October 5, 2006
Baja community begins where the land ends
Waves rush over a pebbled beach as the tensions of city life melt away. The Mexican sun hangs languidly overhead, bleaching colorful kayaks stacked along the shoreline. Hovering far off in the deep blue skies, parasailors are dwarfed by the arriving Carnival cruise ship that will soon drop anchor off the rocky coast. |
It's easy to understand why celebrities like John Wayne, Desi Arnaz and Bing Crosby were drawn here -- yet kept it a secret for nearly 20 years after the 1956 opening of The Palmilla, the area's first resort catering to sportfishing enthusiasts.
Located at the tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas is at the western end of what has become a 20-mile corridor of hotels and gated communities known collectively as Los Cabos, bookended in the east by the airport-adjacent town of San José del Cabo. The tiny fishing village has given way to beaches lined with luxury hotels and a notorious nightlife, but the laid-back seaside attitude still hangs in region's salty air.
World-class golf courses, sportfishing, scuba diving, horseback riding, hiking and desert tours are all popular draws, as Cabo enjoys 350 days of sun annually. From December to April, gray whales migrate here to calve their young, and this year's addition of the Cabo Dolphins center to the Cabo San Lucas marina adds the opportunity for visitors to swim with Pacific bottlenose dolphins (reservations are required).
Since tourism continues to boom here, drawing upward of 1 million guests each year, construction projects are part of the backdrop along the corridor, much like the Vegas Strip.
Many of the 100,000 permanent residents are retirees from north of the border, so this decidedly Mexican resort destination has an increasingly American sensibility. A plethora of U.S. retail chains and restaurants -- including Johnny Rockets and Hard Rock Cafe -- have set up shop in area malls and shopping centers, and even lox is now readily available at the local Costco.
Once the secret of Cabo was out, it seemed that there were few surprises left. But in the last year a very visible and increasingly vibrant Jewish community is taking shape where the land meets the sea.
While the exact number of Jews living here is not known, a communitywide Passover seder earlier this year at the Villa Del Palmar attracted more than 100 guests, and Shabbat services on the last weekend of each month routinely draws between 30 to 50 people to a donated third-floor space in the contemporary Puerto Paraiso shopping center.
Los Cabos is such a boomtown it has few natives. Jews attending community events hail from all over -- America, Israel, Argentina, South Africa and other Mexican states. But the diversity has led to some communication problems.
"Israelis here don't speak Spanish, and some Argentineans don't speak English. So there's no one language [that we have] in common," said Rabbi Mendel Polichenco, who has conducted religious services in Cabo San Lucas over the last year. "When I give a dvar Torah, I don't know what language to use. I do half English and half Spanish usually."
Polichenco, director of Chula Vista-based Chabad Without Borders, says U.S., Israeli and Argentinean employees at Diamonds International have been spreading word about the religious services, as well as Adriana Kenlan, an English news broadcaster on Cabo Mil Radio.
But the person he credits with being at the forefront of Jewish organizing in Los Cabos is David Greenberg of Senor Greenberg's Mexicatessen.
Greenberg, a 37-year-old L.A. native who grew up in the Conservative movement, came to Los Cabos in January 1992 to consider whether he would attend law school and never left. He knocked around in construction and restaurant management jobs and spent three years as a consular agent for the U.S. State Department. But after meeting Jim Sutter, the two became business partners and decided to open an upscale New York-style deli together in Cabo San Lucas. After getting pointers from Art Ginsburg of Art's Deli in Studio City, the pair opened the first Senor Greenberg's in the Plaza Nautica in October 1997, followed by a second location at Puerto Paraiso in September 2004.
"Next thing I know, I've got another restaurant, I'm married, I have a son," said Greenberg, whose Mazatlan-born wife, Karla, converted through the University of Judaism.