Rosh Hashanah in Quetzaltenango

Mount Tajumulco, Guatemala.

tonight i gather with my tribe
to welcome a new year with life & laughter
& the biggest bottle of cheap wine
we could find in Guatemala.

we are not at shul
in Crown Heights or Skokie.
we are at socialist,
Spanish-language school
in the reddest heart of this highland city
called Quetzaltenango.

of the twenty-five students here,
at least ten are of the Hebrew persuasion.
of course. like i said, this is
socialist language school in Guatemala.

today, after many hours
of conjugating subjunctive verbs
and debating neoliberalism,
we come together in the school café,
beneath the glory of Mt. Tajumulco,
where at least two of the teachers here
fought in the guerrilla movement during the war,
to light the candles and pray
for a year of peace and, God knows, still, land reform.

for those of us who speak Hebrew
or Yiddish or DC,
this is the year 5772.

we have been waiting
so long.

for the Mayans, who speak Quiche
or Mam or DC,
who still outnumber everyone here
in the highlands except the birds,
this is the year (mas o menos) 5125.

this is the last year
of the fourth great cycle
of the Mayan calendar.
but 2012 is not the end
of the world like John Cusack
told me in a movie.

yes, i learned here last week
a fifth cycle will begin.
this is just the flipping of one page
on a very, very large calendar,
one that has slightly more wisdom
than special ‘words of the day.’

a great change in consciousness
next year? yes, God, yes.

we have been waiting
so long.

my teacher, Estuardo,
told me yesterday that cultural anthro-linguists
(a phrase i won’t understand in any language)
recently discovered a connection
between ancient Hebrew
and Quiche, the language of the Popul Vuh,
the Mayan Bible.

Estuardo, an evangelical Christian
with the humility of a street sweeper
and the trash talk of a street baller,
said he believed was  true
because the Quiche were one
of the ten lost tribes of Israel.

‘we are the original gringos!’
he laughed.

who knows what makes a tribe,
but i am willing to bet it starts
with a shared joke and cheap wine.

tonight is Rosh Hashanah
where will this new year head?

what is a calendar
but a collection of trees
sacrificed to help us
remember our lover’s birthday?

what is a year
but another spin around the sun,
another marathon of 365 hikes
up the mountain, hoping that one
of them will lead us above the clouds?

tonight, we sit down in our makeshift shul,
we recite the prayers led by two women
(both of whom announce that they are atheists),
we eat our disinfected apples and honey
and whisper our wishes for a sweet, liberating year
from Quetzaltenango to East Jerusalem.

ten Jews and right beside me, Estuardo.
the minyan and the minister,
together asking of Him, of Her, of ourselves
to let land and justice settle here
amongst all Our Peoples
like the clouds of the highlands.

i feel a quick breeze
dash through the open window,
kissing the flames into a blush of bright life.

from somewhere in the distance,
atop a mountain somewhere,
i can hear the call of the shofar,
the call of the quetzal.

ram’s horn, native bird:
we are mere animals
and yet merely human.

this night is one more spin
to live up to our calling.
let us drink up and use these days
like they were our first
and our last.