your fourth (may they live long and increase in number). How do you manage with their education?

“To tell you the truth, and this is no cliché, every shliach will tell you this: The children are an integral part of the shlichus and it builds their character. Quite often, their influence is far greater than ours, and I can give you countless examples. Just recently, we had an amazing story, when a woman came rushing into the Chabad House just before Shabbos. What happened? She had to light Shabbos candles and she was worried that it might already be after sundown. She didn’t look religious, however, after she lit candles, she told us something quite incredible.

“She said that the previous Shabbos she had come to us for the evening seuda. Our eldest daughter spoke with her and said that she was sad that she only came now, explaining with the utmost sincerity that she had missed out on a big mitzvah – lighting the Shabbos candles… Our daughter is four years old, and this reprimand stayed with the lady the whole week long. The gap between where she was holding and where our daughter was holding gave her cause to think, and she resolved to begin lighting Shabbos candles.

“We have a regular custom of celebrating our children’s birthdays with the tourists. The birthday boy or girl brings a box and asks each of the participants to give him/her a spiritual gift. Afterwards, we read the good resolutions they made. On the last birthday celebration, someone wrote that he would refrain from eating chametz on Pesach. When a request of this type comes from a child, no one would ever call it ‘religious coercion.’

“We had a guest once, a teacher from Cholon, who was so impressed that the child made spiritual requests and didn’t ask for the usual gifts, she declared that she planned to use this approach in her classroom too…

“I’ll give you another example of the powerful influence of Jewish children: An Israeli family on an around-the-world tour came to El Nido. While they were not religious, they connected with us and stayed at the Chabad House for a few days. Their children came to the kindergarten where our children learn. At one point, our eldest son pointed to a Torah verse on the wall and innocently said to one of the children: ‘Do you know what this pasuk is?’ It was ‘Shma Yisroel,’ however, the child didn’t know and my son explained it to him. The mother was in shock that her son didn’t know what the ‘Shma Yisroel’ was, and she decided to have the children learn with us during the entire time that they remained in town. It’s amazing to see the sight of an Israeli child who comes to this remote spot in the Philippine Islands and only here does he learn about ‘Shma Yisroel’…”

We can’t conclude this interview without asking about the main shlichus: spreading the “announcement of the Redemption.” How do you achieve this in El Nido?

“Moshiach encompasses all aspects of our activities here. Anyone who’s really on shlichus and sees miracles and wonders every step of the way knows that publicizing Moshiach is the simplest and easiest thing to do. Perhaps in previous years this subject was more difficult and complex, but today, people accept this naturally and without any problem.

“Many tourists ask us: How much longer will you stay here? People are accustomed to seeing representatives from the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who come for a set period of time and then return home. Our response surprises them: Until the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Then comes the next question: Nu, honestly, are you planning on being here for so many years? ‘No,’ we reply, ‘Moshiach will come today.’

“At this point, a conversation develops on the essence of Moshiach and the Redemption, and they quickly understand that the only fuel that revs our engine is the Rebbe and preparing the world for the coming of Moshiach. As a result of meeting with us, and the fact that we have accepted this shlichus upon our shoulders, people realize that Moshiach is not just some nice little fairytale. This is the modus operandi that powers our entire shlichus.”


One of the main parts of the Chabad House activities is making certain that Jews eat kosher. “The city has numerous restaurants catering to the tourist community, and as would be expected, the food served there is totally treif. Every time that we manage to get Jews to eat with us, we feel that we have saved them from eating another non-kosher meal.

“Last Erev Pesach, as I was walking through town, I saw a group of young Jews eating at a local restaurant. I went over to them and invited them to come for the Seder. As I was leaving, one of the women came to me with tears in her eyes. ‘How did you know that we are Jewish?’ she asked. I jokingly replied that it was as clear as the noses on their faces… ‘And why do you care about us? You can see how far we are from Jewish tradition, eating at a non-kosher restaurant?’ I spent the next few minutes explaining to her about the essence of the Jewish soul, which constantly longs for its Father in Heaven. She was deeply moved, and on the Seder nights, she and her family came and participated.”


Due to the growing activities in El Nido, the shluchim are planning to expand their outreach programs. “In recent years, more and more investors from the United States and Eretz Yisroel have arrived on the island, including a fair share of Jews. The hope is that the entire island, particularly the town of El Nido, will be transformed into one of the largest tourist sites in the world. As a result, our aspiration is – and for this we have been toiling, day and night – to buy a plot of land for a Chabad House and establish a spacious facility to house its many outreach programs. The facility will have a synagogue, an assembly hall, a kindergarten, a kosher kitchen, and a mikveh. When Moshiach comes, everything will join us on the way to Eretz Yisroel,” Rabbi Marom concluded.

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