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Holy Week and Matzah

This week was Semana Santa, Holy Week. The city streets teemed with an up-tick of visitors from all over Mexico mingling with local natives and other tourists. There wasn’t an empty seat on the benches in front of the Paroquia. The skies hummed from helicopter surveillance and little dune-buggy type vehicles with armed police were poised everywhere to round up any random trouble-makers in the crowd.

Two weeks before Easter, with drum rolls and chants in the the town of Atotonilco 8 miles from San Miguel, a procession of penitents begin to make their pilgrimage from the Sanctuario de Atotonilco to San Juan de Dios Church in San Miguel, carrying a life-sized Christ, beaten and bloody, leaning on a column, on their shoulders, gathering anyone who wishes to join them along the route. By the time they reach San Miguel, they number in the thousands. My friend, an old-fashioned, devout Catholic, once made that walk when she was young. She has been immersed in working for her church ever since. Four hours a day for weeks she has spent at her small local church helping to prepare for the events of Holy Week, the most important day of the year for Catholics and other Christians in San Miguel, which means most of the local population.

This year Passover coincides with Good Friday. Redemption and resurrection all in the same week. I was pleased to know that there were would be a reform community seder on the first night of the hoiday followed by a conservative version the next night. I prefer my Jewish services down and dirty, with only a smattering of Hebrew, short but more than the “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat” version. The fact that the seder was being held at one of our favorite back-yard restaurants within walking distance from our house was a definite draw, even for Jack, whom I lovingly refer to as the Heathen. (He’s strictly a Food Jew, being a New Yorker.) La Frontera serves killer matzoah ball soup and chopped chicken liver all year-long and knows how to make Jewish food that tastes like home. And in addition to offering a coming-together of the Jewish Community and a nice menu, a new retired Argentinian rabbi who moved to to San Miguel in November would be leading the reading of the Haggadah used as a framework for the seder service.

50 people, both Spanish and English speakers, showed up. The Rabbi didn’t. He was sick that night and his wife stepped in for him. Being a Jewish educator herself, and the wife of the rabbi for more than 30 years, Phyllis was quite comfortable taking over for him, navigating the service in English and Spanish, suggesting that if someone at a table couldn’t understand the English, others sitting with them should translate for them. She was flexible and welcoming to all, and I may have preferred her style to her husband’s had he been there. Everyone seemed completely happy with how the evening proceeded, and I felt very much at home sitting next to a friend and Kayla, who organized the event. Next Year in San Miguel!

Easter Sunday Jack and I went to the jardin to see The Burning of the Judases, a final event with a carnival atmosphere that took place as soon as the church bells started ringing. 21 paper mache figurines were strung up from the facing buildings waiting for execution. Around each figure’s waist was a circle of fireworks. One by one they were fired at, twisted and turned and finally exploded, with body parts landing everywhere, to the excitement of the crowd. The Burning of Judas was meant to signify the killing of evil. If only all the prayers of the week and the final symbolic burning could do something to change the course of the news of the world. But at least here for this week hope and faith flourish.

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