About a week ago we lost Emily Gottfried, a great loss to the community.  I have been thinking about how devoted she was to giving and community-building, and in what ways she is an example to the rest of us.  I consider the measure of a successful life to be what they say about you at your funeral, and by that measure, Emily’s life was the greatest example and success.  

But what also happened was that I knew about her illness and her death sooner than I would have in my own house, because I was staying here in Panajachel with Elisabeth Rogolsky, who is connected with a Jewish community in Portland and was receiving updates by email long before I would have.  So I was seeing an example of connectedness with a community.

What prompted me to travel to a foreign country was alienation from North American culture.  But a separate alienation, which I hadn’t thought about in connection with this trip, is alienation from the Jewish world.  Having dropped my synagogue membership, I have no affiliation with any Jewish institution.  And my antipathy to the state of Israel is known to anyone who knows me, due to my being obnoxiously vocal about it.  And yet a bunch of people in Guatemala know I’m Jewish because I tell them so.  Cush knows I’m Jewish because we’re playing Bay Mir Bist Du Sheyn, and I’ve tried to explain the origins of the song to him, and the difference between Hebrew and Yiddish, which he doesn’t exactly get, partly due to my bad Spanish, but he gets that it’s of importance to me.

Another thing happened today, connected both with the loss of Emily and my disconnectedness.  It was a small thing with a disproportionate impact.  The Yiddish Hour on KBOO radio was devoted to remembering Emily, and I was listening on my laptop, and I picked up my cell phone and called in to the studio to let Barry know I was listening.  After my call, Barry greeted me on the air.  What struck me was not just that he greeted me, a token of caring, but it implied that there were listeners who would recognize my name, who would acknowledge my existence.   It brought home that the Jewish community in Portland includes me. However remote and tangential and twisted that connection may be, it exists.

I will be returning home in less than two weeks, to deal with a stupid legal hassle.  I am disappointed to cut my stay in Guatemala short, especially for such a dumb reason, but at the same time I’m ready to spend some time at home and to think about where and when to go next, and what to do there.  Being in the expatriate community of Lake Atitlan is kind of weird, and not quite exactly the third world journey I had in mind, but maybe a good introduction, sort of a first step. I haven’t entirely ruled out returning here to relationships that have begun, and teaching kids math and/or music.

But I’m already planning ahead, a bad idea.  I’m here now in Panajachel and in the morning I’m rehearsing with Cush (marimba)  and Tanya (piano) to play at the book reading.  We’ve been spending a lot of time practicing.  We’re doing Cush’s song, “Noche,”  and two of my contributions, “Bay Mir Bist Du Sheyn,” and “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.”  As I mentioned earlier,  Noche is difficult for me to learn because it has several parts, it’s complex, and I don’t have a conceptual structure for it – I have to learn each little bit of it.   They are also finding it difficult to learn my songs, for approximately the same reason.  To me, the chord progression is an architectural picture of the structure of a song, and I don’t have to memorize each chord from scratch because the shape of the song tells me what the chords are.  But they don’t see the architecture so they are learning each little bit of it in isolation.  But they like my songs and they are eager to learn them, and you shouldn’t think they are unsophisticated musicians.  I’m the worst musician of the lot.  It’s just a foreign language to them.

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