I’ve been in New Mexico less than 72 hours and I’ve already been asked to join hands with three separate groups of strangers.
The first was Thursday evening after the chant circle, which I suppose is an appropriate enough thing to do at the end of a chant circle. Then Friday night, the Reform congregation did it too, which struck me as a surprisingly hippy sort of way to conclude the service. And then, the next morning, after services at the Conservative synagogue, we did it again, this time singing a summer camp Shabbat tune and waving our arms back and forth. (If you’re curious about all my synagogue attending, I’m trying to make up for my negligence in Europe).
There aren’t a ton of Jews in New Mexico, and only about a dozen synagogues in the whole state. A seemingly large percentage are transplants from elsewhere, drawn to one of the nation’s fastest growing areas by the weather, or jobs in the tech or defense industries, or both. So I was pleasantly surprised when the guy who stood up in shul Friday night and invited all strangers to join him for dinner turned out to be a born and bred Albuquerquian.
Over dinner, Ron Taylor held forth with great enthusiasm, recounting some of the oddities of New Mexico’s Jewish history. I heard about the cross-eyed mohel imported from El Paso — the El Paso Clipper, they called him. And about the Conservative synagogue that held its earliest meetings in the projection room of a downtown theater. And about the cantor who got run out of town after getting busted for marijuana possession.
Ron referred to me more than once as the guest of honor, which probably says more about the number of important Jews who pass through town than the prominence of the Wandering Jew. And in all my years of travel for JTA, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I got picked up for a meal in shul. So thanks, Albuquerque.