A slight exaggeration. While Madonna put it (back) on the spiritual map, there are certainly worse trends to follow out there. In here, my current hostel, The Zohar, my hosts’ (Joshua and Beatriz) red-stringed wrist shows the far-reaching appeal of this practice. There was even a Kabbalah center here in Bogotá which my hostel host is pushing to reopen.
Coming to the Zohar (the hostel) was accidental – focused on satisfying my physical, not spiritual needs – I walked past and had seen the pictures. Uncovering the Kabbalah connection came when I realized the name’s familiarity – though I had to google it to be sure. My host, J. knows little about Judaism. He does know Jews – through work in NYC and also ‘rumor’ so to speak here in Bogotá.
I wouldn’t say this hostel is particularly spiritual, though it’s got wonderful down comforters which adds to my sleeping nirvana. Yet, in a country of less than 5,000 Jews there are now 2 of us here – Elijah, who is here for work. He’s spent 12 years in Miami and will be going back for the Jewish High Holidays. I notice how fluidly people travel between the Americas – which also means I can’t say I’m American – because so is everyone else here.
Elijah’s Orthodox, living in Cali, a small city west of here – there is a community and a growing Jewish community as Colombians declare their Judaism. There has always been a population here insisting they were Jewish – but unable to prove it with papers, meaning they’ve been ignored. E. shared they practice the Halacha (laws), keep kosher, speak Hebrew. But still the ‘established’ Jewish community, the Ashkenazi who moved here in the 1930’s fleeing Hitler, wouldn’t recognize them. Last January, Spain released a list of over 5,000 names of those exiled 500 years ago. Surprise, surprise – they were all Jews. There are 21 Jewish communities springing up around the country. And they are Orthodox – E. says if you are embracing the religion take it all and then decide what you believe, and how you will practice. (I’ll be writing about Shabbat dinner with Elijah, Joshua and Beatriz soon).
Really, I don’t look for this stuff. Not yet – not on this trip. But already my curiosity is sparked and I can feel the draw to explore in-depth other parts of the country – and these communities. After all, there are no coincidences.
It all comes back to identity: how one maintains identity when it’s not supported by the environment. I’m sure I’ll learn more about this with indigenous people as I see the country.
Then there’s language: I’m here to teach English, the ‘universal language’. At a ‘Spanglish’ conversation group at a local bar, Eduardo, a young ‘Biology teacher who teaches in English’ pointed out if everyone speaks English what will happen to all the other languages. What will happen to alternative ways to communicate and express oneself. Will Starbucks and H&M take over? Or are they already here and I haven’t seen them (which is more likely….)
Somehow I’m making time to look for work – one ‘offer’ for an unspecified number of hours and I’m soon off to another interview. I’ve finally tapped into the corner of the expat community at the local language school and realize there are people who will help me settle in and see the city.
It all reminds me I need to learn Spanish! My handful of words aren’t enough in this country where English is as rare as hot water in the kitchen faucet. The simplest things can be a challenge when there is a language barrier. I was proudly escorted to an ATM yesterday by a (haltingly) English-speaking businessman. I’ve shared that feeling many times in NYC, escorting foreigners through the subway and city streets.
Fortunately those little acts of kindness are immune to language – or should I say rely on the power of universal language – a smile.
That’s a bit of my first 8 days….
FYI: I’m off to Cartagena tomorrow for a 2 week gig. This should be interesting!