I had not expected to be here, of all places, on this day. But sometimes Spirit has other ideas.
This morning, courtesy of Google News, I stumbled over an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican that did not, for whatever reason, lock me out for lack of a subscription. It told the 2022 story of Temple Montefiore, also known as Montefiore Synagogue, the first Jewish synagogue in what became called the New Mexico Territory, and also the very first Jewish synagogue/temple west of the Mississippi.
And now it’s under threat, again, and the local Jewish community has TEN DAYS in which to save it.
In 1880, Jewish migrants arrived in these Indigenous lands, hoping once more for a space that would be safe. The majority of them settled in and around Las Vegas, New Mexico, just over the mountain from us to the southeast (but the Jewish population spread out all across these lands, as well). In 1881, they began building Temple Montefiore, dedicating it in 1886 (September 20th, as it happens), and despite a move of some four blocks’ distance in 1922, it remained a center of Jewish worship and activity and social activism until the 1950s.
At that time, declining membership and population led the community to put the building up for sale, and, entirely predictably, the stte Archdiocese vacuumed it up. Fast-forward some forty years, and amid a renewed interest in faith and culture by younger members of the community and a not-insignificant population of what in these lands were known as “conversos” (Jews who converted to Christianity to “assimilate” with what, as our peoples know firsthand, was a religious population spectacularly intolerant of any ways but their own).
Jewish history is New Mexico history. Jewish communities have a long and rich tradition in this land of hard and harsh extremes, and they have contributed much to its wonderful cultural aspects, despite being perpetually left out (along with Black and Asian folks) of the state politicians’ and pundits’ much-vaunted, millimeter-deep paeans to “tricultural population.”
They have also been through a lot. My own Indigenous roots are in the Great Water lands of the cold and stormy Upper Midwest, but my husband’s are deep in this earth right here. Despite that, more than half of my life has been spent in the state, and as in my own homelands, I’ve sought out the corners that the colonial world prefers to cover up. Jewish people found a home here, yes, but also more persecution; it’s why so many, early on, felt compelled to become conversos. They intermarried with the Spanish colonizers, now Hispanic (the preferred term here instead of Latinx or Latine), and with the Genízaros, a population, of now-mixed-ancestry Indigenous people enslaved by the Spanish, forcibly amputated from their communities and thereby losing all official tribal affiliation. A large percentage of the Hispanic population here has ssome Jewish ancestry, and there have long been stories of Sephardic Jews and converso and other crypto-Jews fleeing inquisitional practices in Europe to hide in plain sight here, so to speak.
But this is land buried under the weight of colonial violence as surely as it is Indigenous beneath it all. The Klan has always had a presence here, even if it now mostly trades the hoods and sheets for paramilitary garb and gear. And antisemitism is rife in this land; we find it in our own communities, a direct product of colonialism and conversionism, and while we address it when it appears, it runs deep.
So it was not particularly a surprise to me to find that, as the Jewish community of Las Vegas renewed and regrouped some thirty years ago, they sought to buy back their synagogue and were refused. They’ve continued to make clear that if it ever came on the market, they wanted to buy it; and were continually refused.
Until now. The Archdiocese put it on the market in the worst possible way. When the community learned of it, they sought an agreement for first right of purchase. The amount is high, well into mujltiple six figures, and then the Archdiocese dropped the bombshell: “You have 60 days to come up with the money, or we sell it to someone else.”
Leaving aside the distinctly unChristian nature of such a deal (I have plenty to say on it, but I’ll refrain for now), it sent the community scrambling to raise the funds.
But it gets worse.
The Archdiocese came back shortly thereafter and unliaterally imposed a deadline of THIRTY DAYS. Thirty days in which to raise all the moneu, brooking no argument, refusing to hear pleas or common sense or any appeal to goodness or grace.
The community raised a bridge loan and other funding, but are still $200,000 short. They have TEN DAYS LEFT in which to raise it, or their spiritual home in this stte is gone forever.
We know a little (oaky, a lot) about what it’s like to have your history (your land, your religion, your language, your culture, your identity, your very children) stolen from you. And Wings and I could not sit by without trying to help.
I have several mutuals on Twitter who are Jewish, and I tweeted it out in a short and urgent thread, knowing tht they would pick it up and spread it throughout Jwitter (Jewish Twitter). In the two hours since, another almost $8,000 has come in, lifting their total from just over $11K to almost $19K. But there’s a big gap between $19,000 and $200,000.
We don’t ever ask people to do what we’re not willing to do ourselves. This is a terrible month for us; we have a bunch of unusually steep expenses, a lot of medical expense, and the knowledge that we are entering the holiday creative season with silver having tripled in price. It will put a lot of Native silversmiths in this area out of business entirely. We can ill afford any extra expense right now.
But this matters.
So we have kicked in $100, and we will manage. This terrible behavior by the Archdiocese must not be rewarded, but more than that, the Las Vegas (and broader New Mexico) Jewish community must not lose their spiritual and cultural center this way.
So I’m asking everyone who can do so to match our $100. Can’t do that much? Match whatever portion you can. Capable of giving hundreds, even thousands? DO IT. Because our histories matter.
And Jewish history is New Mexico history is U.S. history.
And those of us who are not Jewish need to step up and be actual, genuine allies now. In a colonial, capitalit world, solidarity is often only available through sharing money. If that’s what it takes, that’s what we do.
Because we know, better than most, what happens when our histories are stolen.
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