Óscar Reyes-Matute
Philosophy, kabbalah, screenwriting...

Catia: Hanukkah from the most humble synagogue in the Western Hemisphere

Those of us who coincide in this newspaper know very well that being Jewish is not easy. It never has been and less so nowadays.

Wearing a kippa is life-threatening. You never know when you can be the victim of an anti-Semitic attack.

Therefore, some rabbis in the USA have recommended the use of the kippa exclusively for the synagogue.

There is a Sephardic tradition passed down to me by Rabbi Manny Viñas, of Yonkers, NY, according to which Jews of Sephardic descent do not wear the kippa in the street, they carry it in their pockets, and wear it only when they enter their home, to their office or to the synagogue.

It is the usual among the Jews of eastern Caracas, the middle class and upper middle class areas of the city, despite the fact that it is a population with a liberal majority, pro-capitalist, strongly anti-communist, who hate the Iranians and Nicolás Maduro. The 4 most important synagogues in the city are located there.

Catia, on the other hand, is the second largest neighborhood in Caracas, after Petare, the largest favela in the city, and one of the largest in Latin America.

Catia is an area full of Arab shops, like the DA + CO (Damasco & Company) franchise, restaurants, small stores, and food markets like El Arabito, where you can buy products imported from Syria and Iran.

Traditionally, it has been a bastion of Chavismo, and of the groups that support Nicolás Maduro. Here the opposition has never won an election. The area is not controlled by the police, or the army, but by the armed groups, Los Colectivos, which have a monopoly on violence and weapons.

However, here I feel safer than in my old home in Sebucán, the exclusive neighborhood in eastern Caracas where I used to live, and where I was assaulted 4 times.

Of course, the criminals of Petare went to the east of the city to assault the citizens of the middle class and upper middle class, it makes no sense to assault the people of their own neighborhood, they are very poor.

The poor neighborhoods, the favela, is then left for drug and arms trafficking. But that generates bloody gang warfare, for the control and supremacy of these illicit markets.

In Petare, life worths nothing.

In Catia there is peace, but it is the worst place to wear a kippa.

However, on Saturdays, one block from the Plaza Sucre subway station, from 8:30 in the morning, you can hear chants in Hebrew.

You can’t believe it: where do those prayers come from?

There is a synagogue in Catia, I would say the most humble in the western hemisphere.

They are not Sephardic or Ashkenazi, they are not even Bnei Anusim like me, a descendant of the Matute family from Guadalajara: they are Jews by choice.

They are circumcised, and they have an elder Nazir who leads the Shabbat service, with prayers, meditations, and family gathering.

They live a kosher life in silence, they are almost invisible.

A Kabbalistic interpretation, also by Rabbi Viñas, says that they embody the deep meaning of the category “the lost tribes of Israel.”

How is it that these Jewish souls have reincarnated in those humble bodies of workers in one of the harshest neighborhoods in Caracas, in a country called Venezuela, with all the miseries associated with this nation that was once so rich?

Viñas himself points out that this is the advent of an era closer to the category of the Messiah, namely, an era in which even children will have access to the knowledge of the Creator.

My teacher Michal Laitman points out that Israel is not just a national state, that it is rather a spiritual state of connection with the universe, with the Creator: Yasar-El, directly to Him.

Viñas, quoting solid Kabbalistic and Rabbinic sources, points out that in the eyes of the Creator, it has more merit to reach Judaism by our own steps, to reach Israel by choice, by a spiritual awakening. Just as these righteous men from Catia have done in Venezuela.

I understand that 12 years ago they have been offered to travel to Israel, and perhaps make an aliyah, but they are still here, is their choice: to be Jews in Catia.

Once upon a time, I wanted to put them in contact with the Jews from the rich synagogues in eastern Caracas and with their rabbis, so that a rabbinical committee would be formed and they would start the conversion process.

The answer was forceful and negative: if they want, they can go to Israel and try to get the conversion there. Never here, in Caracas …

I immediately remembered the lessons of my master Laitman, even in this newspaper, where he has his blog, which I translate into Spanish as part of my work in the Bnei Baruch group: the responsibility for all the sorrows of the Jewish people begins with themselves for their lack of unity, for the infinite internal divisions, miseries and selfishness that have plagued them for thousands of years. And there will be no peace and anti-Semitism will not cease until the Jews themselves behave towards each other as the Torah says.

In Venezuela there were 30,000 Jews, actually there are 5,000.

And if you despise those who love you, such as these Jews from Catia, that number will continue to decline, while Islamists reproduce exponentially in Europe, which will end up being Islamic if this rate continues.

You have to be brave to wear a kippa today anywhere in the world, imagine to do it in Caracas, and even more so in Catia. And they do.

I understand that there is no tradition of proselytizing in Judaism. Jews do not go out to look for new members of the tribe, they do not go out to look for people to convert, as evangelicals do.

Judaism is inherited, and we are still not clear if it is a blessing or some kind of flaw. Who would want to be a Jew? There are so many commandments, there are so many risks …

Well, these Jews of Catia did it, by choice, and for the rest of their lives.

So let everyone know that there are about twenty men who gather every Saturday, in the humblest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, to pray for Israel, to pray for the world, for peace, for redemption.

They have heard the call, they have had a spiritual awakening, and they have started the journey back to Israel.

In the eyes of the Creator, perhaps they are more worth than 10 rabbis together.

About the Author
Óscar Reyes-Matute (Matu / מאתו), lives in Caracas. He's a philosopher graduated at Andrés Bello Catholic University, with a Master in Political Science at USB. He has been Fulbright Visiting Scholar at NYU on American Studies, and professor of political philosophy at UCAB and UCV. He has published academic papers in universities of Venezuela and Europe, and articles in several newspapers. Since 2008, he is dedicated to study Kabbalah at the Bnei Baruch Institute in Petaj Tikva, while works as writer of cinema and television screenplays. He's liryc tenor. Be aware, after a glass of wine, he suddenly can start to sing "Nessun Dorma!"
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