Practicing My Judaism in a Catholic Country

April 20, 2011
Catholic Country

For me, one of the hardest parts about studying abroad is not having one of my major support systems behind me, Judaism. Although at one point in the Middle Ages there was a thriving Jewish population in Spain, it has all but disappeared today. Very rarely do you even see tributes to that history since the focus is more on the Muslim connection and its past rule of the country. I would, by no means, consider myself a strict Jew so it is not a difficult trial for me to never go to synagogue. I have had a wonderful time learning about other religions and traditions while here. What has been difficult is celebrating major holidays.

Last night marked the first night of Passover, the story of Exodus (aka The Prince of Egypt), which is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar and also on the Christian calendar since it marks the week up to Jesus’s last supper (which was the 8th night of Passover), Semana Santa (Holy Week). Traditionally there is a Seder (dinner that follows a particular order) on the first two nights of Passover and on the last night (Passover is 8 days long). In my family we have the Seder at home on the first and eighth nights and at a friend’s house on the second, but I have never run my own Seder or even cooked most of the food for it, and yet, that is what I did.

Practicing My Judaism in a Catholic Country

There are a lot of little elements in a Passover Seder that you need to buy that work as metaphors for parts of the story or for life; for example, a lamb bone appears on the plate to remind us of the 10th plague and when the Angel of Death passed over the houses of the Jews, and an egg appears as a sign of fertility and spring. I had to go to three different butchers to find one that would sell me just the lamb bone. And it wasn’t until the second butcher that one would cut the brisket for me (brisket is cooked like pot roast except pot roast is not kosher since it’s from the rump of the cow, while brisket is from the chest).

There were also two grocery stores involved since I couldn’t find horseradish at the first one as well as a fruteria (fruit store) and the Spanish equivalent of Target so I had enough stemware and plates for all of my guests. After this foray into Spanish markets I began cooking, terrified because everyone’s mom, or grandmother, makes the best brisket and matzo ball soup and how could mine possibly compare? Eight hours, five dishes, and a lot of help from my roommate later, we were ready to start the Seder.

The majority of my friends here had never been to a Seder before and so a lot of it was explaining why we do things the way that we do and what everything means. I taught them some of the songs and prayers, and by the end of it my friends were singing along in Hebrew. It was a very rewarding experience, not only because I got to celebrate, but also because I got to share my life with my friends in such an interactive way.

I guess the coolest part about being Jewish in a Catholic country is that not only do I get to learn so much about Catholicism, but I also get to learn about my own religion and beliefs because I get the opportunity to teach people about them. Most importantly, I get to celebrate my own way and explore what I like best and think is most important about each and every holiday.


Practicing My Judaism in a Catholic Country photo credit by Sarah Surrey. 

About Sarah Surrey

Sarah Surrey is a graduate of Pitzer College. She spent her junior year at the University of Murcia in Spain, where she studied 20th century Spanish theatre and its relationship to English theatre.

One thought on “Practicing My Judaism in a Catholic Country

  1. April 3, 2015

    It was so nice to read about your faith and how you shared this with others, and made it a great experience for everyone. I have certainly learned a little about Jewish faith from reading your post. Well done – we need more of this sharing and learning.

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