Global Education

A Jew in a Catholic country: a story of extremes

By Laura Haime
Published: November 2009

The entire Colombian population always knows when the clock strikes 6 pm.

At this time each evening, every radio station in the country plays the national anthem: La humanidad entera, que entre cadenas gime, comprende las palabras del que murió en la cruz. This verse translates to, All humanity, moans within its chains, and understands the words of He who died on the cross.

A true patriot, I had memorized the anthem by the time I was four, and I would frequently scream it at the top of my lungs.

I was, of course, completely oblivious to the fact that in my attempts to prove my loyalty to my country, I also praised Jesus.

The Jewish population in Colombia is currently about the size of Temple Emanuel and Temple Reyim combined.

At a total of five Jews in the grade, my class had the highest number of Jews out of the whole school. Once a week, my class had a ‘ËœReligious Session’ in school, during which the Jewish kids would have to leave the room.

I can still vividly remember that every time the religious class ended, my classmates would exit the classroom with an unmistakable glare in their eye as they passed by me.

Utterly confused, I approached my grandmother and asked her what I had done to deserve such treatment.

My grandmother, who attended a nun’s school because all of the other school systems during her time were poorly organized, answered my question with a personal story.

She recalled that during her childhood, her classmates accused her of killing Jesus because she was Jewish. They then convinced her to repent for her people’s sins so that she could be forgiven.

My fellow Jewish friends and I attended our own religious classes called Majon every Tuesday after school. Although my class was significantly smaller than my class at the Temple Emanuel Hebrew School, I learned more in one year from my Colombian Jewish education than I did in three years from my American Jewish education.

Most of this is due to the attitude in each Hebrew School. At Majon, the children always walked into class with expressions of enthusiasm on their faces.

We were eager to understand and consequently fall in love with our religion.

That way, if we were ever accused of killing Jesus, we would not lose sleep due to anxiety.

Thanks to our Jewish education, we appreciated the reality of our background and embraced it.

In contrast, I cannot remember a single one of my friends who looked forward to going to Hebrew School in America.

We all dreaded that teacher who felt the need to use a whistle in order to attain our attention.

Since Jews in the United States, specifically in Newton, are not persecuted on a daily basis, there isn’t as much need for us to defend our religion, and thus, less motivation for us to love it unconditionally.

The greatest aspect of Judaism in Colombia is that even if my entire blood family left the country, I know I’ll always have family there.

The small Jewish population not only encourages individuals to understand their religion, but also encourages everyone to stick together and form an extremely tightly knit community.

I feel assured knowing that whenever I’m in Colombia, I’m guaranteed an invitation to a Shabbat dinner where I’ll be able to look around the dinner table and know that I’m at home.

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