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Bits, bites, bytes

Land of enchantment:

Meyer & Meyer clothing store in downtown Albuquerque in the 1940s. (Courtesy of the author)

As people across New Mexico commemorate 100 years of statehood in 2012, I’d like to celebrate two people who helped secure a century of Jewish life in my home state: David and Annie Meyer, my great-uncle and great-aunt.

In 1912, when much of the nation still regarded the Southwest as a land of outlaws and Indian raiders, Louis and David Meyer, Yiddish-speaking brothers from Latvia, made their way to New Mexico, the nation’s newest state. With their wives, sisters Yetta and Annie, the pious tailors settled in Albuquerque. The bustling town of 15,000 supported a hospital, university, streetlights, and several moving-picture theaters. And despite the fact that Jews made up less than 1 percent of the population, New Mexico’s largest city had already elected two Jewish mayors.

The Meyer brothers in 1909The Meyer brothers in 1909. From left, David Meyer, brother-in-law Abraham Mann, and Louis Meyer. (Courtesy of the author)

Albuquerque’s Jewish life revolved around the Reform synagogue, established pre-statehood in 1897 by German-born Jews who arrived in the 1880s, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway transformed the sleepy agricultural village into a commercial center. Congregation Albert—named by a local merchant in exchange for a winning auction bid of $250—held Friday night services in its spacious Moorish-style building in Albuquerque’s downtown commercial district.

Cuba’s Jews:

A group of some 33 Orange County Jewish businessmen will fly to Cuba on Sunday, March 18 for a week-long humanitarian and religious mission to the country’s Jewish community. The mission is being coordinated by Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County. At its peak in 1945, the Jewish community of Cuba numbered nearly 25,000. Most left after Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government. The O.C. contingent will carry with them prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are difficult to obtain in Cuba, as well as religious items. The Jewish community in Cuba runs a free pharmacy. Lisa Armony, a spokeswoman for Jewish Federation & Family Services, said the group is carrying about as much as it can, but may need supplies for a future trip. For information, call 949-435-3484.

First step:

World-renowned Mexican sculptor José Sacal dedicated his sculpture “First Step,” to the San Diego Jewish Academy, 11860 Carmel Creek Road, on March 7, courtesy of Jacobo and Hermosa Farca Foundation. The gift was facilitated by the collaborative efforts of WIZO-Tijuana San Diego Organization, KEN Jewish Community and the Latin American Community of San Diego.

Sacal said his sculpture is to honor all the families who uprooted themselves from other countries and made a new life in San Diego. San Diego Jewish Academy has families from all over the world, including Mexico, South Africa, Israel, Russia, Peru, Argentina and China. Sacal said he believes children of all ages should have the opportunity to be exposed to art and dedicated “First Step” in their honor as they move through the various stages of child development.

Sacal’s work has been interpreted as surrealism, “a sandbox for the subconscious mind.” His art is “essence,” according to critics, because it arrives from the depths of his feelings expressed through the beings he creates.

Knitting for food and cultural survival:

Approximately two million Mexican residents have been affected by a drought this winter, one that has destroyed nearly half of the nation’s crops. At the same time, there have been freezing cold temperatures. These harsh realities have resulted in a critical shortage of both food and water. In response, the Mexican government has set aside $2.63 billion US in aid. Although many rural regions are suffering, much attention has been focused on the Sierra Madre region in northern Mexico. Particularly affected in the area has been the indigenous Tarahumara tribe, and many have become worried about the survival of this ancient community.

Among those concerned has been a group of Mexican-Canadian Jews who identify themselves as the Knitting Group. With the desire to help their homeland, they have offered some relief to the Tarahumara people and have demonstrated that a little bit of effort can sometimes go a long way. The small Jewish Knitting Group brings together Mexican immigrants now living in Toronto. By combining food, banter, charity work and their experiences, the group has helped its dozen or so members adjust to life in Canada.

Clara Gordon, a founding member of the Knitting Group hailing from Mexico City, was deeply troubled by the Tarahumaras’ food crisis. After learning about it through a Mexican news source, she became committed to helping the region. “I always knew about indigenous Mexicans and the Tarahumaras. It seemed wrong to not address a problem so familiar to me,” Gordon said. Gordon was aware of the statistics:  Mexican state officials say this has been the worst drought the area has seen in the past 70 years, and has prevented more than 7,000 residents from producing food.

The other constituents of the Knitting Group also wanted to take action, especially given the Tarahumaras’ cultural legacy. Often identified as Mexico’s most unmixed Indian tribe, the Tarahumaras have remained relatively isolated from outside influences. While the majority of Mexicans communicate in Spanish and use the peso, few of the Tarahumaras speak that language, and they rely on an entrenched bartering system.

For the sake of cultural preservation alone, the Knitting Group was determined to help with the resolution of the Tarahumaras’ food crisis, but they struggled with choosing a reliable aid organization… In the case of the Tarahumaras, however, the delivery of aid proved to be more difficult. The remote location of the tribe in a mountainous region has complicated the distribution of charitable goods, even by the government. Gordon also pointed out that the group wanted its donation to be made in association with the Mexican Jewish community. “We are not always sure about where the help will go when we send money, but we know that the Jewish community is well organized in Mexico,” she said. After some discussion with a friend in Mexico, the group decided to send its donation through a Jewish aid organization in the country. Their pooled total of $250 Cdn has provided the Tarahumaras with 40 baskets of food for 10 days.

About eldesterrado1947

Voyaging the lateral connections between cultures and continents.

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