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Ya Tomas Tu Lugar (You Take Your Place)

by Consuelo Luz
Song for my son, Max, on his Bar Mitzvah
From Jewish Poetry of New Mexico: Another Desert

Este ya es el día
En que tu vuelves hombre
Con apoyo de familia
Y de comunidad.
En frente a Dios te pones
Con corazón y mente
Ahora a estar pendiente
De tu responsabilidad.
Que ya no eres un niño
Que esconde en su madre
Secretos de ternura tender secrets
Ahora los guardas tu.
Que ya no eres un niño
Llorando en la puerta.
Como hombre en el templo
Ya tomas tu lugar.

This is the day
in which you become a man
with the support of your family
and your community.
You place yourself in front of God
with your heart and mind
ready now
for your responsibility.
For you are no longer a child
who hides in his mother
You now keep them to yourself.
For you are no longer a child
Crying at the door.
As a man in the temple
You take your place.

Jewish history throughout the world reflects a wide panorama of culture. The
Jews, originally from the Middle East, have fanned out across the globe, bringing
their culture with them and assimilating to some extent with the cultures of their
adopted countries. The dispersion of the Jewish people from their homeland has
come to be known as “the Diaspora,” or the creation of Jewish communities far
from their original geographical source. Judaism is a religion, but it is also a
culture which has survived despite thousands of years of oppression.

New Mexico has its own unique brand of Jewish history and culture. As the poem
reflects, Jews fleeing the Inquisition on the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th and 16th
centuries flocked to the New World in an attempt to survive the persecution of the
Holy Office of the Inquisition, and their descendants remain here some 600 years
later. These descendants may have converted to Catholicism or later to some other
form of Christianity and become known as “conversos” or “the converted” in
Spanish. They may have remained true to their Jewish traditions and secretly
continued to practice their ancestral Jewish faith. These people are now referred to
as “crypto-Jews.” Or they may have continued to practice sacred Jewish rituals
such as lighting Sabbath candles on Friday night or celebrating the Passover at
Easter time without knowing why these rituals were being maintained.

The verses on the previous page from Jewish Poetry of New Mexico: Another Desert,
edited by Joan Logghe and Miriam Sagan, is one expression of the Jewish
experience in New Mexico. It describes a young boy turning 13 at his Bar Mitzvah,
the day that he is no longer a child but assumes the responsibility of a man before
his community and before God. The poem is in simple language, in English and
Spanish, and informs the young man that his place is now at the temple, no longer
at his mother’s side.

Consuelo Luz who penned the poem lives in Santa Fe. She publishes and
translates poetry and sings contemporary versions of ancient Sephardic songs in
Hebrew and Ladino, a Romance language descending from medieval Spanish still
spoken by Sephardic Jews. Luz describes the reality of practicing Judaism and
celebrating an ancient Torah, the Jewish bible, in New Mexico:

“… there is an ancient Torah from Romania leaning against our rough adobe wall,
its faded parchment dancing in the light of our wood stove. Rescued from the
Holocaust, it has arrived to serve our Taos Havurah. The Trampas River sings
outside the window, beneath the Sangre de Cristos cool and breathing in the
moonlight. Soft and harsh. Old and now. Eternal continuity in the face of the
harshest of destinies, the Torah, surviving, traveling, flying like the Jews to
faraway places to escape, to hide, to live again and again…and now again in the
mountains of New Mexico.”

Stanley M. Hordes, Ph.D., an adjunct research professor of the Latin American
Institute at the University of New Mexico, cautions readers of Jewish Poetry of New
Mexico: Another Desert to look beyond the portraits of Jews in New Mexico as
descendants of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews or of German merchants
making their way across the Santa Fe Trail in the mid-19th century to establish the
earliest commercial centers of Santa Fe, Taos, and Las Vegas. He writes that these
themes comprise an integral part of New Mexico’s Jewish heritage, but the story is
far more complex. The state’s history also encompasses more recent arrivals
including Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th
century, refugees from Nazi persecution in the 1930s and 1940s, and Jewish
scientists who came to Los Alamos to design the atomic bomb and stayed to live
and work in that spectacular mountainous setting. More recently, Jews attempting
to escape the urban problems of the East and West coasts and the Midwest have
settled here as well.

The Jews in New Mexico are not homogeneous; they come from different places,
speak different tongues, and celebrate their faith in different ways. They have
come from long distances to the broad expanses of the high desert to practice their
religion in freedom.

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