Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nidje Israel - a historic synagogue

I wasn't really looking for this place.  I was actually googling for synagogues nearby.  I'm still not religious at all.  But like a friend noted well, I'm a ritualist (the "atheist ritualist"! LOL), so I was curious about finding a place to learn a bit about traditions that, due to historic accident ("thank you" Russian pogroms) were not passed down to my generation.  And what did I find?  One of the oldest synagogues in Mexico City - Nidje Israel! (NOTE: it's pronounced Nidkhey, as Hebrew words in Spanish follow Spanish orthography, with a harsh j sound)

Now, Nidje Israel is not a working synagogue anymore.  The Ukrainian (yay!), Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and other Ashkenazi jews that founded it in 1941 have long since moved away from Mexico City's historic centre to other areas, and the synagogue was abandoned until 2009, when it was renovated and turned into a cultural centre that offers walks around what once was the Jewish quarter, talks about traditions, festivities and history, theatre plays, and the like.  And so it was renamed the Justo Sierra Historical Synagogue, as it lies on Justo Sierra St.   

Frankly, for me, this was a moving visit.  The visual impact of what looked like an ordinary old wooden door and then to realize there are Stars of David carved on it...  Once inside, seeing how it was beautifully and lovingly restored... The original religious paraphernalia on display... The light from outside soothingly coming through the blue stained glass... 

And the celing?  Colourful, warm, reminiscent of a so physically remote yet spiritually close synagogue back in Lithuania...  I looked long and at the white stars on sky blue background, the rich reds and purples...   

I wondered if my mom ever came here... had she been invited to any of this synagogue's events?  Did she get to wander this place as a child?  Those questions - I'll never have an answer to.   But I nevertheless walked around, surrounded by this peaceful piece of history in the very centre of a city that pretty much welcomed the various Jewish communities without much fuzz.  Diaspora manifestations of so many kinds and from different peoples always have a strong impression on me, and in this particular case I don't need to be Jewish or identify with the Jewish people to still be moved by Nidje Israel (which means, in Hebrew, "the scattered of Israel").  I'll be coming back, no doubt.  

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