Wherever There Is Coca-Cola, There Are Jews
Our friend and hero (NOT) Mel Gibson asked this question recently to a LA County Deputy Sheriff and it got him in a lot of trouble - deservedly so.
Here in Tanzania, the only person who would even think of asking you such a question would be another Jew. As I explained a few weeks ago - Jews are just not on the radar screen here. Even with the Middle East all aflame. We just don't register.
But, it turns out that there is a nice little group of American Jews here in Tanzania - and we seem to all know each other, or at least have heard that so and so works with so and so who is Jewish. It is like we are constantly working on our Yom Kippur break fast guest list. I gather it often this way when a community is small.
But there is also an Israeli community here - about 40 people from 10 families. One of the families owns a Middle Eastern restaurant called Nargila. Jane and I ate there about two weeks ago and we went back tonight for some more top quality hummus and falafel.
When we sat down in the lounge area - done up as a Bedouin tent - the Israeli folk music was blasting. I must admit that I was looking for a reason to "come out" to these people, and I took my opportunity to do so when I told the waitress (who is also the owner's daughter) that the music reminded of my summer camp days.
"Ach... so you are Jewish?" She asked with a strong Israeli accent.
"Yes," I said.
"Well then, we will have to put you on The List," she responded.
Evidently there is a List. A List of Jews. A List of Jews in Tanzania - maintained by an Israeli family that has been living in Tanzania on and off for 24 years.
"We have Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and sometimes Hannuka," I was informed. "Last year we even had Rabbis."
Which leads me to a story I've been wanting to share...
You see Jaden and Rowan had a teacher, Rita, at the Temple pre-school in Washington, DC last year who has a son, Dan, who was a Fulbright scholar here in Dar. Come Passover, Rita was very worried about how Dan would get his fill of matzoh for the season and so she called the Chabad Lubavitchers to come and take care of his needs and those of the rest of the wayward Jews of Tanzania She told me this on the eve of my move to Tanzania and since I hadn't heard of the Chabad movement I looked it up online. According to Wikipedia:
If we are to believe this, the Chabad have Jewish emissaries strategically placed all over the world, just waiting for opportunities to help the rest of us be more Jewish. So, just days after Rita's desperate call to the Brooklyn Chabad brotherhood two Hassidic Rabbis were dispatched from their regional office in Kinshasa, "Democratic" Republic of Congo and arrived on Dan's doorstep in the staff housing section of the University of Dar es Salaam.
My friends, try to picture this. It is 90+ degrees and 100% humidity. Dan is at home in Dar es Salaam, Africa. There is a knock on the door. He opens the door to find two men in long black coats and heavy beards and hats - Lebavitcher Rabbis. Tanzanians on the street are staring - they can't imagine who these people from another planet are. The Rabbis invite themselves in and announce that they have arrived to help him and the Jews of Tanzania celebrate Passover. And as if to prove their readiness, they hand him a box of matzoh.
Personally, I would die.
But Dan knew just what to do. He called the Israelis. The ones with The List of Jews.
The next night, the Friday before Passover, all the Jews of Tanzania (well most of them at least - half the Israeli community evidently doesn't talk to the other half of the Israeli community - but that is a story for another day) showed up at the Nargila restaurant for Sabbath dinner, courtesy of the Chabads. Curiosity would have definitely driven me there, too, if I had already been in country. A few days later, they were also host to a 5-hour long Passover Seder. And the killer of it all is that the Rabbis brought 500 lbs of their own food with them. They couldn't eat a thing in Tanzania - it wouldn't have been kosher.
As soon as Passover was over, and the Jews of Tanzania had reconnected with their roots, the super Jews from Congo (well from Brooklyn via Congo) got back on the plane and all returned to normal here in Dar es Salaam. But mark my word, the next time the Chabads come through Dar, I'll be ready to join the rest of the Jews of Tanzania for an out-of-this-world cultural and religious experience. And I plan to take photos, too. Sabbath be damned!
Which brings me back to the Israelis with the restaurant. Jane and I ended up sitting with them for about 40 minutes after dinner this evening as they each smoked a full pack of Camels and peppered me with - what in another context - would have been inappropriate questions. (So you have kids? Where's their father? Are they going to end up marrying their half-brothers and sisters if they don't know who their father is? What if your daughter fell in love with her half-brother but didn't know it until it was too late?)
I think that perhaps Jane was a little bit surprised at their directness and the way they shared their strong opinions without censorship.
But not me.
I felt at home - with my peeps.
After all, I am on The List.