These posts are usually crafted during travels, but almost always with some Israeli connection, either passing through a place on the way to Israel or actually being there. That’s where the name Mazer-in –Jerusalem came from since the blog started there. But there are always exceptions…like this week. We will take you from Montreal to San Diego to Mazatlán, Mexico, and back to Montreal. It’s been a fun week of conferences, teaching and exploring some new and beautiful places and learning new lessons.
The genesis of all this started about a year ago, with a colleague and friend from Mexico named Juan Antonio “Tony” Sacre. Tony is a pediatric allergist in Mexico whose daughters live in Montreal (studying at McGill and Concordia). When Tony is in Montreal, he visits us at McGill and the Children’s and at Meakins Christie. We often discuss cases and medical problems as well as family and life. Tony was elected secretary of the Mexican College of Pediatric Allergists and Immunologists (Compedia), and as part of his job was to coordinate the Annual meeting of Compedia. In our discussions, he suggested that he would like to invite me to speak at the meeting, in a resort in Mexico. I asked if I could bring Barbara and he said, absolutely! So began the journey…
The Compedia meeting was to be from June 25-29; but soon after our trip to Switzerland this March, I was invited to speak at another conference in San Diego on June 23-24; since the Mexican meeting was to be held on the Pacific coast, this would be feasible. So I set out for San Diego for a two day meeting at the University of California in San Diego in La Jolla on “GlycoImmunology”. Not to go into the technicalities, it was a really interesting meeting and an opportunity to meet some really good scientists. Of course, La Jolla is always a treat to visit. The temperature varied between 17 and 22C, palm trees were everywhere and the setting was really pretty. We stayed at the Sheraton La Jolla, which coincidentally is across the street from a Ralph’s supermarket with a large Kosher take-out and deli and a Trader Joe’s. We were also a 20 minute walk away from the La Jolla JCC which has a Kosher restaurant. So California travelers, if you are planning a few days in the La Jolla area, and would like to have convenient access to provisions, this is the place to stay. Barbara arrived on Tuesday afternoon, had some time around the pool, then we shopped (more about that later) and went to the JCC for dinner. We were due to leave at 6:30 the next morning, so we called it a night somewhat earlier to be ready to go to the airport.
The next morning, we were on our way to Mexico. We learned that the resort in Mazatlán was unable to work things out with a Kosher caterer, so we brought some schnitzel and turkey cold cuts, which a local Chabad Rav had said would not be a problem. Of course, Mexico has crazy laws about food, and we were told 10 times on the plane to declare all foods, so we did. And guess what? Our chicken was confiscated. No amount of cajoling or explaining about kashrut or illness or pain of death would let them let it pass. So, we were transferred from the airport to the Emerald Bay Pueblo Bonita resort on the beach of Mazatlan, sans chicken! We did get to keep rolls and Yves fake meat, so all was not lost. It did lead to us eating lots of fish wrapped in aluminum foil, which worked out well, except for the night the chef wrapped 2 cans of tuna in foil (don't ask....)
We stayed at the Peublo Bonita Emerald Bay. The resort is secluded, built just above the public beach, right on the Pacific Coast. It’s full of beautiful gardens, pools, and spectacular sunsets. It would be an amazing place to take long walks, except that it was 34 degrees outside (with the humidex it’s 42!). OK, so we took short walks, used the pool and especially appreciated the air conditioning. All the hotel rooms are large suites with bedrooms and large living rooms with kitchenettes. The windows face the ocean and the lovely sunsets. Pretty spectacular.
As faculty at the conference we have been treated really well. Wednesday night, the opening program included a cocktail party, a group of traditional dancers and a “Banda”, a traditional local band. There was quite a show. On Thursday, the professors were taken to a restaurant in a home built 151 years ago, including a fig tree growing through the roof of the first floor into the second floor. I spoke at the conference on Thursday and Friday and the talks were very well received. There were lots of questions during and after the presentations. The crowd was very Latin American, enthusiastic, ebullient, and very fun loving.
We had a great, quiet Shabbat, with some down time to hang out and read. In contrast, the conference had their closing dinner Friday night, with dancing till 3 AM! These guys have lots of energy!
So what is so special about Mazatlán? We found out quite a bit on a tour of the city Sunday afternoon. The city is nestled along the coast and really was developed in the 1800s. It has an 11 km boardwalk along the beach which is filled with people, especially after dark (considering the heat). Like many Mexican cities, it has many plazas and squares and especially monuments, to everything from the city’s name (Mazatlan means “Deer”) to the continuity of the Family. There is even one to the city’s most famous industry, the Pacifico Brewery. Now, how does a land known for Tequila become the home to many excellent beers? There was a huge influx of Austrian and German immigrants in the latter half of the 1800’s. Three German immigrants started the Brewery in Mazatlán. And, as you know with the coming of Europeans, there has to be a Jewish connection…
This brings us to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Center of Old Mazatlan. (“What?” you are saying, “He’s lost it, too much sun….that name does not sound remotely Jewish!”) This cathedral is truly beautiful, as cathedrals often are, very ornate, and full of religious imagery. However, there is a difference. When we arrived, our guide asked what is unusual about the Cathedral? Look at the stained glass window in the picture. See it? Each stained glass window, 28 in all, are crowned with a Magen David, a Star of David. This is in tribute to three Jewish families, who, in the late 1880’s and 90’s aided in the construction of the church with large donations and contributions of the marble for the floor and other things. The 28 windows? In honor of the 28 days of a typical lunar month in the Jewish calendar. Now, I am sure that in many circles, this would be considered a sacrilege. Personally, though, I think this really represents a Kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of G-d. This is proof of the good that can come from people working together, and respecting each other. According to Wikipedia, in the 1800’s there were barely 200 Jewish families in all of Mexico. In Mazatlán, it would have been surprising if there was even a minyan (10 Jewish males required for communal prayer). On the other hand, the agrarian community of Mazatlán was likely not overly wealthy, much like today. So when the Catholic majority built their house of G-d, the minute Jewish community chipped in and the gratitude is forever etched in the magnificent stained glass for all to see.
Mexico was a great place to relax, enjoy the sun and learn about another culture with tremendous joie de vivre. However, in this very trying week, with the loss of three precious boys in Israel and escalation of violence across the entire Middle East, we can learn a lot from the stained glass in Mazatlán about co-operation, mutual respect and helping one’s fellow man.
Barbara and Bruce
PS: Many thanks to Pancho and Rose-Marie for making sure we stayed out of trouble
Happy Fourth of July to all our US friends (and our kids living in the US!)
Happy Birthday to Steven Fiter
Happy Birthday to Andy!
Happy Birthday to Cousins David (Weinstein) and Karen (Morrison)
To my beloved wife and best friend, Happy Anniversary!
Refuah Shlema to Zysl bat Bella