Last weekend we took this very unique tour around the historic centre of the city. It was organized by the Justo Sierra Synagogue (a place we had visited before and about which I've already written before) and by Idish Vinkl (a group promoting the practice of Yiddish in Mexico City). And what do you get from the - very serious - joint effort of these two? Shtot fun Palatsn (שטאָט פֿוּן פּאַלאַצן), a historic tour of Mexico City from the perspective of the immigrants who wrote in Yiddish about it!
The Jewish immigrants from the 1920's wasted no time in setting up newspapers. I mean, most of them didn't have a command of Spanish, and the Yiddish newspapers not only kept them informed about life around them and abroad, but kept them in touch with each other, as plenty of services and businesses had their ads there too, obviously. And they were set with no small effort, sometimes having to resort to buying old linotypes from, say, New York, in order to keep costs low and the newspapers afloat.
What amazed me the most, though, was to realize that the last Mexican Yiddish newspapers were still printing in the 1980's! Whoa!
Below: Di Shtime (די שטימע), or The Voice, and Dos Vort (דאָס וואָרט), or The Word (this last one taken at the actual place where some of the newspapers were printed!).
Ashkenazi immigrants to Mexico City from the 1920's had another thing in common besides Yiddish - a very high respect for education. So barely a year or two after they started arriving, they founded a school! Granted, with atheists and both Ashkenazi and Sephardi orthodox as members of the community, it seems the only thing they could agree to at the very beginning was in having a place for children to go and be. One can only imagine the epic and heated debates they must have had trying to decide on the syllabus!
Still, they managed. And we visited the two first sites of the school. Super neat!
Below: A photo from one of the classes. A grade certificate in both Yiddish and Spanish. And one of the doorways of the building where the very first school was.
My favourite part! Of course, Jewish immigrants were still fond of theatre like they were back in Europe. So it's no surprise that they would still have plays, in Yiddish, in Mexico City! And we even got to visit one of them - the Teatro del Pueblo, which is under renovation - as part of the tour!
Below: An ad for a play. And the Teatro del Pueblo (!)
Mexico was a great country in many ways. It seems the lack of crude winters made most of these Jewish immigrants very happy, and in general there was nothing like the angry antisemitism they had faced back home. They formed "Mexicanization" clubs to learn the language and customs, and they also participated in plenty of civic and national events. Still, antisemitism does rise its ugly head all-too easily and, soon enough, the Mexico City of the first half of the 20th century saw its own antisemitic demonstrations asking for the expelling of all Jews.
Nevertheless, Mexico in general was still pretty accepting. And Mexico City was an intense enough experience that we have quite a few texts about the city written in Yiddish. The book you see below is a collection of poems, and the specific one you see there is called Tortillería (טאָרטיעריא), or Tortilla Bakery/Factory, which Tamara Gleason, from Idish Vinkl, read for us in Yiddish at La Potosina, a cantina (bar) on the then very Jewish street of José María and where no doubt many from the early Jewish community went to for some camaraderie in this new world.
And, of course, people also fell in love, got married, and often would have to do so without their parents and grand-parents, who either had the immigration doors closed to them, or had faced horrible fates back in Europe. Still, life had to go on, happiness had to be rebuilt, the very first official synagogue erected, and the cycle of life restarted.
Below: Mexico City's first synagogue, a pan-denominational one - a small community can't afford to stand divided, at least not at the very beginning. And a wedding invitation, in Spanish and Yiddish, at Mexico City's second synagogue.
There is plenty more I could write about, mind you. Mónica and Tamara, our tour guides, took us up and down, inside and outside, told us stories, read us poems, had us singing in Yiddish, and made it an amazing 5 hours (yes, FIVE, and they still had so much to show and share!). I love it when I get to discover these totally unexpected aspects of Mexico City and see how it reveals itself as incredibly more complex and interesting than anybody could have thought. Alas, the tour's in Spanish, so you better have a nice command of it (or - in extremis - of Yiddish!), because this tour is absolutely worth it.