The Wandering Jew: Being a Digital Nomad as a Hebrew, a Mexico Break, and a New Blog
Life is strange. A meandering vine of choices, chances, and changes.
I write from Guanajuato, Mexico, a central city northeast of Mexico City and a UNESCO World Heritage Site gently nestled at an at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. I arrived 9 days ago with my boyfriend, Brian, a fellow traveler and nice Jewish boy, and our dogs Molly and Bucky.
We’d be staying open-ended if it weren’t for US holidays; come November we’re heading stateside for Thanksgiving and Chanukah with Brian’s fun, warm, funny family.
This week begins Sukkot, my favorite holiday (probably a tie with Chanukah, actually), though I’ve yet to fully celebrate it. And here I find myself abroad, in a majority Catholic-country, in a town that doesn’t even have a Chabad.
(The nearest Chabad and Jewish Community Center are in San Miguel de Allende, another beautiful town that’s our next visit).
This trip marks my first time abroad in 3.5 years. That’s wild! And COVID isn’t solely to blame, I’d already danced with a series of misfortunes leading up to March 2020 that had meant two solid years without crossing a border.
I used to live in Barcelona, and since have bounced between LA, San Diego county, Palm Springs, and San Francisco. It was in this last stop, five beautiful months in NorCal, where I met Brian, grew into myself some more, and realized what I am: A nomad. And that’s OK.
Then Delta happened, and I made plans to escape.
A soon as my lease was up in gorgeous San Francisco, which pained me to leave, I was eyeing the nearest place to hit outside the US that’s safe, cheap, and beautiful. I’d already seen a couple of friends down here, and that folks here were taking COVID seriously; most people wear mask outdoors. After some typical research, Guanajuato was it.
Except we’d be arriving right before Yom Kippur, after a beautiful Rosh Hashanah with Brian’s family. That was a first for me, and it was beautiful and meaningful. Last year at this time, I was Schrodinger’s Jew having completed my Bet Din but not yet my dunk (the mikveh, which was marvelous, affirming, life-changing, and also very weird in COVID times).
Jewish Identity in a Catholic Land
Latin America is one of the most Christian places on earth. It’s absolutely everywhere, and as Rachel Cohen writes here (below) of her experience in Guanajuato, being the only Jew in a place is hard; it’s especially challenging when there are literal crucifixes everywhere, a symbol of a Jew being tortured to death and of millions of subsequent Jews tortured, expelled, vilified, and ghettoized by the faith.
Becoming More Jewish — In Mexico by Rachel Cohen, February 4, 2013
I recently spent several weeks studying Spanish in Guanajuato.
A few things aren’t lost on me (y’all know I love lists):
- This land was conquered before what is now the USA and was the first battleground in a racist genocide and forced conversion
- There have nearly always been Jews in Mexico, but as in many places, a tiny minority
- This area of central Mexico is the most Jewish because of Mexico City and its size
- The Jews who first ventured here from Spain were largely crypto-Jews, those who were forced to convert to Christianity in the Spanish Inquisition or were secretly practicing Judaism (1492, the same year the Spanish sent an Italian genocidal maniac across the Atlantic, they also expelled the rest of the Jews from their borders who wouldn’t convert)
- Every image of Mary or Jesus I see, I think “Yep, that’s a Jew”, especially when he’s shown on the cross, something I’m still not used to seeing as a recovering protestant.
So here I find myself in a land occupied once by the Aztec empire, which had running water and better public health conditions in the 1400s CE than London did in the mid 1850s, and was then conquered and massacred in the name of creed and a supposed cultural superiority; then sees me visit, perhaps long-term, as a Jew, a third religion and culture, to live in ancient areas and explore the 300-400 year old templos of the area (basilicas and churches) built on the literal ruins of native culture and figurative ruins of ancient Jewish culture, too.
That’s not easy, and there’s a complex safety issue being gay Jews here, but I’ll reassure you that this area (Guanajuato, San Miguel, and Mexico City) are very gay-friendly and welcoming to visitors. The art and jewelry here is also inclusive, including stars of David and hamsas, and you know I love those.
I love this art I bought, and like me, it’s of Christian origin but became Jewish. I found this heart in the heart of Mexico, the geographical center, where Mexican independence began and pre-conquest cultures flourished. The technicolor beaded art is of Huichol origin, a tribe descended from Aztecs whose works are religious in nature, and here it’s on the Sacred Heart, of Catholic European origin, something I am so accustomed to seeing that I associate it with Mexican folk art more so than what it represents, the heart of Jesus. And on this piece I found and took home is the Star of David, making three religions fused in one piece.
Some may be offended by this. I think it’s beautiful, and I love that it’s Jewish imagery on folk art. It’s not a cross or a crucifix, and it’s not Christian to me. It’s cultural, like so much of Judaism is to me, and it’s just gorgeous to look at.
Guanajuato, too, is a landscape of colors, beautiful pastel buildings jammed into valleys and alleys. It’s a piece of art.
The Wandering Jew, Reclaimed
I can’t claim that folk art here, Catholic in origin, is somehow reclaimed with a Jewish image on it. “Reclaimed” decidedly is not the word for it; the Sacred Heart, and the other unavoidable images of body of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, weren’t taken from Jews.
They are however symbols of a religion that has spread like wildfire through violence and oppression of multiple cultures, including the First Nations in the New Norld and the Jews in the Old. Our lives and history and culture and Torah were taken and appropriated, but largely not our icons. Jews don’t do statutes (false idols and such).
The Wandering Jew is a story of Jewish damnation, a part of the larger “Jews killed G-d” blood libel that has led to millions of murders:
The Wandering Jew is a mythical immortal man whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. In the original legend, a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion was then cursed to walk the Earth until the Second Coming. The exact nature of the wanderer’s indiscretion varies in different versions of the tale, as do aspects of his character; sometimes he is said to be a shoemaker or other tradesman, while sometimes he is the doorman at the estate of Pontius Pilate.Wikipedia
This idea, unlike Christian iconography, I AM reclaiming. I am a Wandering Jew, and I wish to live anywhere I can where I can safely explore, learn, teach, and be happy. I am happiest on the move, absorbing other cultures and experiences, and as you may have noted, I’m not happy with the state of the States right now. The USA is a pyramid scheme.
This is one piece of my t’shuvah or “returning” for a Yom Kippur I otherwise did not know how to observe; I’m spending what I earn in a place that needs it, giving it back to individuals who largely don’t work for others and depend on every dime. In the US, almost all my money spent trickles up to mega-corporations, and I spend countless hours angry in traffic and otherwise enraged at our unfair system and inequality. At least here, I’m doing something about it as I enjoy some time off and see new things.
I hope you join me as I write much more of that.
What’s Next at Doing Jewish
Doing Jewish: soon this will be home to a few blogs including Gay Goy Doing Jewish (my first, and personal Jewish Journey), The Wandering Jew, and Newish Jewish (on conversion and those returning to Judaism), and guest bloggers on Jewish issues. Check this space!
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Links in this Post
- Guanajuato, Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Becoming More Jewish — In Mexico by Rachel Cohen, February 4, 2013
- Jews in Mexico on Wikipedia
- The Sacred Heart on Wikipedia
- Huichol Art and History (tourism link)
- The Wandering Jew on Wikipedia
- Jewish Word | The Wandering Jew on Moment, by Jeremy Gillick, Sept 2019
Above: some snaps on the Insta worth scrolling through. See you soon!