The Jews of Quito

One of the joys of visiting and revisiting places is that I get to see the same people time after time. I will be talking about the people I met in Quito, but to preserve their privacy, I won’t identify any of them.

The Quito Jewish Community has two major elements:

1. The large indigenous community that has a beautiful community center and a synagogue and lovely grounds. People in the community are of European origin, most of their families arriving before or during the Second World War. They number around 500 and have a community school of high academic quality that has a non-Jewish majority and afternoon religious school for other children in the Jewish community. The community is a Conservative community and so people who live throughout the Quito area can belong and attend services there. We were lucky enough to visit their complex and to see their synagogue.

After entering the complex, one sees two buildings with a patio area between them. To the left is the huge auditorium/banquet hall, said to the be second largest banquet hall in Quito. On the lower floor is a room that we used for lunch. It was also large and because the building was built on the side of a hill, it had large windows and an outdoor area as well. Further to the left outside is the swimming pool.

On the right is the synagogue building itself. Although the congregation president did speak with us about the community, we were not able to take a full tour of the facilities since we still had a lot to do and wanted to get back to the hotel well before shabbat so that people would have time to prepare.

The synagogue grounds

The synagogue grounds


The doors and entrance hall

The doors and entrance hall


The synagogue interior

The synagogue interior


Synagogue under attack by camera-wielding tourists

Synagogue under attack by camera-wielding tourists


The inside of the domed roof

The inside of the domed roof


2. The Israeli/Orthodox element
The first two times I visited Quito, I became acquainted with these people. They are almost all ex-patriots living in Quito for various reasons. Although it is possible to acquire many kosher products in Quito, the lack of the thriving Orthodox community means that they need to rely on each other to be neighbors, friends, and family. They do not have a synagogue and so they lean on each other when they need strength. Watching them interacting with each other is something special. They have become a family, accepting of each other, caring, and warm. They enjoy seeing and playing with each other’s children. When they came to spend shabbat with us, the visiting Israelis/ Australians/ Americans they were open and friendly and simply nice people. They joined in our tfilot (prayers), zmirot (songs), and divrei torah (homilies.) By now, returning to Quito is a bit like visiting family.

The Galapagos Islands, Part 7 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

I can’t remember a time when I was more excited about a non-life-changing event than I was on the morning we left for the Galapagos Islands. Births and weddings of course have long lasting implications that change entire futures, but visiting a new place? But it was not just that it was a new place. This was to be the adventure that would be unlike anything that I or anyone I knew had experienced before– something I had only dreamed of.

Our luggage was inspected thoroughly before we got onto the plane. Because the Ecuadorians are concerned that the Galapagos Islands remain a living laboratory, as untainted as possible by civilization, there is always concern that people might be bringing things that will destroy the unique ecology of each of the islands. For that reason, no plants, or seeds can enter the islands. Similarly, when we travel from the Islands to the boat, the bottoms of our shoes are washed off before we enter the boat so that we will not transport seeds from one island to another.

We flew from Quito to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and then on to the Galapagos Islands. Before we landed, the interior of the plane was sprayed.

The first thing we saw when we landed at the airport in Baltra was this tree.

Galapagos cactus

Galapagos cactus

We thought it looked unique. It seems to grow quite profusely in the Galapagos Islands.

The archipelago consists of 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands and over 100 rocks and outcroppings. Once we had claimed our luggage, we went by bus and ferry and bus to the ship’s landing in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is one of the 5 islands that are inhabited by humans.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

From there we walked along the pier. I thought that we would see our ship, a small cruise ship that takes a maximum of 100 passengers.

The pier

The pier

It was raining and happily, it was the only rain we experienced during our visit there.

What I didn’t anticipate was our mode of transportation to the cruise ship and subsequently to each island. The islands are to remain unspoiled and so large ships do not dock near them, but stay removed from them so as not to pollute or to carry anything that might upset the ecology of the islands. So it was like this that we reached our ship.

The dinghies

The dinghies

And here is a picture of the ship

The Galapagos Legend

The Galapagos Legend

Once settled in, all of us were ready for our first big adventure. Late in the afternoon, we set out on our dinghies to visit the Darwin Research Station.

Imagine our surprise when we came upon a whole welcoming committee of marine iguanas who graciously posed for pictures!

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

and friend

and friend

The Marine Iguana is the world’s only sea-going lizard and is found only on the Galapagos Islands. We found them fascinating. We almost forgot that they were not what we were there to see. The Darwin Station is most concerned with the giant tortoises. You’ll see them next time…

Ecuador, Part 6 of the Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, & Peru Tour

After our lovely trip to Otavalo and environs and then back to the middle of the world, we went back to the hotel to prepare for shabbat.

And what a shabbat it was! First of all the flowers that filled the hotel put all of us in a good mood.

Roses

Roses

As shabbat neared, the women went to the dining room to light shabbat candles and shortly afterwards, the services started. The chanting and singing were lovely and in the short time we had been together, we had become a group.

More roses

More roses

After services, at dinner, we began to get acquainted with our guests, members of the Jewish community of Ecuador. Eating with us Friday night were the Israel consul to Ecuador and his wife and children. In addition, there were other Jews who lived in Quito and the vicinity. It was fascinating to hear about them and their backgrounds and why they were living in Quito and a little about life there.

Quito does indeed have a Jewish community. It numbers about 500 people and follows the Conservative stream of Judaism. There are some Orthodox Jews as well, but they comprise only a small fraction of the community. The community is dwindling with young people leaving the country for the US or Israel. There is a community center and a synagogue. There is also a Jewish school, the Albert Einstein school which is known for its excellent education. We were told that a majority of the students are not Jewish and are sent there because of the fine academic reputation the school possesses. The community has a store that sells Judaica, a mikvah, and the availability of kosher food. There is also a mohel (ritual circumcisor).

On Friday night and Saturday we enjoyed talking to the people who came to our hotel to join us for services and meals. We loved seeing the bright-eyed, beautiful children they brought with them– little children learning to speak Hebrew, English, and Spanish. I was not the only one who tried to encourage them to take the aliya plunge! After all, being a Jew in Ecuador is a bit like being a fish out of water. In Israel, they will be swimming along in a current of wonderful, refreshing, fresh water.

We were treated to talks by the Israel Ambassador and the Israel Consul to Ecuador and in addition, we met the local Chabad rabbi.

Yes, more roses

Yes, more roses

On shabbat afternoon we went to see a very beautiful ethnology museum. We enjoyed seeing the dress and artifacts and crafts of some of the peoples who have been living in Ecuador for centuries.

Our walk back to the hotel was pleasant and once shabbat was over, we were treated to a folkdance show put on especially for us in the hotel.

But all of us were very excited because we knew that bright and early on Sunday morning we would be getting up to start the adventure of a lifetime, a trip to the Galapagos!!!

Ecuador – Part 5 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

Early in the morning we set out for Peguche Falls, just outside Otavalo. It was a lovely, sunny day and we enjoyed riding through the picturesque countryside. When finally we got to the village adjacent to the falls, we went on foot, through the town, and then along the path to the falls, located in the woods.

We were walking along, just enjoying nature. The scenery was lovely and the people we were with were delightful. It was very quiet and relaxed when suddenly we noticed that we were not the only people who had the idea of seeing the falls that morning. We turned around and saw this:

School children

School children

Of course, their young legs were faster and more nimble than ours and very soon we were looking at the backs of some of them.

More school children

More school children

Yes, there were hundreds of them!

Yes, there were hundreds of them!

And all of us were treated to this at the end of the path.

Peguche waterfall

Peguche waterfall

It seems that each Friday school children take trips and these falls are a big attraction. In addition to walking to the falls and seeing them, the children played soccer and other games and had bought along picnic lunches. They chattered and laughed and seemed to be enjoying themselves!

After our visit there, we made our way back in the direction of Quito, but we stopped at a very interesting landmark, one of the places that is located along the equator. This one attempted to instruct us about what it meant being on the equator and they did some experiments that were supposed to convince us that the forces of nature act differently on the equator. We all found it entertaining, even those of us who are natural skeptics.

My husband once again at zero degrees latitude

My husband once again at zero degrees latitude

My turn to straddle the equator

My turn to straddle the equator

And what a surprise to find there a sign that was trying to be in Hebrew. We could make out the last two words: Middle of the world. The rest is still a mystery!

Hebrew?

Hebrew?

We arrived at the hotel happy and ready to prepare for a shabbat together. It was time to relax just a bit before we were out and about once again.

Next time: Shabbat in Quito. Not what you think it would be at all…

update: I received this comment:
Hachtamat Darconim : Hotemet Emza Haolam… I guess the shop was marketing its stamps for being in the Centre of the World. I got a certificate once for reaching the Arctic Circle…. but personally I think Israel is the Centre of the World… Mihal Indyk

She would have won the prize if there were a prize because indeed, inside that building, there was someone who stamped our passports indicating that we had visited the center of the world!

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, & Peru!

How do I begin? This was a whole new area of the world. I knew nothing about it. I had pictures in my mind of what it would be like, but I never expected what I found there. Come along with me to discover this really special part of the world!

On this trip, we had the unfortunate luck to start out just after a rare snowstorm in Spain. Yes, Spain. What would that have to do with anything? Yes, well, I wish it didn’t. You see, we were flying Iberia Airlines and the snowstorm had caused them to cancel something like 200 flights. Although the snow had been cleared from the runways by the time we were ready to fly, they were way behind and catching up very slowly. As a result, our flight from Tel Aviv took off 8 hours late. Guess what happened? You guessed? When we got to Madrid, our connecting flight to Quito had taken off hours earlier.

Madrid Airport

Madrid Airport

Unfortunately, they were unable to get us onto a flight that could get us anywhere near Quito or that would connect to one the next day and we had to spend the next day in Madrid… which would have been fun (as it was for our travelers who were treated to a tour of Madrid and a visit to the Prado), but as trainees, our task was to change all of the tickets, make sure all of the kosher meals were properly ordered, and get to the hotel the airline had reserved rooms in for us (and lots and lots of other people) and arrange everything so that our people were able to join us at the hotel, get their room keys, their boarding passes, and their passports and eat a kosher dinner. After a day of cold weather with no outer wear, lots of rain, and a measure of frustration, we all enjoyed sharing a leisurely dinner and had a very good night’s sleep.

The next day, we all happily took off for Ecuador!

Next time: The Middle of the World and the magnificent market in Otavala. Don’t miss them!

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