Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Revelations - from what's hidden to what's evident

This is one complex post for me to write... The motek invited me to attend the biggest event of Mexico City's Jewish community - The Aviv Festival. This by itself is nothing complicated to write about. It's a Jewish and Israeli dance competition that lasts for about a week, and takes place at the Centro Deportivo Israelita. See? Simple! But then again not.

It has been one big cultural shock to get introduced to Mexico City's Jewish community. In Toronto, the Jewish community very publicly celebrates its culture through film, music and art festivals, where an important number of non-Jews participate. The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNJCC) is not shy at all about opening its doors for film festivals and for a religious holiday or two, widely advertising them and really leaving the doors wide open for everybody, regardless of background or religion. In sum, it's as open a community as you could imagine. And one of the reasons I felt comfortable enough to not only recognize my somewhat-recently discovered Jewish roots, but to identify with them and celebrate them.

Enter Mexico City. Though its Jewish film festival is advertised and public of all sorts attend, and a recently renovated historic (non-operating) synagogue in the historic centre has taken as duty to organize a number of cultural activities designed to share Jewish culture with non-Jews, most other cultural affairs take place practically behind closed doors. Doors that lead to veritable fortresses. Apparently as a reaction to the heinous bombing of the AMIA (the Argentinean Jewish Community Centre of Buenos Aires) in 1994, where 85 people were killed and 300 injured in a car bomb attack, Mexico City's Jewry decided to take no chances, and plenty of Jewish institutions protect themselves now behind gigantic walls, have airport-like security screenings, do not appear on maps, and/or don't advertise their events outside the community. In other words, were it not for the motek, who took it upon himself to share with me his Jewish world here, I'd pretty much be a veritable outsider (more than what I am right now).

So the Aviv Festival, while just another dance festival, is not just that. I found myself being constantly reminded of security concerns, in the form of metal detectors, numerous security personnel, and a thorough security briefing before the start of the competition, with clear instructions on meticulously planned evacuation routes and procedures. That was different indeed, eh?

Then, I found myself surrounded by some 5,000 Jews, probably the most numerous Jewish gathering I had ever seen in my life. And I was definitely not part of the crowd, as the - slightly misguided though well intentioned - comments from my motek's friends made clear as they explained to me numerous aspects of Jewish life. Me, not having participated in this city's Jewish experience, didn't feel secure enough to say "Yo, I'm one of you, remember?" because, frankly, was I? Had I not had the chance to live in Toronto, were Mexico City my only opportunity to experience Jewishness, would I have gone beyond simply taking passive note of family history facts?

That being said, and on a lighter note, one of the main reasons I did want to come along and why I enjoy Jewish cultural events so much: I got to see numerous interpretations of what being Jewish is about. And through dance no less! Inspiration came from all corners of the Jewish imaginary - kibbutzes, Georgia, the Arab world, Greece, Persia, the Orthodox, the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible... Yes, this was an amateur competition, but some groups were indeed outstanding. I was there to see a cultural happening, from all its angles. Interestingly, people rooted for their dance groups just as loud and enthusiastically as they would root for a sports team! fun! Plus (and it's a big plus) I got to see the motek dance and to *shlep serious nakhes from that.  

The following video is taken from afar and from a weird angle, so take it just as a document from the festival, and feel absolutely free not to watch it. I'm including it because, well, this is as much a blog for others as it is a diary for me, so I want it here, right?

All in all, a unique experience, from whichever side I look at it. And I can't but thank the motek for taking the time and interest to show me.  And the huz for letting himself be dragged to it and keep me company. Ah, yeah, this year's theme? Revelations - from what's hidden to what's evident. From my own very personal point of view, this couldn't have been a more appropriate title.   

*to shlep nakhes - could be vaguely translated as to feel proud

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