Cross Ways

Hispanics search for the origins of their unique faith that fuses Jewish tradition with the celebration of Christ

Some Houston Hispanics are beginning to explore these roots. Some simply find it fascinating that Latinos have so many cultural forebears: Spanish Catholics, gypsies, Native Americans, blacks, Arabs -- and now, Jews. Others are exploring unconscious traces that colonial-era crypto-Jews may have left on modern-day Latino culture in the Southwest. They wonder, for example, if Sephardic dietary habits -- such as a preference for goat meat over beef -- influenced today's Chicano palate. Others, like Fred Garcia, suspect stronger and more recent influences in their own families.

Are these musings based on nothing more than faded memories from a Protestant rather than Jewish past? Ultimately it may be impossible to make blanket generalizations. But the mere fact that the question is being asked suggests interesting developments between Latinos and Jews.

Take the Stiles Street congregation. Whether or not his church really has historical roots in Judaism, Pastor Pedro Márquez led a contingent of his congregants across town to Brith Shalom, to explore possible connections. In the process, his Christian Latino group listened to Jewish music, met the rabbi and made friends with Loretta Levi. And Levi (who has since moved to Georgia) also ended up crossing town. She spent months of Saturdays teaching Hebrew and a bit of Jewish culture to children at the Iglesia de Dios Israelita; as a result, she spent a lot of time with evangelical Christians.

Parishioners go all out for the Jewish tradition of the sukkah.
Parishioners go all out for the Jewish tradition of the sukkah.
Pastor M´rquez doubles as an auto body shop operator.
Pastor M´rquez doubles as an auto body shop operator.

Meanwhile, Fred Garcia -- who had met only two Jews in his entire life -- visited the Jewish Community Center on Braeswood, where he was impressed at how people there "have features like Mexicans," he says. "My wife says I should take our kids over so they can meet their 'cousins.' " And the most recent conference of the Hispanic Genealogical Society, held this fall at the Galleria, included a field trip to the Holocaust Museum Houston.

Contemporary crypto-Judaism may be real, or it may be romance. It could even contain theological traces of anti-Semitism. Yet ironically, it may be bringing two peoples together who seldom feel much in common. The effects so far are quite modest: Most local Jews won't be meeting Spanish-speaking "Israelites" anytime soon, and vice versa. But if you're ever at a supermarket in southwest Houston and see Latinos hanging around the Jewish food section, don't jump to conclusions. They might be domestics shopping for someone in Meyerland. Or they might be members of the Iglesia de Dios Israelita. Pastor Márquez and his congregation spend a lot of time traveling to stores like Rice Food Market, a long way from Stiles Street. But what else can you do when Passover comes and you need matzo to worship Jesus?

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