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High Holidays Feature Dos Celebraciones: Mexican Holiday Coincides with the Jewish New Year

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This year, as Jews in Mexico celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the rest of the country will be celebrating too. Sept. 16 — the first day of Rosh Hashanah — is also Mexican Independence Day, the holiday marking the start of Mexico’s War of Independence with Spain.

On the night before Independence Day — which this year falls on Erev Rosh Hashanah — thousands of people gather in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zocalo, to hear the president recite the Grito de Dolores, a famous rallying cry against the Spaniards.

The Zocalo — and plazas throughout the country — will be illuminated by fireworks and filled with cheering, flag-waving, bell-ringing revelers on the night of Sept. 15.

Many Mexican Jews say that they’ll forgo Mexican Independence Day this year to celebrate the Jewish new year, although they care deeply about the Mexican national holiday.

Mexico is home to about 50,000 Jews, most of whom live in Mexico City.

Abdiel! Garduno, a Jew in his early 30s who lives outside the capital in the neighboring State of Mexico, said that most years he celebrates Mexican Independence Day with friends.

“I love to hear the grito,” Garduno said. “When Independence Day doesn’t fall on a Jewish holiday, I go to discos, I go to parties. When it does, I prefer to go shul, but in my heart, I’m thinking about Independence Day.”

The Mexican holiday marks the day in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo, a priest in the town of Dolores, rang his church bells and called for rebellion against the Spanish.

Hidalgo passionately urged both his indigenous congregants and members of his mestizo, or mixed heritage, flock to take back lands that had belonged to their ancestors. The call prompted a war that would last 11 years. “Independence Day is very important,” Garduno said. “It represents a change from being ruled by the monarchy of Spain to being governed by the people of the country.”

This year won’t be the first! time that the Mexican national holiday coincides with the High Holida ys. In 2002, for example, Independence Day fell on Yom Kippur.

Mauricio Lulka, executive director of the Central Jewish Committee of Mexico, said that when Independence Day falls on Sukkot, many Jews may choose to celebrate the former. But when it falls on Rosh Hashanah, most will celebrate the Jewish new year, he said.

“In Mexico, the community is very observant, so I imagine that most people will be in synagogue,” Lulka told JTA. “I don’t think you’ll see many Jews celebrating in the Zocalo. They’ll have to wait until next year.”

Danielle Wolfowitz, a French Jew who has lived in Mexico for more than 50 years, said that for her, the decision regarding which holiday to celebrate is an easy one.

“I have a great respect for the Mexican Independence Day, but I would celebrate Rosh Hashanah — it’s been around for 3,000 years,” she said.

In schools such as the Colegio Hebreo Sefaradi, children typically celebrate Rosh Hashanah at school with a seder. They als! o celebrate Mexican Independence Day by ringing bells and dressing up in traditional Mexican garb.

This year, the school — which will close for the holidays on Sept. 16 — will probably hold both celebrations on Sept. 15. This means the students may attend the Rosh Hashanah seder dressed in their Independence Day costumes, which school administrators say is perfectly fine.

“These are Mexican Jewish children, so they need to understand both parts of their identity,” said Amalia Baruch, the school’s Hebrew director. “It’s a Jewish school, so we celebrate the Jewish holidays, but we also have the national Mexican holidays. On Independence Day, we dance, we sing, we yell, Viva, viva, viva.”

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