So for the majority of my trip, I’m based in Barranquilla. A city off the coast. It is hot and humid- always. It has a Caribbean feel. There are no tourist attractions. Almost no one speaks English. If you look online for things to do as a tourist, they list Carnival- which only happens during a certain time of the year. That being said, I have met very sweet and open people. There is a great mix of Colombian and Caribbean food and music. And surprisingly, even though it is hot and humid, it feels less humid than NYC.
The Jewish communities that I have interacted with here have been living in Barranquilla for a long time at this point. Some have families that came to Colombia in the 1930’s and some as early as the Spanish Inquisition. I have also met with many in the convert communities, and so they have been in Colombia for ages. The communities are separate, almost never speaking or interacting with one another. They are all very conservative and have conservative views on the world.
This weekend I was in Medellin. My breath was taken away as we were landing – being able to see the beautiful green mountain ranges. Getting off the plane I was greeted with a nice and pleasant breeze. Here, it is beautiful spring/early summer weather with no humidity all year long. There are trees everywhere. Throughout the city there are random streams and rivers. The only downside was that everything was up hill (it is really mountainous).
The Jewish community that I was part of over Shabbat was also not the traditional community (one that I was told is very closed and closed minded, and doesn’t really like visitors). For the first time on my trip I was able to speak English and everyone understood. Many people of the community are US ex-pats, they moved to Medellin because it is beautiful, relatively inexpensive, and decent health care. The people in the community were from all backgrounds – Colombian, converts, Americans, gay couples, singles, people who grew up religious, intermarried couples, people who grew up Reform, singles, visiting Israelis… and everyone came to celebrate Shabbat. From what I understood from the organizers (and I saw this myself) they have outgrown their space in under a year. They really created a space that is for Jewish life. The people who come, go every single week (unless they are away). Everyone spoke about how important the community is to them. How much they have grown. How much they would like to see the community grow. How they too would like more opportunities to learn and interact with Jewish texts and traditions.
It really was a nice weekend. It is harder to be fully shomer Kashrut there- most eat dairy out. Most will drink non-kosher wines. Most members are not shomrei Shabbat either. So there are some draw backs to being an open community- usually it means that those who see themselves as orthodox need to give up on quite a bit (although the services are orthodox, so that is also interesting).
The rest of my time in Medellin was touring. For the first time in my time in Colombia I went out for long periods of time on my own. On Sunday I went to Guatapé with a tour bus. It was all in Spanish. I was the only one who went alone (it was actually a question that everyone asked me- why are you here alone…thanks for noticing guys 😦 ). But I got to explore and see such beautiful places. I climbed 675 steps to get to the top of El Peñón de Guatapé, the place that boasts “The rock with the most beautiful view in the world” (it was really beautiful). And the city of Guatapé which was full of color and life (it is amazing how different a city looks when it is all different colors instead of really tall grey and brown buildings…). On Monday I took the metro to the metro cable (a cable car that is part of the public transport in the city) and got an aerial view of the city. I did it all on my own- walking through the streets, getting tickets, and getting back to where I was staying. It was really nice to have a bit of time on my own and not feeling like I need to be “on” or do something or feel like I should be doing something different than I want to be doing.
Today I was getting annoyed at a bunch of things (it might be that I have a cold or just am actually annoyed). And I realized something that bothered me both in Medellin and in Barranquilla is the great dislike of “the other”. The separations of the converts and the born Jews. The separations of those who are observant and those who are not. The talking bad about “those religious chardeim” or “those gay people” or “those Reform people”. Everyone has a horrible story about someone. Everyone has been really burned. So much is not being created, and many things that are being created are being created as a reaction to hate, rather than a reason of love.
I know that part of it is cultural and political- and a large part I will not understand unless I decide to move here and actually be part of the community. But it makes me really sad- all of this anger and dislike. I am finding it harder and harder to sit there and listen to another story about how this group of people caused things to happen; or this stupid thing that someone said; or just how closed people are.
On a positive note though, I might have created positive change. I’ve been asked by many for shiurim in Spanish. And right now there aren’t so many (or the ones that are there are either at a high level, about halacha [as opposed to the parsha or something that touches the soul] or are saying things that are not true [and are causing bad things to happen in families and communities]. So I suggested to the rabbi, to contact some of the other Spanish speaking rabbis that he likes and to start a vlog. To start recording 10-15 minute videos of nice divrei Torah and to upload them. If there are a bunch of people in the list they might only have to do one every 6-10 week, which is really not so much time. So, the rabbi sent an email to a few colleagues- and some have come back saying yes. I really do hope this blog starts. I think that the Spanish speaking community will greatly appreciate some new Torah out there. I also think that if one is really annoyed with what is there, the greatest way to create change is to put out what you want to receive. And in today’s day and age recording and uploading is so simple and you can get good quality even with a cell phone.
My prayer for myself (and for all of us who work with people) may we never feel such disgust with our communities that we give up trying. May we find ways to create change through love rather than hate or fear or just as a reaction. And if I find myself in a situation where I am no longer able to do the work through love or with out disgust for my community- may I realize that and may I find a way to move one.
PS. I do know about what happened in the US over the weekend and have many thoughts about it. I hope to write about that soon. Please God may we find ways to work together there too. (And may all those who were injured have a full and speedy recovery)