Religion is a funny thing here in Paraguay. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not a religious person by any means. Our family has always had a Christmas Tree next to our Menorah, usually with some type of angel or Star of David on top. Our tree could be decorated with snowman, angels, cats, dreidels, name plates, Yankee memorabilia etc. We have really always had a non-denominational celebration of holidays, delicious food, family, and, of course, snow.
While I respect that other people have religion, and choose to follow it to whatever degree they may, I can’t say I always understand it, or really want to be a part of it. One thing about most of the Latin American countries I’ve been to is that religion is usually very prevalent. Okay, I think Argentina was the exception, given the very high Jewish population located in Buenos Aires, and perhaps the “European” feel of the city – I don’t remember ever feeling religion’s constant presence. But I do feel it here. It’s not in a bad way, there aren’t missionaries waiting on every block, (at least not in the city, I can’t speak for the countryside as much as I’ve been told the Jesuit missions are beautiful, so they must be out there!) but everyone has their religion, their colleagues and associates all know their affiliation, and even some of their facebook or messenger statuses reflect their passionate devotion.
I guess it’s just one of the many differences between living in New York City and Asunción. Back home, discussing religion is taboo, along with politics and your weight. If my boss goes to church every sunday or synagogue every Friday, I don’t know about it and certainly won’t ask. I can’t quite tell how closely some follow the bible here, but there are definitely those who are born-again, and who I am very likely the first Jew they have met or closely interacted with, (much like in college when my beloved friend told me I was the first Jew she met, except for one girl in grade school who smelled bad…damn those smelly Jews giving us a bad rep!)
As long as I can look past the heartfelt invitations to attend mass in honor of someone’s birthday, or hidden-message e-mail sign offs about further spreading the word of God, I think I’ll make it through just fine!
Also, to leave you all with a funny and telling story as told by la jefa; her family came across some Hasidic Jews in Paraguay, (picture curly hair, big hats, long skirts,) and her son asked, “What are they?” to which she replied, “Those are Jews.” “What does that mean?” he asked, “They don’t believe that Jesus is our savior,” to which her son replied innocently, “Should I go tell them?”