September 6, 2013
On Tuesday, Maya, an Israeli officer here for a week on her South American travels, finds out about us, the rare Jews in town, and invites us to have a Rosh ha-Shanah dinner with her at Café Condor Wednesday night along with a dozen or so “homeless” campesinos and a couple of guides to translate into Quechua. Thalia gets sick again (briefly) so only Jacky and I go. The campesinos aren’t really homeless—they come into Sucre from the campo to beg—but they’re poor and hungry and we all relish the food and Maya’s sweetness. It’s not traditional but it’s a good way to begin the new year.
The actual Jews who live in Sucre probably number about five, and they have formed a congregation, along with a number of non-Jews, as Messianic Jews, a term new to me (though, as I later read in Wikipedia, they are a widespread and established group). Carla, one of my Spanish teachers, invites us to her parents’ for the second night of Rosh ha-Shanah. Her father, whom I’ll call Mr. Z., leads the congregation; he takes us to the temple/chapel he has built on his property. The walls are painted to look as though they’re made of black rock with white mortar; on the back wall are menorahs, stars of David, hangings with the name of God in Hebrew letters, instruments, and amplifiers, while on the right wall are giant letters spelling Jesus Christo. As about thirty or forty people show up little by little, Mrs. Z. invites women to come up and light candles, nine in all, while she recites the blessing in garbled Hebrew. But Mr. Z., who was born a Jew, is the real star of the show, praying in a “charismatic” manner (in Spanish) for the Lord to rise again while his wife whispers into her mike, “Ah, Señor, levántate, Señor.” Mr. Z.’s wildly eschatological sermon centers around the importance and connections of the Jewish holidays to the messianic ideal, and in addition to readings from both the Old and New Testaments, he uses a laser pointer to highlight the significant passages on charts pinned to the wall. The songs they sing along to are cheesy synth-laden numbers mixing Spanish and Hebrew; as she sings, Mrs. Z. plays slightly off-beat on a tom-tom (Mr. Z. used to play guitar, but has arthritis now). The service lasts well over an hour; by the time it’s over it’s after nine. The chairs are rearranged in a circle and a table is brought in with bread, wine, apples, honey, two kinds of rice, two kinds of chicken, and another dish or two; I say the Hebrew blessings, we dip apples and bread into honey, we drink port, and we finally eat. After dinner, Israeli dances are blasted from the speakers and we clumsily (or, in Mr. Z.’s case, skillfully) dance around the room, happy that the service is over and the food was good and the people are so warm and kind and it’s a Shana Tova (good new year) and we’ll be going back to our house soon.