I am late in posting this week because it has taken me a couple extra days to get my thoughts together on the matter that I want to speak about. On Friday a dream of mine was actualized when an article about my volunteer work here was published in The Jewish Standard, a North Jersey newspaper. As I expressed to those I urged to read it, this documentation of my experience here in Rwanda was particularly important for me because I knew it would reach my family and their community. I knowingly put a strain on my family when I made the choice to come here and I feel strongly that articles like this one help to validate what I am doing. This paper in particular is delivered to the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly where my mother works as a Nursery School Supervisor. As I predicted, her boss read the column and even wrote an email to the rest of the staff encouraging them to do the same. I think that may have put just a little smile on my mom’s face.
It did not, however, make everyone happy. I debated sharing this, but after our cancelled demonstration at the Milles Collines, I wrote candidly about the orchestrated campaign by the Born Again community here to get the word out that yoga is devil worship. It would be dishonest of me now if I omitted a related occurrence that happened, I believe, as a result of this article in the Jewish Standard. On Saturday evening I received a hate email from someone I don’t know but who appears to be a religious Jew. The email, in its two sentences asks why I have decided not to reproduce (I haven’t) and if I consider myself to be a crazy Jew or a crazy yogi nut. To that I answer that not only do I consider myself to be both, but think that each of these aspects have made the other stronger.
I experience this every Friday night when I light my Shabbat candle and am able to be still as I stare at the flame and meditate on prayers of peace. I thank my yoga practice for helping me to be in the present moment and therefore see G-d in all things. This has made me a better person and a better Jew. When I read from my prayer book my mind is focused and clear. I wonder if my emailer can say the same. In return, my Jewish upbringing has helped my yoga practice. I recall clearly how the repeated recitation of the Prayer for Peace helped me through a time when I was struggling with a difficult yoga pose. And each morning my call of Modei Ani, reminds me to thank the Lord for the gift of a new day, and gives me the strength to make it to my 6 am practice.
The beautiful merging of both my worlds has never been sweeter than last night at my Chanukah celebration. The only Jew, I cooked latkes for 7 Rwandans, and 1 Australian. They don’t sell apple sauce here so I made some. Creme Fresh was our sour creme. The children especially were confused about the strange food in front of them, but tried everything. The big success was the introduction of the traditional Chanukah game, Dreydl, where one spins a four sided top and either wins or loses his anti depending on which side the Dreydl lands. We played for butterscotch candies but by the intensity of their reactions you would have thought my guests were playing for gold.
When night came I snuck into my room for my Skype date with my parents. Most of the guests had left but two remained. I heard them sitting at the table decoding the complexities of their language with my Australian housemate. Then the conversation shifted. She spoke of the Buddhist faith and when it seemed language and cultural barriers would make it impossible to explain her beliefs she slowed down. Gradually they came to understand. I looked to the Chanukah candles and as I watched them fade to their last flicker I couldn’t help but think of all the obstacles to a night like this ever occurring. Here we were gathered around a Chanukah table in Rwanda: Christian, Buddhist, and Jew. The Menorah went black and another light emerged.