The Only Jew in Cuenca

8 Apr

Passover is starting soon, or has already started, depending on when you read this. But you would have no idea down here in Cuenca. I’m not even aware half the time of the various holidays just because the only religion that really seems to matter down here is Catholicism. So as far as I know, I’m the only Jew in Cuenca. I know there are maybe 500 Jews in Quito, but I think that’s as far as it goes.

The big deal, on the other hand, is that Good Friday and Easter are coming up. So we have tomorrow, Friday, and Monday off. Monday is off because of “Teacher Day.” So we are taking the opportunity to travel south to Loja and Vilcabamba. There isn’t much to do in Loja, but we’ll spend the night and then head to Vilcabamba the next morning. Vilcabamba is said to be an extremely relaxing town that attracts a lot of older expats and hippies. It’s also known as the valley of longevitiy because people apparently live to be upwards of 100 years old there. They attribute it to their diet and lifestyle. Some say it has to do with the pH in the water.

But anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve been out of the country during Passover. Two years ago I was living in Spain, another predominantly Catholic country. I didn’t go to a sedar there either, but I might have had a more interesting experience. My roommate was also Jewish, and we had another friend that was also a Jew. It must have fallen on a Friday night because we were at our friends apartment and drinking.

We all went out on to the balcony to get some air. The apartment had a great view of the city and April in Sevilla is hotter than you would think. Out on the balcony we came to the realization that we were missing out on a sedar, and we simultaneously broke out into traditional songs in Hebrew. None of us can even say that we speak or understand Hebrew, but we have these prayers and songs ingrained in us, so that we can pull back on them at times like those. The drinks obviously helped our karaoke version of the sedar, and we didn’t care what the neighbors thought.

Once or twice someone came out from the apartment to see what the noise was and we’d yell that we were singing Passover songs. We hugged and yelled the songs loudly and laughed. Normally we didn’t advertise that we were Jewish, but on that night we didn’t care at all. And though we were missing out on matzoh ball soup and other dishes, it was a good way to spend the holiday.

But now, in Ecuador, I have no one to celebrate the holiday with. Sometimes the simple act of following the tradition is more important than whether or not you understand the meaning or truly believe in the spiritual side. That’s for another day, though. So I’ll probably just celebrate by picking up a shawarma on the way home from work. I mean, at least they sell that in Israel. Close enough.

Happy Pesach.

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