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Stef On Stuff: Being Jewish In Spain

Jesus the Thirsty. That’s the name of a street I walk on often. It’s just a side street that happens to connect my avenue (Cruz del Campo, probably named after the giant brewery at the end of it…). On the corner of 
Cruz del Campo and Jesus the Thirsty (Cristo el Sed), there’s a decently large church.
I get that Spain is a Catholic country. I understand that there is no chance of me eating meat in the next 4 months. But beyond that, I didn’t think about religion here too much after that. Then I got to my house and was greeted by La Virgen who looks down on me when I come home at 4 am. She’s a mosaic in the driveway. The Jesus mosaic is on the patio, naturally. My senora says that her Mary mosaic is the only one with blue eyes in all of Sevilla. What a curious thing to brag about.

My host parents never pushed me on explaining why I was that vegetarian who ate fish but not squid. Spaniards generally aren’t too nosey about others. Sure, they gossip from one house, each woven to the next by a clothesline and audible by a decibal above a whisper. But, they are not pushy (except for the gypsies by the Cathedral, but sevillanos don’t seem to love gypsies really). Even with that buggy 25% unemployment (“paro” is an important vocab word here), there are very few beggers. They just don’t get up in your business.
Until you’re calmly eating your third fishstick and your roommate isn’t around for dinner and you find yourself under a Spanish inquisition of the inquisitive type: “So, you don’t eat meat because you’re Jewish. Are pigs holy? Did you know they are actually really clean animals?”
And then the big one, “So what do you think of Jesucristo?”
Uhhh. Awkward spoon drop here. Glass clinks. The news reporter on TV even seems to be quiet, waiting for the perfect diplomatic and valid answer, automatically invalidated by an indoctrinated country.

I explain that I see Jesus as more of a holy man, a prophet, but not the end-all-be-all of messianic thought. And for me, religion is about values, community, and heritage.
But I explain that in Spanish. So it was probably translated as “He’s like, a great guy, maybe a ‘prophet,’ but not really, como se dice, ‘the messiah’? Anyway, I like Judaism for community also past and traditional experience so, I’ll pass on the pork, but thank you. Really for me, it’s about being a good person, that’s what’s important.”
Grammatic flawlessness. Wow. I should probably run the UN’s interfaith communications committee – I’m basically a religious diplomacy experta.
Ha. More awkward glass clinking noises. Luis Manuel: “Estefania, eres una buena chica.”
Maybe he was thinking “but you’re not going to be saved ever,” but I doubt it. I think he’s a good person too.
Two days later, I’m spending my afternoon in a cathedral and hotdamn, it’s sparkly in there. Glimmering altars, gilded chairs, marble columns extending to skylit domes of shining stained glass in a million colors. A baptism fountain the size of a birdbath for an ostrich. More than 3000 pieces of artwork from Goya, Velazquez, and all the Spanish greats. The altar the princess of Spain was married on, right next to the confirmed ruins of Cristobal Colon (how we call him Christopher Columbus? No se.)
I’m undoubtedly stunned, awed, marveling at the wonder that Catholicism has done at physical manifestations of higher power. This cathedral is miraculously stunning, historically significant, and majorly enormous.
With ceilings appearing about as close to heaven as it gets, the Cathedral has me feeling incredibly tiny in Sevilla.   And again, thrilled.
While I may have chicken in New York, no state has this historic level of beauty. No state also has free sangria until one a.m. the night before and churros open until 6 on the same block. This city amazes me nonstop.
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