Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot from Mexicali
It is a cool 98 degrees today. For this part of the desert this is cool and it reminds us of Shavuot of the miseries of our forty years in Sinai.
I am here in Mexicali working with a local Jewish community. Being on the border I have unique windows in a Jewish community that straddles the borde. The synagogue is in El Centro, California and about half the congregation is from people who live on the US side of the border; the other half are citizens of Mexico who live in Mexicali. For the most part this unique arrangement works. Last night we did the service in Hebrew and English, and then I gave the sermon in Spanish with brief translations for non-Spanish speakers, a very small minority. Today, Saturday morning, we do services on the Mexican side of the border, and on Sunday we return to the US side for Shavuot and a reading of the Book of Ruth.
Needless to say, this unique arrangement has its challenges, most of which have been overcome, but with new ones always arising. For example, many of the Americans are Ashkenazic Jews from the Eastern states, there are also a few local Californians. The Mexicans, on the other hand, tend to be either Sephardic or some form of Jews-by-choice. Then there are those who we might call “thinking about -being -Jews Jews”. Amazing,y the whole thing holds together.
Being on the border you cannot avoid the political situation, and some in the local Jewish community are border patrol officers. For example, the hero who shot the San Diego synagogue terrorist was a Jewish border patrol agent from here who happened to be at services in San Diego. No matter how one tries to be non-political, it is impossible. The situation here touches everyone.
As this letter is about the local Jewish community I will spend just a few moments on the border crisis and then move on. To summarize:
1. There is a real border crisis. Anyone who denies it is either a fool or a liar.
2. Many of those in the caravans, but not all but many, are not seeking asylum but are violent criminals mixed with an ever-increasing number of political operatives. Children are rented and women are raped on a daily basis. That fact is not nice, but it is a fact
3. The Mexican communities are very fearful of this demographic change. They wonder if Americans are naive, stupid, or simply misinformed by their media.
4. Most of the US media simply lie. In some regards, it is a bit similar to the lies told by the New York Times during the Holocaust. The US media rarely cross the border except to create false narratives.
5. The border patrol agents are overwhelmed, angry, and depressed.
6. It is not clear how the crisis will end but DRWs (Distant Rich Whites) who have never been here or who live behind gated communities, will eventually leave those living on both sides of the border to deal with the problem and then falsely declare the situation solved.
Now back to the local Jewish community. I am always amazed at how well things function despite all of the political, economic, linguistic, and cultural hurdles. In reality this is the community’s third rebirth. It died around 1970 and the synagogue was abandoned. In about 1973 due to a fight in the Yuma Jewish community over a rabbi, After it was reborn there was an attempt to “resurrect” the building. Some of the items were saved, found, or repaired. Then in this century an influx of Mexicali Jews or converts to Judaism gave the building and the community new life. Now there are lots of children, young families, and a new sense of trilingual pride. This year the synagogue was repainted and old walls were repaired. On the other side, someone broke into the synagogue and stole its silver. Despite the setback and a new alarm system, there is a sense of community and a can-do attitude.
So as we celebrate G-D’s giving of The Ten Commandments here along the US-Mexico border, Shavuot means more than remembering but also symbolizes “re-member-ing” as hands join across the border in a celebration of life.