April 7, 2014 by jewish journeys
Seriously, if I did not see these things with my own eyes, would I believe the stories as told to me by others?
Day two in Mexico City. I am spending the morning at “The Yiddisher”. A school in Central America surrounded by Jacaranda trees and with the sub-tropical vegetation indigenous to this region, but once inside the walls of this extraordinary educational complex, a different world. Traces of Poland, Lithuania and the other great centers of Yiddish culture so cruelly destroyed in Europe over seventy years ago. The donor recognition plaques from the past ninety years in Spanish and Yiddish thanking the Feldmans, the Fleischers, the Ovseyewitzs the Torenbergs, the Umanskys and the Wallersteins. No scions of the Mayans or Aztecs here, or of the sons and daughters of those who threw us out in 1492.
But no Yiddish here other than the plaques. In the background teachers and children in the kindergarten singing Hebrew songs before Shabbat. I am here with Eric Zuchovicki from the young leadership of Habonim Dror Mexico. A young man, impressive as are all the young leaders I meet around the Habonim Dror world. His parents moved here from Argentina after their parents moved there from Lithuania. And Veronica, our Shlicha born in Uruguay and now representing us here after moving to Israel in 2002 – such is the Jewish world. Tomorrow evening there will be some 300 people here in the school auditorium. They will celebrating with us 65 years of Habonim Dror in Mexico and dedicating with us the new clubhouse being created in the school yard so that together we can continue the work of bringing our messages to young Jewish people here as in much of the Jewish Diaspora. Of the building of Jewish Identity and Leadership, the importance of the ongoing connections between Israel and young Jewish people and the need to use our capacities to increase the Social Justice quotient both in Israel and wherever we work in our world. We will tell them that if you love the world enough, educate.
Lunch yesterday with some of the leaders of the Mexican Jewish community who show an extraordinary level of commitment to their own community and to Israel. The restaurant, beyond beautiful in an old Hacienda, Hacienda de Los Morales. A great story told to me by one of the community leaders. In a conversation with the present president of Mexico during the period he was beginning to transition to major political office, he was asked “How many Jews are there in Mexico?” Without hesitation he told him that were fewer than a million Jews in Mexico. Indeed there are, there are fewer than a million Jews in Mexico, there are 40,000. 40,000 Jews in Mexico and I could have spent my morning not in “The Yiddisher” school; it could have been “Tarbut”, or “Monte Sinai”, or “Atid”, or “Yavne”, or “Beit Hayeladim” and I have not yet mentioned the ever growing Ultra Orthodox schools and Yeshivot here.
It has become hard to concentrate as the “kinder” are out here playing during their break; yes the children are called “kinder” here and not “yeladim” or “ninos”. My Spanish is non-existent and until I find a little boy called Lior whose mother teaches Hebrew at the school, we communicate only by saying “Shabbat Shalom” to each other, but that’s not a bad thing to do on a Friday afternoon.
I know that this is not the place or time, but I cannot help but think of so many other little ones who were called “kinder” by their teachers and whose years of running around in playgrounds were cut short in the most awful way. There is such a strength that I find when I visit these communities. So many people who are committed to a culture, to memories, to a sense of being a part of something very important and worthwhile. But is it sustainable? Are we reaching the point at which those who have carried the mantle of responsibility for schools, old people’s homes and crucially for me in my present job, youth movements, hand over to a new generation who do not “know Joseph”?
Nobody teaches Yiddish at “The Yiddisher” any more. There were once six teachers from Israel here teaching Hebrew language and culture but today there are two. There were once shlichim for each youth movement but today three youth movements share a shlicha (remember Veronica from Israel via Uruguay, we share her with Hanoar Hatzioni and Chalutz LaMerchav).
Does any of this matter anymore? Are we moving into a post modern existence where ethnic/national/religious identity will be at best cute, generally passe and at worst seen as a root cause of oppression? My vote is clearly for specific identities. I believe that there is no conflict between having a specific cultural identity and commitment and celebrating diversity, as long as we educate, as we do, about the equal value of all human life; as long as we fight both for our right to celebrate who we are and the rights of all other peoples to celebrate who they are.
So, a Gute Woch from Mexico City and a playground filled with “kinder” from “The Yiddisher”.