A few years ago, I took one of those internet quizzes that pinpoints your real religion, based on your actual beliefs and not the lip service that you espouse. Like all internet quizzes, I’m sure it was of dubious validity and reliability, and it probably had a questionable theological basis on top of that.
Still, I couldn’t argue with the result, which said that I was, in reality, a Reform Jew. By the way, the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism, ranked around twenty-eighth or so on my personal scale, which sounded about right (but I’ll refrain from picking on Catholicism just now).
These days, I consider myself more of secular Buddhist agnostic. But the Jewish angle isn’t that far off.
I’m not sure why I relate to Judaism. It’s not like I had a lot of Jewish friends growing up. My neighborhood was primarily Hispanic (and therefore, incredibly Catholic) while my home state is overwhelmingly Midwestern white (mostly Protestant). So not a lot of Goldbergs and Silvermans appeared on the scene.
Perhaps I picked it up when I lived in New York City, where Jewish culture is everywhere. Within just a few years of arriving in NYC, I was ordering bagels with lox and talking about people’s chutzpah and obsessing about death. So maybe that’s why I came up Jewish on the test.
But I think there’s a larger issue. It seems that Hispanics and Jews have always gotten along pretty well. Perhaps both groups know what it’s like to pass for white, but not really. Maybe our mutual focus on family lines up nicely. Or perhaps we just admire each culture’s long history of suffering.
Regardless, I was intrigued to read about a group of Hasidim Jews in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. A small but thriving population traces its ancestry to Spain and Latin America, and as such, members of this group consider themselves Hispanics.
Spare me your jokes about Juan Epstein, the NYC Puerto Rican Jew from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
There’s a man in Crown Heights with a real-life cross-cultural headspinner of a name, Moshe Nunez, and he says that “There are a lot of Latin American Jews here…. Many non-Jewish Latinos are surprised to see Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who speak Spanish and carry on their Hispanic traditions.”
I suppose that would be an attention-getting sight. But still, I’m not really shocked that some people would adopt both cultures. The overlap goes back decades.
For example, when my mother moved to America, back in the 1960s, her first job was helping out an old Jewish woman on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The woman was a Holocaust survivor, and she brought that horrific period to life for my mother by rolling up her sleeve and showing the number branded into her arm. This simple display provided quite the education for a young woman from Latin America.
The old woman was very kind to my mother, and she introduced her to the opera and nice restaurants and the finer things in life. According to my mother, the old woman was adamant that bigotry against any group was evil. She said that anyone who would discriminate against a Latino would bash Jews as well.
In the old woman’s mind, we’re all one and the same.