Yesterday I was talking on the phone with my mother in Mexico who was telling me about her plans for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. She’s planning a delicious dinner for 30+ close relatives. She is preparing some traditional dishes such as veal brisket and matzoh ball soup, as well as some Jewish-Mexican favorites such as gefilte fish a la Veracruzana and spicy pickles. Growing up, I considered these Jewish-Mexican dishes as regular food, but doctored up for the High Holidays by my grandmother. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States and tried the blander, more “authentic” versions of jewish cooking that I realized how different and more Mexican (and better) the dishes I grew up with were. Food wasn’t the only difference between Judaism in the US and in Mexico. In Mexico, the Jewish community has a large Sephardi and Ashkenazi contingencies. Many of the Sepharadi Jews arriving from Syria in the 1890’s with a second large wave of Turkish and Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe in the early 20th century, my family included. Here, it seems like most Jews are of Ashkenazi descent, like my family, so I found a lot of similarities in the style of services at synagogues as well as shared foods and traditions. However I’m still not quite used to hearing Hebrew with an American accent as opposed to a Mexican accent, and at first it was strange attending synagogue here without metal detectors and armed guards at the doors, which are commonplace in almost all Latin American synagogues. I did find American judaism a lot more inclusive. In Mexico most synagogues are orthodox, not Hassidic orthodox, but just your plain orthodox. We attended the one conservative synagogue in Mexico City. In the United States it seems like conservative and reform synagogues are the norm and are much more inclusive of women clergy as well as of gay and interracial families.
I miss attending those huge holiday meals in Mexico. Since most people don’t seem to move around much, what constitutes your immediate family can be upwards of 60 people, making for very large get-togethers. Maybe we’ll get over there next year. For now, we’re just having a small dinner with a few friends and lots of food – chicken with dried fruits, kasha varnishkes, kugel and of course lots of challah and apples with honey, pomegranates and a honey cake to ensure a happy, sweet new year. So here’s wishing all of you (Jewish or not) a happy and healthy year 5771, and with a Mexican accent: ¡Shaná Tová!