Seven flights, eight airports, four languages, four currencies and four continents. I just returned from Bogota and Medellin, Colombia, where I attended the Latin American Breastfeeding Conference. Even though my Spanish was poor, I managed not to come down with typhus, yellow fever, malaria, hepatitis or any other disease besides jet lag. Nor did I get mugged, kidnapped, or murdered. Colombia has been making an effort to improve its reputation and increase tourism by adding police in urban areas, and it’s worked. I was mostly accompanied by natives everywhere I went, and never once felt unsafe.
My first stop was Bogota, where some of my cousins have been living since the 1920′s. Additional cousins, Holocaust survivors, arrived there from Poland after the war. My brother put me in touch with a cousin from Miami, who put a notice out to the family in Bogota. My cousins Perla and Bernardo sent me a note saying not to be afraid, because they would be waiting for me at the airport. Perla’s grandfather had been the one to invite my father to Bogota after the war.
Perla and another new-found cousin, Florencia, took me around Bogota. As you can see from the pictures, Bogota is a colorful and thriving city. Later, Perla and Bernardo invited some 50 relatives (but not all were my relations) to a party to meet me. You could see that everyone was pleased to be invited to this buffet, to meet the guest from Israel and to catch up with each other.
Meeting all of these relatives was especially moving for me. Because my father is a Holocaust survivor, I have no first cousins on that side. My siblings and I grew up with little awareness of how many of my father’s first cousins either left Europe before the war or survived to raise families afterward. Perhaps the trauma of the war kept him from staying in touch with all but a few. Perla’s grandfather had been the one to invite my father to Bogota after the war, and my father lived there for a year. Had we thought about it, we would have realized how much family we had. Perla’s grandfather was my father’s first cousin, and several of my second cousins live in Bogota.
About 1600 Jews live in Bogota. The Jewish club meets for dinner each Sunday, and people were making plans for the wedding of the daughter of the Chabad rabbi. The Jewish community has a day school, four synagogues, and a low rate of intermarriage. Many young people leave for Panama or other Latin American countries, as well as the US, Canada and Israel. But some young people remain.
Below I’ve included some pictures from my whirlwind tour of the city. Click individual pictures for a short description (some have only a title). Click a second time for a larger view.