On October 13, (Friday the 13th) I stood with my brother in front of the spare and beautiful sculptural portrait of Yitzak Rabin that stands in Miraflores Park in Lima, Peru.
The accompanying tablet translates a quote of his “Peace is the highest aspiration of the Jewish People."
One week after the massacre of 1400 people in Israel by Hamas terrorists, and on day one of a long-planned bucket-list trip to Peru, we stared at the sculpture and then looked around us nervously. We’d received a State Department advisory to be extra cautious as this was a day that jihad had been called for around the world in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. We were advised to stay away from protests. But here, in this lovely park overlooking the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, the great man’s call for peace drew forth a longing for world leaders with his courage and vision to address the horror unfolding in the Middle East.
We’d considered canceling our Jewish tour of Lima due to the international threats, but decided to learn from and support the community
instead and now, toward the end of the tour, we were glad. We’d bought a delicious challah from the only Jewish bakery in Peru. We’d visited synagogues, and toured the Jewish Museum with its detailed history of Jews dating back to the 15th century. We’d read the names on tombstones in the Jewish cemetery.
We’d heard what has become a common story from parents of young Jews in South America. They painfully urge their children to leave‑ to find more opportunities and larger communities in Israel, the U.S. or Canada.
I learned a story of Conversos digging a tunnel from the cathedral to the synagogue next door so they could enter and leave the church, but secretly go to pray in their synagogue. I tucked that story away to use in my novel-in-progress.
And always, I was conscious that every Jewish building or site required entry through double air-locked steel doors and gates… our passports and photos sent in advance for security purposes. What other religion in the world needs that kind of security? . I am acutely conscious that my own synagogue in Ann Arbor has to have a security guard at all times. Antisemitic protesters line the sidewalks bordering the synagogue every sabbath with horrific placards (Israel: No Right to Exist, Zionism Enabled Nazism, and You Pray for Genocide.) They have free speech. I don’t have the opportunity to attend the religious service of my choice without being harassed. In Ann Arbor, MI.
One more bit of background. 85 years ago my parents escaped Nazi Germany as teenagers, for the promise of a life in the U.S. where they could practice Judaism freely, marry, raise a family and prosper. They succeeded in those dreams with much gratitude. No security guards, no bombings of synagogues, no fear of attacks on the streets… they had left all that behind in Europe.l They celebrated the freedoms and opportunities of America deeply, trusting that these would remain for their children and grandchildren.. They believed in and supported Israel as a homeland and safe haven for Jews who were not so fortunate to have found safety elsewhere in the world. In one short generation, those convictions have faltered, and my 98 year old mother is frightened for our future.
This is how I begin a long-anticipated trip. It is a sobering realization that what we are experiencing now is an unwelcome continuation of a long history. But we are in Peru, and there is much to learn, much beauty, much humanity in which to share.
Our high-end 10 day tour with 12 people begins in Lima with a visit to the bohemian neighborhood of Barranca. There are amazing murals, sculpture, performance art, and brightly painted buildings. The bridge of sighs.. one makes a wish.. and if you hold your breath all the way across the bridge, it will come true.
Then to a market with produce, meat, fish and household items. Who knew there were between 3-4000 kinds of Peruvian potatoes. And so many different fruits!
On to the main square filled with Limalinos enjoying their Saturday off with their families. The two churches… cathedral and monastery across the square symbolic of the ubiquitous Catholicism.
We visit the 16th century house of the de Aliaga family … 17 generations of the same family until this day occupying the residence... so much wood..original early 17th century furnishings, art, tile, and then later additions. Book research!
On to a convent of the Dominican monks and the oldest library in South American. Finally to Chef Patrick’s cooking demo followed by dinner at Urban Kitchen, preparing and consuming Pisco sours, Tiradito Nikkei, Lomo Saltado, Quinua with Yellow Chili.
Flying to Cuzco… elevating to 11,000 feet does more than leave one short of breath and altitude sick. The physical elevation brings with it the invitation to leave a lot behind… below, and enter the highlands of Peru with the distinctive cultural shift to the land of the Inca. I am struck that Cuzco is like a Peruvian Jerusalem.. a spiritual and historical center for differing religious and cultural influencers that seem to have somehow managed to meld and reemerge in a much more cooperative way than in other colonial situations.
Staunch Catholicism lives alongside indigenous philosophy and spiritual practice. We visit a village thriving by
showcasing their textile arts, local food specialties, herbal dyes and medicinals, and dances, mating rituals etc. It doesn’t escape me that they pull out their iphones to accept charge cards for purchasing their wares, but nor do I have a sense that what we see in this village is just a show for us. It’s a way to maintain a way of life that suits this small interdependent group of people. It feels joyous.
Ollantaytambo and then the train to Machu Picchu..
Here came the days of magic. The selection of these sites as spiritual centers, laying out precise solar and lunar alignments with the physical features of mountains and structures for purposes of worship on the solstices and equinoxes is only part of the wonder of these famous high mountain and sacred valley sites. The sheer magnitude of the stone construction ; the engineering and division of the spaces and the ethereal beauty, even in their ruined state is stunning.
And then… in the midst of our tour, while our guide Mirasol plied us with technical, cultural and historical information, the clear perfect (and unusual) late October afternoon suddenly changed and a rainstorm rolled in over the mountains, producing a double rainbow that was breathtaking. The defeated Inca civilization had something magical to offer our intrepid group, so sobered by world events. People, their cultures, and yes, some magic in the universe endure, and perhaps our job is to be open to what we can learn and then share it. Enjoy!