Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm Back: But Even on Vacation ...


I haven't blogged for a while because I was away on vacation. We spent two weeks travelling around northern New Mexico and Arizona. But even on vacation, we couldn't get away from the Jewish/Israeli thing. Three incidents were particularly interesting.

First, we spent four days in Santa Fe - a very cool town IMO. One of the major sites to see in Santa Fe is the Mission of San Miguel (see photo above), the oldest still functioning church in the U.S. (dating from 1610.) San Miguel Mission was one of the first buildings built when the Spanish established Santa Fe. It has lots of interesting artifacts inside and an interesting and well explained history. As part of the tour, we were given a booklet that describes the history of the mission and of the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. Its opening lines were:
San Miguel Mission: 1598
They came in search of a new life in a distant and rugged land. Some where secretly Jews hiding from the edicts of the Spanish crown, while others ...
Jews!! There everywhere! While I new that some conversos had made it to the New World, I didn't realize that this was front and centre in the history (or at least popular historiography) of New Mexico. Later, in the history museums, in both Sante Fe and Albuquerque, we ran across at least 6 different books on the history of Jews in New Mexico, featured prominently in the museum bookstores.

Is this merely a reflection of the objective historical facts? Or are Jews big spenders and significant tourists? Or is this just another sign that Jews are now cool, and "in" in the U.S: the emblematic success story of the American dream?

Our second Jewish encounter was when we saw an ad in the local Santa Fe "hipster" weekly, for a film entitled "Voices From The Inside: Israelis Speak". It was playing at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts (CCE), and was to be followed by a discussion on "the Middle East." We decided to attend, not knowing what to expect.

The first thing we noticed was that the hall was packed. I don't mean full. I mean packed: people sitting in the aisles; SRO. I estimate that there were 500 people. Second, the film was not bad (except for the unnecessary and overbearing text and narration that strung the interviews together.) It was mostly interviews with Israeli leftists of various stripes: some well known (Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avneri, Jeff Halper) and some less well known. They mostly represented organizations working in the ground in anti-occupation or civil rights: ICAHD, Tayush, B'Tselem, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence. Their main point- that what is being done in the territories is a "shande" and - in addition to what it is doing to the Palestinians - is a moral cancer on Israeli society itself.

The discussion afterwards was surprisingly civil. Most of the audience was sympathetic to the films point of view, though there were a few traditional "pro- Israel" voices. On woman, who informed us that she had "Jewish blood" (in her veins, presumably, not on her hands) was particularly viscous and outspoken in her anti-Israel rhetoric, but she was politely ignored by most of the audience who seemed to view her as an embarrassment. The tone was set by about a dozen Israeli and Arab high-school students from a local international school, many of whom said they were moved by this film, that it showed fact and a point of view they never heard in their home countries, and it that would spur them to work for peace and reconciliation when they returned home.

One of the comments came from a local leader of Another Jewish Voice, a local Jewish anti-occupation group. He invited people to join, and he explained that they were currently raising money for a water treatment plant in Gaza (to replace the one bombed by Israel in the recent war). We gave him $20.

Our third Jewish encounter, occurred on the last day of our trip. We went to see the Miss Indian World competition, part of the week long Gathering of the Nations in Albuquerque. Far from being a beauty contest, this turned out to be more like a mass Bat-Mitzvah (though the participants were 18-22, not 12-13.) The young women, each in their turn, demonstrated their mastery of some aspect of their particular native culture: whether it was quilting, cooking, dancing, or history. In addition, the introductory remarks, which emphasized the struggle of Indians to retain the best of their native cultures while adapting to the best of North American culture, reminded me of the Reconstructionist credo of trying to "Live in Two Civilizations."

But the real Jewish angle was in the "half time" entertainment. It was Tamara Podemski! We know Tamara. She went to summer camp with our children. Her grandfather was in Hashomer Hatzair with my mother in Poland in the 1930s! Tamara is half Indian half Jewish. Her mother is Ojibwa, and her father Israeli. She was introduced as "representing the Ojibwa and Hebrew tribes", and indeed one of her songs was sung in Hebrew, English and Ojibwa.

Talk about living in two civilizations !


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