Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Mystery

Ana Lazar went up to Comasagua with us yesterday, and on the way she talked about a mystery she walked into one Saturday morning. She was walking along Avenida Gabriela Mistral, and found herself outside a building with large Hebrew letters next to the entry and a sign that proclaimed it the Centro Communtario Shebet Efraim, de Regreso a Israel (the Shebet Efraim Community Center, returning to Israel). Ana looked inside and found a service in full swing, apparently Jewish, with men and women seated separately, the men wearing yarmulkes, prayer shawls and tefillim, the women wearing white headscarves. But the people all seemed to be Salvadorans, and the prayers were not in Hebrew. She asked if this was a Jewish community and was told that it was; none of the adults had been born Jewish, but some of the children had been bar mitzvahed; they had a Rabbi, who was in the process of learning Hebrew.

Ana was puzzled. She's Jewish by background and this service felt Jewish - and didn't. She tried to do some web research, but hadn't written down the name. Eleanor thought it likely that this was an Evangelical group of some kind - it's common here to see the flag of Israel and names from the Hebrew Scriptures used by Evangelical groups.

Today I walked by Shebet Efraim and checked the name on the web when I got home. Apparently the group began in Guatemala: it does seem to be a Christian group that has decided the way to be authentically a follower of Yeshua (Jesus) is to follow the commandments of the Torah and the practices of Judaism. They don't believe in the Trinity, do believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

It's still a mystery to me: how did Shebet Efraim get started, how does this community see itself vis-a-vis the worldwide Jewish community, how has this attracted a Central American community? In El Salvador, I don't see the varieties of racial types and backgrounds that are familiar to me from the United States or Europe - but Shebet Efraim is a good reminder of how various, mysterious and surprising the Salvadoran community - any complex human community - can be.

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