Managua, Nicaragua – One week after his death, friends and family members are remembering Nicaragua’s only Orthodox Jew, who passed away, at the age of 86 after suffering a stroke several months ago.Join our WhatsApp group
Max (Moshe) Najman was born in Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua, in July 1927 to Polish born parents who settled in the country after sailing from Europe to Cuba.
“My father was a hard working man who continued his father’s small business, a shirt factory, turning it into one of the two biggest shirt factories in Nicaragua,” Jimmy Najman, the oldest of the five Najman children, told VIN News. “He foresaw that the shirt business was not going to be doing well and he made a trip to Japan where he started with plastics. He bought a small machine and starting making very small plastic key chains.”
Over time the business grew and today, under the supervision of Jimmy Najman who manages the factory from his home in Miami, it produces school supplies and ring binders.
Najman was also selected to serve as the honorary consul for Israel in Nicaragua for over 20 years.
“He loved doing things for the State of Israel,” recalled Jimmy Najman. “The Israeli ambassador was stationed in Costa Rica but he would come to visit from time to time and my father would prepare for him. He always worked hard on that and it gave him a lot of satisfaction.”
The Najmans were among the many who fled Nicaragua in the 1980’s when the country was seized by a revolution.
“All Jewish businesses were confiscated by the communists and we moved to Miami,” recalled Jimmy Najman.
During that time, the Najmans experience a major life change.
“We were not always Orthodox,” said Jimmy Najman. “While we were in Miami my father met Rabbi Sholom Lipskar and it just happened. When we came back to Nicaragua in 1990 there was a new government and we were able to get our property back but very few of Nicaragua’s Jews returned and my father was the only Orthodox Jew now living in Nicaragua.”
With the country’s only shul burned and confiscated during the revolution, the Najman home became the center for Judaism in Nicaragua. Despite the lack of kosher food in the country, the Najmans found that although kashrus did require careful planning, it did not pose an insurmountable problem.
“We would go every month and get food from the Lubavitch rabbi in Costa Rica, an eight hour drive,” recalled Jimmy Najman. “My father told someone, ‘It is very easy to keep kosher in Nicaragua. All you need is a big freezer.'”
Rabbi Hershel Shpalter, co-director of Jabad Lubavitch de Costa Rica, remembered Max Najman as his point person in Nicaragua for anything Jewish.
“He would come to us for many of the important holidays since they didn’t have a real Shul,” said Rabbi Shpalter. “He held up the Jewish community of Nicaragua, maintaining the cemetery and making sure that only Jews were buried there. He as a very warm and loving Jew, a baal tzedaka who was full of love, devotion and tremendous dedication.”
There were other occasions where the Najmans spent the Jewish holidays in Nicaragua.
“One time there was a big hurricane which didn’t affect Managua but did a lot of damage in the countryside,” reminisced Jimmy Najman. “The United States sent a lot of medical teams and many of the doctors were Jewish. We stayed home for Passover that year and it was a very crowded Seder, with a lot of the foreigners who came to help joining us.”
“For one reason or another there were many Jews who stopped by our house, either staying for Shabbos or because the rabbi in Costa Rica would send people to us,” added Jimmy Najman.
Leo Freund, a Kiryas Joel businessman who met Max Najman in 1996 and kept in close contact with him over the years, recalled a story told to him about one exceptionally memorable Pesach in Nicaragua.
“He had a big house, with cement walls for protection all around,” said Freund. “One Pesach in the middle of the Seder someone knocks on the window and Moshe wondered how is it possible for anyone to do that when there are guard dogs and shomrim all over the property. He looked up and saw he forgot to pour the Kos Shel Eliyahu. He had such emuna peshuta that he knew it was Eliyahu HaNavi reminding him to pour the kos. He even told me that he looked up again during Shefoch Chamascha and saw the top of the wine was shaking and he took it as a sign that Eliyahu HaNavi had just been there.”
Having an outpost of yiddishkeit in Nicaragua was something not to be taken lightly, according to Freund.
“You can’t imagine the feeling of someone who does business in Central America to find a heimishe yid, who is shomer Torah u’mitzvos,” explained Freund. “You get up in the morning and there is his wife, with her hair covered, saying Birkos HaTorah and Krishma. You look at the sinks and you see them labeled ‘leche’ and ‘carne’. You look out on the porch you see a Succah. In a country with nothing, he took care of any yid who came.
Freund was effusive in his praise for Max Najman.
“The ahava he had, the love of yiddishkeit, the emunah peshuta in bias hamoshiach, the way he lived to do chesed for everyone were all unbelievable. I would call him before I would come back to Nicaragua and say ‘Reb Moshe, what can I bring you from New York?’ and he would say ‘Just come. When you come it elevates me in kedusha.’ We davened together, we sang songs about emunah and danced together and he would have tears coming out of his eyes. To see the strength of this man, to be shomer Torah u’mitzvos in a place like that elevated me in kedusha too. It was a zechus to be able to mechaya a man like him and to receive his brachos.”
Years later, Freund recalled a phone call from Max Najman who by that time was splitting his time between Miami and Nicaragua.
“His son was getting married in Florida and he called and asked me to come to the chasana,” said Freund. “It was Chanukah but I went anyway. I was shocked when he gave me kriyas kesuba under the chupah. He told me he wanted me to do that in order to strengthen the kedushas yisroel of his children.”
Max Najman made such a great impact on visitors that one in particular chose to honor him in a particularly touching fashion.
“I once got a call from a rabbi in New Jersey who told me that there was a woman approaching her 80th birthday who wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion,” recalled Rabbi Shpalter. “A friend who had traveled through Nicaragua suggested donating a Sefer Torah to the Jewish community there and the rabbi asked me if I could make it happen. I called the woman and asked her ‘Why Nicaragua?’ She told me that she wanted the Sefer Torah to go a place where there is no Torah to shed light in the darkness and her friend, who was so inspired by Moshe Najman, suggested that she choose Nicaragua.”
According to Jimmy Najman, that Sefer Torah, donated by Mrs. Chana Sorhagen of Morristown, New Jersey, was the first Sefer Torah in Nicaragua in forty years. Max Najman was also involved in sending another Sefer Torah to a newly opened Chabad House at a Nicaraguan beach resort located two and a half hours from Managua.
Rabbi Yisroel Freeman, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Sudbury, Massachusetts was yet another visitor to the Najman home in August 2001.
“I stayed with the Najmans for five days several years ago,” said Rabbi Freeman. “He picked me up from the airport and even from the first meeting it was obvious that he was a very special person who possessed a unique varmkeit.
The Najmans took care of kosher meat, burials, the Jewish cemetery and I was there for their very first Friday night after people started coming back to Nicaragua. There were about 35 people and it was an amazing Shabbos. They were the source of everything Jewish and were like the lighthouse of yiddishkeit in Nicaragua. Yehei zichro baruch.”