Rebecca Jacobson
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A Series on Religion, Part 4: The J-Word

October 12, 2010 @ 6:17 AM | Permalink

In high school, I learned my kind had a name: Cashews. We were that not-so-rare half-breed, part Catholic, part Jewish. I quibbled with the "sh" sound (shouldn't we really be Cajews?) but mostly embraced the label. In Malawi, however, I have made few attempts to explain that my parents come from different religious traditions. Sometimes I say they were raised in different churches, but on a few occasions I've clarified that my father attended no church at all. No, he called it a synagogue. Some Malawians are surprised to learn that Jews exist outside of Israel. Normally I just cause confusion by revealing that my father is one of these mysterious creatures.

Recently, I divulged my ancestry to a young Malawian woman. Fanny is an accountant at my partner organization, and we've gotten to know each other over the past few months. When I told her I was flying to the U.S. for my cousin's wedding, she asked if American weddings were like Malawian weddings.

Fanny looking serious at a workshop in Ndirande, the township where I’ve carried out my research project.

I told her that, yeah, mostly they were. There's no perikani perikani, an hours-long ordeal at Malawian weddings where guests toss money at the newly betrothed, but the bride also wears white and we also eat cake and American couples also receive too many appliances.

As guests at the wedding reception toss money at the newlyweds, some bills entangle themselves in the bride's train.

"Does the couple go to a church first?" Fanny asked.

Some couples, I told her. Others don't. "And my cousin and his fiancée," I went on, "are Jewish, but they won't get married at a synagogue — uh, a Jewish church. But they'll have a rabbi —a Jewish pastor, kind of — at their wedding. He'll, you know, officiate the ceremony."

This met silence, which I hastily tried to fill.

"Yeah, I guess Jewish weddings are a little different," I said. "There’s this dance, the horah, and we all hold hands and dance in a circle and sing." Fanny blinked. "Think of the traditional dances at Malawian weddings, chioda and chisamba and all of those. The horah is like the Jewish chioda." And then, against all better judgment, I found myself singing "Hava Nagilah." I tapped out a little snaking grapevine, running into a desk and knocking a newspaper to the floor.

Fanny blinked again. She looked at me, puzzled, this time ready with a question.

"So will they go to church first?"

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Rebecca: I love the ending and I LOVE the second picture with the bright blue guy and the sepia tobacco. Angela

Angela Allen on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-29

Thanks Angela! The second photo is my favorite as well.

Rebecca Jacobson on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-30
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