Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Lost Tribe

Today we went in search of the lost tribe and came away with a revelation: The lost tribe of Israel is alive and well, but in hiding behind thick, tall walls and concertina wire in Bogota, Colombia.
Marte and I were on a mission. Every time we make a major trip, we like to bring home something special. Turkish rugs from Istanbul, Masks from get the picture, right? This time, it was a menorah for Chanukah from Colombia.
The only Menorah in Bogota


Turns out,  there are not that many Jews in Colombia. Having been exterminated during the Spanish Inquisition (ouch!), and also refused immigration during the war (dammit!), Colombia has not been the friendliest of places for the Jews.
Having done some research prior to leaving the states, we knew that synagogues were few and far between. Anybody can buy a menorah in Miami or New York City (at least before the Super Tormentor, as Sandy is know down here), but how much more meaningful it would be to bring one home from a place with the history of Colombia? Surely one of the community Schuls would jump at the opportunity to supply a wandering Jew with a menorah, right? So today, our first day in Bogota, was our day to search 'em out on foot.

Our first stop was Communidad Hebrea Sefaradi De Bogota which turned out to be a compound with a 12 foot stone wall, and Concertina Wire strung across the top. There is no name or marking to tell you this is a Synagogue, only the repetitive motif of the star of the Star of David high on the windows. There is a guard and a dark glass window with an intercom and a bell.

Somewhat intimidated, we approached the window and explained our quest as best we could, given the language differences. The guard behind the glass told us to wait. A woman finally came to the front door while a second, non-uniformed security man readied himself to protect her.  Not being invited inside, we conversed on the sidewalk in broken English/Spanish. She was able to convey that they had nothing for us. Though she acquiesced (finally) to a request to view the temple, the security man vetoed the idea by insisting that Rabbi Shlomo be consulted. Not wanting an international incident, we withdrew both our request and our bodys.

 Continuing our lazy walk thru the streets of North Bogota, we found Synagogue #2, but not from the address given on Mavensearch (listing of all the synagogues in the world). Casa Lubavitch was listed and turns out to be the Hebrew school. A dad in front picking up his children told us that the school did not sell menorahs and that the actual Temple was up the street 2 blocks.
  We recognized the temple by the domed roof, though it could have also been mistaken for a Mosque. Nowhere on the building was a name or any identification that this indeed was the second Temple. Another dark movie ticket window, but no one was there. No buzzer. I tried several doors. Eventually, concerned by the strange man testing all the doors, a security guard appeared and yet again we explained who we were and why we were at their door. Again we were told to wait while the guard disappeared behind dark glass and locked doors.

A kindly elderly woman finally appeared in the dark glass cage. Conversation was conducted through an intercom, barely audible above traffic noise. Though the nice lady was kindly, there was nothing for us here as well.
Shuttered behind layers of security, I am reminded of a paranoia-filled drug-deal (sorry mom!). Who are you? Who do you know? Wait here. No, you cannot come in.
Turns out, we just didn’t have the secret password, even though I know I belong to the club.

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