The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places

Smithsonian building / image courtesy of Wikipedia

I wrote a post in this vein last year for The Examiner, and now I wanted to bring it over here!

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place every summer, bringing amazing world cultural events to the National Mall! Every year has specific themes, and in 2010 they are focusing on Mexico and Asian Pacific Americans.

Doubtless the festival will do a great job covering many aspects of these communities. But allow me to help out! It is a personal passion of mine to show to the world that Jews are more than migrated Eastern Europeans. Jewish culture has touched almost every region of the world, and of course, visa versa. So let’s begin.

Mexico

Last year, a columnist wrote for DC-based Moment Magazine about traveling to his childhood home in Jewish Mexico City. In it, he writes of a group of Eastern European immigrants who arrived in Mexico rather than the United States. Like up north, the first generation scraped by slowly as immigrants, moving in the suburbs in time for their children to take advantage of higher education and lucrative careers. The columnist, Illan Stevans, remembers a thriving Jewish community, complete with synagogues, community centers, and the Centro Deportivo Israelita where he played soccer. The ethnic community thrived, but was self-contained. With only 45,000 Jews in the country, Stevans describes his childhood home as “invisible.”

As an adult, he stumbles upon the Sephardic Jewish community, those who arrived in Mexico much earlier than the Ashkenazim (also similar to the United States,) as medieval “conversos,” those forced to outwardly convert to Catholicism in Spain, but secretly practiced Judaism, often to their peril. There are also Mizrahi, or Jews of Middle Eastern descent in Mexico…Stevans describes the groups as “cordial but distant.” Largely united, and picked upon from the gentile outside, by their love for Israel, they still remain separate.

This is merely a bare-bones summary of the article. Click the link to read the author’s personal remembrances, plus more details on the neighborhoods, foods, and culture of Jewish Mexico.

Asian Pacific Americans

When most people think of Asian American Jews, they probably jump to children who have been adopted or blended families. And of course, all of these children are Jewish, and making an impact on the American Jewish community in their own way.

According to The Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape survey (PDF), less than one percent of all Jews are of Asian descent. However, organizations for Jews of color reach out to them, including The Jewish Multicultural Network, Tapestry, and Kulanu.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival resumes on Thursday, July 1 and goes until Monday, July 5. For more information, check out their Facebook page.

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5 thoughts on “The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places

  1. Pingback: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places « JewishDC

  2. Pingback: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places | JewishDC

  3. Pingback: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places | JewishDC

  4. Pingback: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places | JewishDC

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