A Jewish Family in a Dominantly Catholic Country

Monday, October 14

I have the unusual opportunity of living with a Jewish family in a country where practically everyone you meet is catholic! Not only are they jewish – oh no – but their parents were survivors of the holocaust! They were born here in Quito, so I suppose their strongest language is Spanish. But because their parents were born in Germany, they also speak fluent aleman! And to top it all off, they went to English-speaking schools – so I am living with a tri-lingual couple! Impresionante.

The fun part is, they invite me to celebrate with them. The other night, we hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner at our place. I proudly set the table for twenty the night before.”Se ve muy elegante”, said my host mother when I had finished. Mama Evelyn attended evening synagogue, and brought along a few of the girls from my program – but Papa Miguel chose not to go. Apparently this is typical – Evelyn follows las reglas de manera estricta and Miguel’s not so into the whole attending-services business.

Once the service was over, people started flooding into the house, showering us with kisses and “Shona Tovah” greetings. I stood there trying to replicate whatever they were saying before they moved onto their next kiss – but it was clear that I was a newb at this whole Rosh Hashanah thing. A friend from my program who attended finally caught me looking confused and began to explain: “Shona Tovah means Happy New Year. It is a time to celebrate new beginnings!…They eat apples and caramel to symbolize the sweet times they have to look forward to.” Later, as we sat down to eat, Mama Evelyn took a moment to toast to everyone who had come, and to remind us again why we were gathered and celebrating. And this time I nodded my head and understood: new year, new beginnings. Got it.

As the night progressed, I fed off of all the happy energy exploding around me – family and friends reuniting and catching up on each others lives, stories, speeches, words of advice, thunderous laughter, delicious food and wine. It was like Thanksgiving day! Maids and butlers waited on us. We were served apple pie and hard liquor for dessert. I passed on the hard liquor part, but the fact that it was served at all proved that it was quite an elegant evening.

Watching the celebration, I realized what an interesting mezcla de cultura this was. My ear isn’t used to hearing hebrew and spanish words together…they almost seem to clash! But what a fascinating experience it was – I absolutely ate it up (both figuratively and literally because MAN was there a lot of food!). I look forward to participating in more celebrations to come!

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