By Jan Rabinowicz
A nearly-complete set of issues of the New Mexico Jewish Link stretching back to 1971 is almost ready to be sent to the New Mexico State Archive in Santa Fe. It was my honor to be tasked to compose a master catalogue for navigating the collection. I spent a number of hours in the Hillel House library, carefully turning yellowed pages and making notes on original content and regional contributors. It was also a journey across the depths of time and space as seen through the collective consciousness of a small, fractured, yet distinctly vivacious Jewish community over the span of about four and a half decades.
The brittle pages of the ’70s crackle with passion for Jewish survivance in the Soviet Union, Israel and New Mexico – an early Chanukah festival photo spread notes “amidst the whirling blur of dancers, an unlit candle for Soviet Jewry;” volleys of local editorials take on big questions of Jewish education and futurity.
Into the ’80s, while activism for Soviet and Ethiopian Jews continues, things calm down a bit. Among the more concerning issues seem to be cults, the availability of kosher meat, and women in tallitot; singles groups become popular, and various forms of intercommunal dialogue are launched with African-American, Hispano and Indigenous New Mexicans. Protests in Albuquerque against Israeli actions seem to have prompted concerns about “Zionism and unity” that would grow all the more fractious over following decades.
The 90s open with all the “new world disorder” of the Intifada, the end of the Cold War, and resurgent white supremacist militancy in the US as “rifts over pluralism in Israel [were] widening into an unbridgeable divide.” Yet, while the bitter political arguments continue back and forth in almost every issue now, I realized at this point, the paper itself has become something rather remarkable. A lot of the world events go by in a blur, as it’s not my job to catalogue the wire service items, but since I’m focusing on local and original material I feel myself getting a view from New Mexican soil.
A view which is centered here but takes in the world truly links it all together through celebrations of the community’s excellence: the excellence of its artists, writers, rabbis, doctors, researchers, chaplains, scholars, even the excellence of its celebrations. Their roots reach deep into history and their branches stretch out everywhere, assembling kaleidoscopic views of Jewish time and culture tying the blue-handed dyers of Tajikistan to African-American Chassidim, the bustling, aromatic marketplaces of Cochin to unique cultures in Peru, Albania, Shanghai and the New Mexican hinterland across centuries of migration, a cacophony of Judaisms that are somehow all one.
Rabbis Deborah Brin and Lynn Gottlieb, who appear frequently in the Link‘s pages, stand out as impressive figures who have contributed to our ways of connecting to tradition, and connect our community to broader worlds of justice.
As if by means of a secret resonance between two deserts, from a dimly-lit little room I travel to the Holy Land: I am with Mati Milstein, sneaking into Jenin under cover of dark; discussing Torah and Yiddish poetry with international man of letters Barnett Bittner; roaming the Negev with Job’s wild ass reintroduced by conservationists.
I can’t say I was really pleased by everything I saw, starting with uncomfortably stereotypical depictions of Arabs in a number of syndicated cartoons from the 70s. Fortunately, this gets better; but into the 90s, when anthropologist Gordon Bronitsky and Navajo convert Shawn Price were building bridges between Jewish and Native worlds, someone wrote in huffy defense of Kit Carson’s legacy that it was very wrong to call Bosque Redondo a “concentration camp” more or less because the people in it weren’t Jews.
A February ’75 letter from a ‘Messianic Jew’ complains that the editors have been refusing to print their letters, followed by a response stating gravely that as their letters were unsigned, the Link would not print them as a matter of policy; the next issue nonetheless contains an unsigned letter on some much more ‘normatively’ Jewish topic … OK, I have mixed feelings about that one.
Similarly, there’s something a bit funny and creepy simultaneously about the dawning appearance of the technological present, little items as blank and vague as our 90s idea of the internet, literally just announcing that such-and-such organization now has a website, or simply a computer. More ominously, a November 1994 JTA article reports the first known sighting of “Cyber-Nazis” on the “Information Highway,” over two decades before cyber-nazis would swing the US presidential election while launching an extremely anti-Semitic, violent new movement.
I’m not really knowledgeable enough about Jewish or New Mexican history to adequately contextualize, let alone draw conclusions from, my relatively narrow catalogue project. Yet along with some of the particulars of local history and the connections the community has made across space and time, I perceived the interlacing of continuity with change in the soothing rumble of bar mitzvah announcements, appeals for tzedakah, tsimmes recipes, explanations of Sukkot, and of course, cranky letters to the editor.
At any rate, these are just a few of my impressions. The public may now read and judge for themselves, as the Link, Jewish New Mexico’s window on the world, will soon be available at the state archives in Santa Fe.