Friday, June 20, 2014

On being Jewish in Spain

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I continually joke with my family that my religious identity is a crisis that I'll deal with further down the road. I'm too busy graduating into a horrible economy with slim job pickings and all of those problems that 20 somethings deal with. My religious crisis can wait. You'd think Spain would be the last place I'd fine some religious clarity. And yet, there it was, in Spain, of all places.
So in 1478 the Spanish inquisition began. Since then, Spain has been mostly a Catholic country, the south of Spain most of all. Exhibit A: Semana Santa. Easter shut down the whole of Seville. That being said, I was not prepared for the ignorance and lack of religious education I experienced in the south of Spain. The first time I experienced this was when I told a friend that Hanukkah was coming. I would say there is a consensus that Hanukkah is the most well known Jewish holiday, however, my friend looked at me blankly and asked what Hanukkah was. We tried finding a Spanish translation, but even then, he had no idea what I was talking about. Sometimes I feel that America's obsession with being politically correct can be crippling, but at least we learn about and respect other religions starting at a young age. The information gap I saw between my American and Spanish friends astounded me.
I tried my best to educate my friends about Judaism. I hosted Hanukkah and Passover dinners, serving traditional food and explaining what the holidays were about and why I celebrated them. Educating others about my religion was a foreign concept to me. I don't go to temple, the last time I really studied my religion was Sunday school, so I'm hardly a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes I found it difficult to answer the rush of questions. For example, I don't eat pork. It's a simple reminder of my beliefs that I can take with me wherever in the world I end up. Spain looooooves its pork. My friends are now used to my diet, but at the beginning they were full of curiosity about why I couldn't eat just about the best food in the world. I did my best to explain, but it's hard with so many questions and so many information gaps. 
Let me be clear, I didn't experience antisemitism in any shape or form while living in Seville. Just a whole lot of curiosity. I'm happy I could be a positive example and that my dietary and religious choices were met with open minds. I admit, I'm not horribly observant, to me, Judaism always represented family and tradition more than anything else. It was a connection to home. In Spain it became more; it became pride and an opportunity to teach others.
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