Salon Mexico City: Bringing You Judean Condoms & New Expressions of Jewish Culture

"Yo Quiero Taco Bell."  Not exactly the coolest way to start a conversation with a hot Mexican Jew, but it was all I needed to get things going with Alan Grabinksy at this past February’s LimmudLA. By the time I … Read More

By / June 15, 2010

"Yo Quiero Taco Bell."  Not exactly the coolest way to start a conversation with a hot Mexican Jew, but it was all I needed to get things going with Alan Grabinksy at this past February’s LimmudLA. By the time I was done talking to Grabinsky I no longer wanted a cheesy gordita, but a spot at the next Salon Mexico City, the ultra hip events produced by Jewish Salons that are redefining Jewish culture for young Jews and their social circles around the globe.

Instead of latkes and yarmulkes with a side of haftorah, the global network produces events in bars, galleries and warehouses featuring funk bands, photographers and a variety of artists. Salons in Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna and Mexico City have succeeded in connecting young unaffiliated or alienated Jews to each other and to a more open, inspiring and inclusive side to Judaism.

Alan is the Director of Salon Mexico City and Natasha Uren is a volunteer and member: here they tell us about this alternative approach to Jewish identity South of the Border.

Salon Mexico City

Alan, how did the Jewish Salon project come about? The Jewish Salons was launched in Tel Aviv in 2006 by Benny Bailey and a group of young Israelis thirsty to connect "Jewishly" but uninterested in and bored by the limited programming offered by traditional Jewish institutions. By 2009 local Salons had been established in Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna and Mexico City. In each of these cities, a coordinator works with a group of local activists to produce fresh cultural alternatives that fuse Jewish themes with local and international art for young Jews. Last year some 14 events were produced in the four Salon cities and we hope to open in Berlin in November. Natasha, tell us about Salon Mexico — who comes? where do you meet? Salon Mexico City is a wild bunch. We´ve got crazy event producers, designers, artists and practically anyone interested in exploring  "jewish identity" through unconventional ways. As a group, we´re not afraid of asking questions that are relevant to our everyday life and answering them in ways that sometimes do not feel Jewish at all. Sometimes our conversations are about Judaism and sex and other times we talk about revolution and Judaism. The conversation is always exciting and passionate. One night we can discuss what Judaism means to non-Jews in Mexico, the next we cover how Judaism mixes with Latin culture. Our core group of event organizers meet once a week in a house in the Condesa neighborhood. Unlike most of the other Jewish organizations around us, we are not institutionalized. In other words, we don´t depend on any big Jewish federation or JCC. This means that we set up our very own agenda, hoping to bring a vibrant Jewish scene to the Mexican landscape. This freedom is what has kept us alive. What are some of your most memorable events?

Condoms from Salon Mexico

Kosherotica was one of our best as we set out for an evening of unorthodox exploration of Jewish sexuality along with a glass of wine or two. Besides the hard to miss debut of The Chosen Condom,  Sara Young, an American Jew who took on Jewish ancient adultery rituals with an interpretive performance, Luis Perelman, the founder of Shalom Amigos spoke about the LGBT connection to Judaism and a man and woman cellists "flirted" with each other through their music.

What is it like to be Jewish in Mexico? What do you see as the marked differences between Mexican Jews and American Jews?

The Jewish community in Mexico is awfully complicated and very closed minded. It´s divided into four sects: Ashkenazim, Sefaradim, Halebi and Shami (the last two are from Syria and the only difference between them is one is from Damascus and the other one from Alepo). Unlike the American Jews we have no Reform movement.  We have a very small number of mixed marriages. Mexican Jews tend to say we have the smallest number of assimilation per year, which is basically accomplished through a reign of terror:  anyone who decides to live in a mixed marriage or out of what the community considers appropriate is immediately segregated. The two Conservative temples perform conversions, but they don’t make it easy.

Alan, how did you get involved with the Jewish Salons?

Coming back from a year long trip to Israel I was faced with a hard fact about Mexican reality: the Jewish community was so self-involved, conservative and insular that it seemed that it was not offering spaces for new explorations of Jewish identity. In dealing with the this situation I found that I was distancing myself from the whole Jewish thing completely. I felt myself becoming a harsh critic of Judaism in general. Feeling as though my Jewish identity was, in some way, not of essence to my whole being. In short: I was "Jewed out" of the mainstream institutions. It was during my semester scholarship to Berkeley that my whole outlook on Judaism changed drastically. I took a course called "Cultures of The Jews", an incredible seminar that changed my perspective as to what Judaism was all about; I came to realize there are lots of types of Judaism. Soon after I started a Facebook group for Mexico’s Jews called "The Other Community"  where people could discuss anything related to Judaism and everyday life. With discussions that were spicy and controversial the group grew to over 400 members in less than a month and a half. I had tapped into a gold mine. It dawned on me that there where Jews in Mexico interested in expanding their visions of Judaism based in their everyday experiences with the contemporary globalized world. By the time I got back to Mexico, everyone was asking me what the next step was going to be. I felt alone and overwhelmed.This is where the Jewish Salons came in. One regular weekday I met with a couple of crazy Israelis that were hoping to set up an alternative space for Jews in Mexico. It dawned on me that this change in approaching Judaism was not only happening here, but had more to do with a generational movement spreading throughout the Jewish world. I felt comforted and secure when I realized I had the support. Since then and up till now every experience that I´ve had with the Jewish Salons has helped me realized the importance of this shift. Now, more than ever, the Salons have transformed into a personal mission to understand where I stand as Jew, not only in the local sphere but internationally.

Mexico CityWhat do you hope The Salons will bring to the Jewish culture in Mexico?

I see the role of Salon Mexico City as being a catalyst for new expressions of Jewish culture, a vehicle for a safe and creative interaction with the broader Mexican reality.  It´s an educational experience, designed to challenge the ways in which Judaism is approached, opening new ways in which Jews can deal with their Judaism in their own particular way.

Read more about the Jewish Mexican community Alan Grabinsky’s piece for PresenTense Magazine: Super Shtetl in the South

Learn about starting a Jewish Salon in your city: How To Start a Jewish Salon

Join in: Salon Mexico City’s Facebook Group

Connect with people like Alan & the author, Jennie, at Limmud — a movement of learning for all Jewish people:  LimmudFest for Atlanta & The South East is happening Labor Day Weekend. Join in: LimmudSE.

Tagged with: