Wednesday, March 2, 2011

San Jose, Costa Rica

By Kristen Davenport

Kristen, left, with friends while abroad in Costa Rica

After hearing my friends’ stories of synagogues in other countries, having seen magnificent churches on every corner and having survived several days with Hashkiveinu stuck in my head, I decided to try to find San Jose, Costa Rica’s one reformed synagogue for Shabbat services. I’m spending Spring 2011 traveling around Costa Rica with Duke University’s Global Health and Tropical Medicine Program and we spend the majority of our weeks in the jungle, with class or field trips six days a week. Needless to say, there’s very little time to practice religion of any variety, but we did spend an entire two and a half weeks taking intensive Spanish in the capital city of San Jose and that I decided to take that opportunity to check out the synagogue.

For those of you who don’t know, or haven’t guessed yet, I’m not Jewish. I’ve attended reformed services at Hillel pretty consistently during my three years at Tufts and I’ve come to love spending Friday evenings there. There is something peaceful about Shabbat services and though it may not be “religious” for me, it is a spiritual experience that I value and miss while I’m away. I find that services are a great way to conclude the week and take a much-needed, deep breath before starting all over again. So I made it my mission to attend services in Costa Rica.

I found the synagogue’s website and asked one of my Professor’s if he knew anything about it. He told me that a student had tried to go last semester, but they had turned her away, so I emailed to see if I could get permission to attend. They asked for my passport information, Costa Rican and American contact information and the name and address of my shul (Hillel, of course), which I promptly sent because they needed five days to process the information. I never received a response, but I headed for the synagogue on Friday afternoon anyway. One of my few complaints about Costa Rica is that there are no street addresses; directions read something like this: “800 meters west of Pops Sabana.” That means 800 meters (which to me really only means twice around the track) west (whichever direction that is) from Pops (a ubiquitous ice cream chain) in Sabana (a medium-sized borough of San Jose.) In the end, going to services entailed walking around for three hours, giving up and taking a cab ride, just to realize I had been only 200 m from the synagogue.

Once I finally got there and pulled my khakis on over my shorts in a side alley, I approached the guard armed with my passport. I sat in the basement until a member of the congregation arrived and gave me the go-ahead, and I was led upstairs to the chapel. I said “buenas” and “hola” to a nice old lady, who corrected me by saying, “hola? Hunny, just use hello!” I soon realized that she had spent her entire life in Westchester County, NY and that more than half the congregation of about 50 was comprised of American ex-pats. The other half were their Costa Rican wives and children. The service was bilingual and they passed around a copy of the D’var Torah in English, though it was delivered in Spanish. I really enjoyed the service itself; many of the tunes were similar to the ones I know from Hillel and I was overjoyed to learn that in Costa Rica, “ch” is pronounced like a breathy “h”. So much easier! The oneg afterward was an exhilarating break from the rice and beans I’ve been living on; there was kugel, hummus, pita and even the Manischewitz tasted good.
A picture Kristen took while traveling in Costa Rica

I had a wonderful night and, though I missed the Hillel environment and all the friends I normally see at services, I feel very lucky to have had that peaceful, familiar evening in the hustle and bustle of San Jose and my trip.