Tag Archives: Zohar Hostel Bogota

Unexpected treat: Shabbat in Bogota

Before I take off for Cartagena tomorrow,  I want to tell you about a special – and unexpected treat: Shabbat dinner – in the Zohar hostel with the hostel’ hosts and E., an Orthodox Cali Jew/ fellow traveler.  Where to even begin….

 

E., B., J., from left to right.  I have no other pictures from the dinner because once the sun went down, there would be no pics.

E., B., J., from left to right. I have no other pictures from the dinner because once the sun went down, there would be no pics.

The Zohar’s J. and B. are captivated by Kabbalah, and by extension, Judaism.  E. has been satisfying their curiosity, providing equal opportunities to teach and learn.  I was invited to Shabbat/Friday night dinner thanks to my DNA.  At 5:30 we gathered in the hosts’ home on the 2nd floor and E. prayed the afternoon service.   Needless to say, not part of my ritual.

What I’m about to say may sound familiar if you’ve read earlier posts about my Eastern European conversations:  As Jews here reclaim their Judaism (Benei Anussim, Orthodox communities are springing up all over the country – 21 at current count – all Orthodox, because as E. shared, if you don’t know anything you should learn it all the ‘right’ way and then you have the knowledge to make the decision to do otherwise – choose your own brand of Judaism (and in my case “Jewish Renewal” thanks to Romemu in NYC).   Based on J.’s and B.’s strong affinity, E. threw out the possibility they had Jewish DNA – something that was drawing them back in so to speak.

Inside the church at Monseratte, atop the hill overlooking Bogota.  I'll have pics of synagoge's as I attend.  As you can imagine the church's here are plentiful, with crowds attending afternoon services.

Inside the church at Monseratte, one of Bogotá’s prize destination,  atop an eastern hill overlooking the city. I’ll have pics of synagogues as I attend. As you can imagine the churches  here are plentiful, with crowds attending afternoon services in those I’ve popped into.

Gondola that took us down the hill - my scariest action so far - I was with a Peace Corps volunteer, W. from Paraguay and she agreed!  This pic courtesy of rawinquiry.com

Gondola that took us down the hill from Monsarrat – my scariest action so far – I was with a Peace Corps volunteer, W. from Paraguay and she agreed! This pic courtesy of rawinquiry.com

The Hebrew (with a Sephardic accent) and Spanish prayers were diligently listened to by J. and B. – from Kabbalah, they were focused on the pronunciation of each letter, and open to its spirituality.  It’s one more example of how intent guides the value of any experience.  I’m respectful – and in awe of those learning a new religion – having the strength and self-awareness to know something is ‘missing’ from their life – not to mention learning how to read Hebrew and pray. E. didn’t learn till he was 28 – (and he knew he was Jewish: his mother is Sephardic, his grandfather Ashkenazi/German from the EEuropean immigration of the ’20’s).

Rich red and green dot the eastern hills above the city, these in Monserrate

Rich red and green dot the eastern hills above the city, these in Monsarrat.

During a lovely dinner of soup (with lots of potatoes Colombian style), salad, chicken and ox tail (yup!), B. asked non-stop questions – in Spanish with spectacular non-verbals!  My brain bloated way before my stomach, though most of her questions (I think…) dealt with both the history of Judaism and also specific Halacha (rules).  E. clearly outlined the difference in men’s and women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism – separation of the sexes, men leading prayer in volume and intensity –  while I explained how my service is filled with singing and dancing – and mixed seating.  I imagine over the next few months I’ll find myself in many different synagogue groups, equally awed, equally amazed, and feeling wonderfully blessed (and even frustrated).

Overlooking Bogota - as you can see a HUGE city.  The skies are overcast and actually quite polluted thanks to diesel fuel

Overlooking Bogotá – as you can see a HUGE city. The skies are overcast and actually quite polluted thanks to diesel fuel

E. and I were in total agreement that there is no-one way to be Jewish.  As he said – it’s not a race, nationality, or even just a religion – it’s a way of thinking.  And freedom of thought, as Jews reclaim their identity here is the greatest gift.  Though he was quite insistent on the importance of following the ‘rules’ (Halacha) which is not my way of practicing.  This insistent determination is something I’ll be paying attention to over the next few months.

One thing is for certain – I listen for similarities from my E.European conversations and that has to stop.  I’m in a different culture with a different history.  I know so little – I have so much to learn.

The eastern hills are lush and beckoning.  Notice the cross planted as a reminder - a mecca to all who look up.  By late afternoon the sky clears to reveal the brilliant blue sky and welcome warmth!

The eastern hills are lush and beckoning. Notice the cross planted as a reminder – a mecca to all who look up. By late afternoon the sky clears to reveal brilliant blue sky and welcome warmth!

 

 

Blocks away, is this restaurant/sign.  It appears I not only can't understand Spanish - but I can't understand Hebrew either.  Yet, that it's even here intrigues me.  If anyone can  translate - please do!

Blocks away, is this restaurant/sign. It appears I not only can’t understand Spanish – but I can’t understand Hebrew either. Yet, that it’s even here intrigues me. If anyone can translate – please do!

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Everybody loves Kabbalah

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.

The 'living room' at the Zohar Hostel

The ‘living room’ at the Zohar Hostel

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.

The original site of Bogota!

The original site of 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.

This 'mini-golf' event courtesy of Quaker Oats was taking place at the original Bogota site.  This could have been anywhere….

This ‘mini-golf’ event courtesy of Quaker Oats was taking place at the original Bogotá site. This could have been anywhere….

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….)

Subway shops are everywhere, I've seen a Starbuck's cup (not store), several McDonalds - you get the idea….

Subway shops are everywhere, I’ve seen a Starbuck’s cup (not store), several McDonald’s – you get the idea….

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.

Mike (right) and his buddy showed me the ropes of taking a bus and their experience as Expats.  On their way for a casting call, Mike will be playing a dead guy in a Micky Rourke movie

Mike (right) and his buddy showed me the ropes of taking a bus and their experience as Expats. On their way for a casting call, Mike will be playing a dead guy in a Micky Rourke movie

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!