As an ESL teacher who has worked for 35 years with people from all over the world, I was very interested in going to see the presentation at the Gotthelf Gallery at the JCC last Monday evening on December 17th.
First, there was the presentation by civil rights attorney and accomplished photographer, Bryan Schwartz. The presentation was called, “Scattered Among the Nations”. It was about Schwartz’s adventures when he was younger and his quest to find Jews in remote or unlikely places. He wanted to document the fringes of the Jewish Diaspora from the Jungle Jews of the Amazon in Brazil, the Inca Jews of Peru, the formerly secret Tefila Sunrise Jews of Mexico, and the Jewish Gauchos in Argentina to the Jewish communities in Asia [India, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan], Africa [Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe], and Europe [Portugal and Ukraine].
He told fascinating stories about the people and communities he met, how welcoming they all were, their history, the challenges they faced, and what he learned from them. Beautiful photographs accompanied his words.
Along with a board of directors, including San Diego’s own, Yale Strom, and Schwartz’s as president, Scattered among the Nations is also a non-profit that started twenty years ago. It is dedicated to helping these communities as most of them are quite poor. On their website, they have an impressive book and crafts for sale, such as Benei Menashe tallits and kippahs from India and challah covers from Ghana. They also have educational programs and more information on this worthwhile project.
To quote from the website: “For thousands of years since successive waves of invaders chased the Israelites from their ancestral home, Jews have carried their religion with them wherever they have gone. Living in the Diaspora, Jews maintained their way of life, gathering in communities to share their traditions. Others were touched by the faith of the Jews scattered among them, or by the words of the Torah, and bound their lives to this enduring heritage. There are less than fourteen million Jews in the world today; most of them live in established Jewish centers like Israel and large cities in North America and Western Europe. But what many do not know is that there are Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, South America, even parts of Europe and the Former Soviet Union, in which the Jewish populations do not have white skin or do not live fast-paced, modern lives. Some of these communities exist in places so geographically and culturally distant from other Jews that they must struggle daily to maintain the religion of their ancestors.
Scattered Among the Nations is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the Jewish and non-Jewish world about the beauty and diversity of our people. We assist geographically and politically isolated Jewish or Judaism-practicing communities to continue embracing the Jewish religion and culture, while documenting these communities as they are today before they disappear through immigration or assimilation”.
The second part of the presentation was the opening of the art/photography exhibit, “Jews of Color; A Renaissance”. It is the latest project by Scattered Among the Nations. It consists of ten large colorful canvases that were created by Sam Renaissance, a painter from Oakland. The paintings are accompanied by the photographs that inspired them. I loved the diversity of the exhibit showing that Jewish people can be of different ethnicities. For me, it makes Judaism richer.
The exhibit runs from December 18th, 2018 to February 28th, 2019 at the Gotthelf Gallery.
The website is www.scatteredamongthenations.org