Growing up in the South as a Persian-Jew was anything but easy, but it also stirred my interest in learning more about other cultures and religions. I was constantly asked questions about my identity and was curious to know if others shared similar experiences. The more I conversed with people, the more I realized how much we had in common. Each individual had a unique story and experience to share. Fortunately for me, there has never been a better time to share those stories than now! One of my favorite things to write about on my blog are about other cultures that compose the Jewish faith. Especially Latin-Jews! While attending the Charla and Challa event (To learn more click here: http://atlantajewishtimes.com/2016/08/immigrant-experience-helps-unite-jews-latinos/ hosted by the American Jewish Committee I has the pleasure of meeting Britt Wolfe who is a Mexican Jew. She is just as passionate about her culture as I am and I was curious to learn more! Fast forward weeks later, and I finally had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Wolfe. Below is my brief Q&A with Britt who is making some incredible strides in both the Latin and Jewish Community. Please Enjoy and Share!
Can you please introduce yourself and explain your background and ethnicity?
My name is Britt Rotberg Wolfe and I am a Latina Jew. I was born in Mexico City to a Mexican-Jewish father and an American-Christian mother. When I was four, my family moved to Cancun where I lived until I left for the University of Georgia. After getting my masters from the University of Georgia, I directed the Emory School of Medicine’s Latino Diabetes Education Program where I used my Mexican upbringing, American education, and Jewish sense of tikkun olam to help Latinos fight diabetes. I currently am the Co-Chair of the American Jewish Committee/ACCESS Latino-Jewish Taskforce.
What are common misconceptions people have about your culture and/or religion?
As a red-headed, blue-eyed child, I was bullied for being a gringa. Even worse, my classmates accused me of killing their savior. Now, as an adult, people are often surprised to find out I am both Jewish and Latina. It was not easy to grow up in a Catholic country where I was one of two Jewish people at my school and looking more “American” than “Mexican” but it shaped me to whom I am today and helped me be even more proud of my cultural heritage. Throughout my life, I have encountered typical stereotypes about Jews and Mexicans that are contradicted by the reality I live. For example, many American friends do not understand that Mexicans come from across the socio-economic spectrum and would be surprised that Mexican students choose to attend great colleges in Mexico and abroad. By way of comparison, my Mexican friends are generally more well-traveled than my American friends. As for my Jewish ethnicity, in both Mexico and the United States, I have heard jokes and attacks about Jewish people being “cheap” and “controlling the economy,” when I see firsthand the generosity of the Jewish community to Jews and Gentiles alike.
What are common misconceptions the Jewish community perceives about your identity?
I would not say there are many misconceptions that the Jewish community has about me being Mexican. It is more just a surprise that once they meet me and speak to me they are surprised that I am Mexican. In the Orthodox community, many are familiar with the fact that Mexico City has a large Jewish community, but people are surprised that I come from a city like Cancun.
What do you love most about your culture?
I love that I can celebrate my different cultures all-in-one. For example, my husband and I have hosted a number of Mexican-inspired Shabbat meals with traditional Yucatecan dishes such as: pollo pibil, esquites, frijoles refritos, pan de muerto, and homemade challah. Most of all, I am extremely proud to be a Latina Jew and inspired by the beauty of each culture. As a Mexican Jew, I am able to appreciate many Mexican holidays, even those that have Catholic and Aztec religious origins, like Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which I see as a colorful cultural tradition that celebrates Mexico and all its history.
If there was one thing you could share about your culture to the Jewish community what would it be?
The Jewish people have so much more diversity than one might think from the common image. It is critical that we, as a Jewish people, are open and accepting to all types of Jews. I left Mexico City’s thriving Jewish community for Cancun, where it was my Christian mother who made sure that I prepared for my Bat Mitzvah in Spanish and then my Jewish father that brought me to a Reformed temple in Florida where I had my Bat Mitzvah in English. As a representative of the Mexican Maccabia team for games held in Pennsylvania and Chile, I experienced firsthand how many different types of Jews there are in this world. For years my Jewish identity was almost entirely cultural, but after moving to Atlanta I started attending shul and had an Orthodox wedding in Mexico. As Jews, we should celebrate our mosaic of cultural, ethnic, national, and religious observance. We must never forget to love our fellow human beings for who they are, regardless of their cultural/ethnic background, origin, or nationality.
Do you think it’s important to learn about other cultures that compose the Jewish faith?
The Jewish people are strengthened by our diversity. The fact that Am Yisrael includes Mexican Jews, American Jews, Persian Jews, Moroccan Jews, French Jews, and so on, and yet we are all one big family, teaches us wider lessons about how we relate to the world around us. As a Mexican Jew living in the United States, I feel I can help be a bridge between the 21st century immigrant communities (Latinos and others) and the more established Jewish community.