Friday, February 18, 2011

Quito, Ecuador

by Gabriel Lewenstein

Gabe on the Equator
A few weeks before I left to study abroad in Quito, it dawned on me that this
would be the first time in my life I wouldn’t have easy access to other Jews. Never mind Shabbat services or Seder, what would I do for a whole semester without kosher jokes or Mel Brooks references? I wasn’t sure what role I wanted Judaism to play in my life here. Should I wait a while before mentioning my religion to my Catholic host parents? Should I refrain from making every Jewish reference I thought of? Would I enjoy Shabbat services with the small Jewish community here? Would I cease to eat slowly on Friday nights?

Despite these questions, I admit that one of the first things I did when we got the list of people in the program was scan the list for “–bergs” and “–steins” (For the record, all of my guesses were right, plus one girl with a less stereotypical last name). On the other hand, I didn’t want Judaism to be the only way I connected with these girls, so I decided to wait until it came up naturally. Sure enough, Day 3 found “Rachel” and I leaning in to sound out the Hebrew in a septa-lingual ancient bible.

There are definitely times when I feel a little lost without my usual Jewish bubble, like when Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” came on in a bar, and I realized no one else was singing the Maccabeats version. But it’s also been very interesting to talk with people who have varying levels of understanding of Judaism. I’ve explained to my host parents a few basics of the religion, and clarified that we do not, in fact, believe in Allah. I’ve talked with a Catholic friend about how it feels to be, or even pray, in a church. And I’ve spoken with one girl who, as one stop on her spiritual journey, spent some time as a Messianic Jew.

More recently, I’ve ended up connecting with the roughly 120 family Jewish community in Quito. For the past two weeks, I’ve gone to Friday night services, which have been, predictably, both familiar and strange. Most of the songs and tunes are the same as Hillel or my home temple, and the Jewish population is much whiter than the average Ecuadorian, making me stick out less. But entering any new community is a little awkward at first, and it’s strange being in services when I don’t know anyone and they don’t know me. Slowly though, I’m starting to get to know the community through rides home from services, going to a discussion night about Anti-Semitic political cartoons from Arab countries, and recognizing at services the guy who owns the bagel shop down the street from my house.

A photo taken by Gabe of the beach town of Canoa, Ecuador
I’m still figuring out my Jewish identity here, to be sure. And it stills makes me sad when no one understands my references to Annie Hall or Seinfeld. But things have progressed pretty well so far. Tonight, I promised my host parents I’d cook them some traditional Jewish food sometime. Any suggestions?

No comments:

Post a Comment