Marlena Maduro Baraf

Marlena Maduro Baraf came to the United States from her native Panama and studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles and Parsons School of Design in New York. She is principal at a small interior design firm in New York. She also worked as Editor with the McGraw-Hill Book Company and has been an active member of the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute community. Her work has been published in the Westchester Review. La Misa is an excerpt from her memoir, working title, Mami. You can contact Marlena at


La Misa

One by one, every girl in the queue to the chapel reaches into the basket by the open double doors and plucks a head covering, a round doily the size of a yarmulke pinched with a single bobby pin that does not discredit the sweetness of the tulle and the lace.  I attach mine, and I walk in.

We adjust our eyes to the softened light. Opposite the altar, at the foot of the room, is a stone bowl half-filled with holy water. Girls that remember dip their middle fingers into the liquid and touch their foreheads to begin the sign of the cross.  En el nombre del padre, at the forehead, del hijo, high on the chest, del espíritu santo, left shoulder, then right.  Nuns are singing Gregorian chants in the balcony. Voices of angels rain down on our heads. The procession continues down the center aisle. There is a single row of pews on the right and the same on the left.  The younger grades settle closest to the metal grille near the altar, the older, high school girls at the back.  We genuflect. We slide into each pew from the center axis towards the wall until every pew is filled.  Before the priest begins, we kneel onto the wood ledge that is attached to the seat in front, clutching the petite, shiny white misales with white-ribbon tails peering out from gold-edged pages.  After the right number of minutes we sit, and the mass begins.

Because the prayers are in Latin, the bells serve to alert us that it is time for communion.  Voicing rhythmic incantations, the priest lifts the round wafer above his forehead, consecrating it, pronouncing it the body of Christ. The altar boys agitate the bells.  Girls who have confessed earlier squeeze past the rest of us in the pew toward the center aisle. They line up quietly in dutiful intention. They approach the priest at the grille and kneel before him.


Panama, ninety-five percent Catholic, had been a crossroads for trade for hundreds of years, and panameños were accustomed to people of many sorts. But if someone asked, “¿eres judía?” you pulled in a short breath and gulped it down. The word for Jew in Spanish is harsh, the letter “j” sounding like an “h” in English, thrown from the throat across the upper palate.  Hebrea was a better, softer word, “h” in Spanish having no sound.  Los hebreos were the people of the book, children of Abraham and Moses, receivers of the Commandments

“¡Tú mataste a Jesús!” I was sitting in the back of the bus with no way to escape. I still remember the burning words. Eight-year-old Camila had twisted her head to face me. “You killed Jesus!  (Small flames circled my spongy heart.) The school bus fell silent.  We knew the damning fact. We had learned it in la clase de Religión: Judas the traitor turned in the son of God.  Judas the betrayer, un judío.

On any one year there were only three or four of us at Las Esclavas –always cousins. We were a tiny group of Jews in Panama and those of us niñas who attended Las Esclavas had to go to mass before classes like the other girls.  The Catholic orders had the only good schools in Panama then. Some of my tíos chose to send their children to public school in the Canal Zone where they would study in English, but had no religious instruction. Papi wanted us to be “panameñas primero.”     

Our adviser at school was madre Concepción, a massive woman covered completely except for the exposed shield of her face–and her hands.  She and the other nuns at school wore thick black robes in ample folds held at the waist by a band, reaching down to the tips of their shoes. I noticed the shoes. The squeaky, black-leather, laced shoes were radical. Our mamis wore pretty three-inch heels. The nuns sailed down the halls surrounding the courtyard, their dark headdress with a white band across the forehead making their skin very pink.  They were a different sort of creature. And they were kind.

We, the Spanish Jews, were an established community in Panama, older than the country. Almost rabiblancos, the “white-tailed” elite of Panama. Nevertheless I studied Catecismo and Religión and learned about Purgatory, where souls with venial sins could take up temporary residence.

“Madre, can Jews go to Purgatory?” I asked.

“Not unless they convert.”

“But if you are good and you die before you convert, what happens?  ¿Vas al infierno?”

“Sí,” replied my teacher.  “The rule is that if you have heard of Jesus and don’t convert, you cannot be saved.”

“What about Limbo? Can Jews go to Limbo?”

“If there was a baby not Catholic who died before he had ever heard the name of Jesus, he can go to Limbo.”

Where did I belong?  How could these madres who knew my family believe that we would skid down in a giant chute to burn forever with the Devil?

I became a pest at Catechism. Still, the story of Jesus and the tactile wisdom of the tradition were irresistible.  There was a glossy rosary bead for each prayer.  Our fingers touched the prayer when we recited each sonorous call and riposte. My sister Patricia and I succumbed. We snuck pink rosary beads into the house and said prayers at night under our bed sheets.  When Patricia worried about a boy, she prayed to the Virgin Mary.

“I want to convert,” I confessed to Madre Concepción. “I want to be a nun like you.” The madres held me back for a while then arranged a meeting with a priest in the front room where they welcomed parents.  I poured out my anguish, “Padre, me quiero convertir.  Me quiero convertir.”

“Niña,” he said, “espere un poco.  Wait until you are older. You have a fine tradition in your Judaísmo.¿Sábes?”


A girl sticks out her fleshy tongue to receive the gift, a small piece of the unyeasted wafer; then she stands up with lowered eyes.  She brings her fingers together and drops her chin to contain the presence that is now inside of her and returns to us, walking slowly along a new tributary to the outer end of our pew.  The girl steps in, and the rest of us, subdued and empty, slide toward the center to give her space.

I listen for the angel voices.  The priest concludes the mass. “Ite. Missa est,” he declares, “the mass is ended,” and we file out to begin our day.

I long for communion.


Because I didn’t grow up in her time, I never understood my grandmother’s disquiet.  At the end of a school day when I might come to visit, my doting abuelita would look up at me with her troubled-blue questioning eyes, “¿con quién andas?” Who are your friends?

She never spelled it out, but I knew that I was meant to unearth an ‘Arias,’ a ‘Vallarino,’ or another prominent name in Catholic society. I resisted revealing the names of my friends, friends that did match what my Amamá longed for. My friends were my friends, Anita, Marce, Ceci, mis amigas católicas who lived not too far from mi casa de piedra on Calle Uruguay.

Were Amamá’s worries miedos de un pasado antiguo? Were they lingering fears resulting from the Jews’ banishment from Spain centuries ago, fears that coursed in the family blood? Why was mi abuelita so bothered?


At the close of Yom Kippur we gather at tía Connie and tío Stanley’s house to break the fast. As if we need reminding that we are a clan, all the tíos and primos come together. Even the Motta brothers who married Catholic women and raised their children Catholic come to break the fast. At my aunt’s white draped table we reach for the tall silver carafe–hot to the touch–steaming with coffee boiled in cinnamon water. A pretty, distended bowl holds a glossy mound of egg yolks and sugar that have been whipped to a frenzy.  We dip a large silver spoon into the white, and we wait while the thick cream drops into our coffee cups with a slow-moving plop. There are not many rules.  Ham but not pork.  We eat shellfish now. My country is the land of the shrimp. Distant from other Jewish groups, we are on our own.

Our sinagoga is a long rectangle with stucco walls and a turret in the middle.  On Avenida Cuba con Calle treinta y seis.  Tíos, it’s almost all tíos. There is a minyan every Friday night. The same ten or twelve alternate the roles of presidente, vicepresidente o tesorero. One De Castro, one Fidanque, one Motta, Cardoze, Maduro, Lindo or Toledano–reading at the podium in their guayaberas. In earlier decades it would have been different men with the same last names, a game of musical chairs. It would have been one or the next and then the same one again sitting on the red leather chairs facing the family in the pews, next to the Ark holding the Torá and the Panama flag on its slender pedestal.

An elder reads a prayer for the “Reader” and the group responds with their lines marked “Congregation” or “Chorus” from the blue books stored in slots behind the pew in front. They drone their rumble in English, skipping the prayers in Hebrew except for the Shema and the Kaddish (naturally using the Spanish inflections, Cheh-má and Kahdeesh).

I hear the soft thunder of the congregation in the double height above my head. The bells and tiny concave metal discs dance to their own music on the silver staff holding the scrolls of the Torá.

At the leftover end of the synagogue las tías organize a school on Saturday mornings, a one-room schoolhouse for primos.  It is a long and slender void dotted with square folding tables with tubular legs that keep pieces of your flesh when you click them in place. In this shiftable room the adults also meet after Friday night service for a glass of Manishevitz and little chunks of pound cake.  We sing from the red hymnal and act stories from the Bible. I win an award for learning Hebrew words that I do not understand.

During World War I a chaplain assigned to the Jewish enlisted men in the Canal Zone introduced the small Panama clan to the Union Prayerbook used by the Reform congregations in the United States. The group completed a synagogue in l935 and hired their first rabbi, a young graduate from the Hebrew Union College, still clinging to Spanish and Portuguese chants. The rabbi served for five years. There were others, but the community was not able to hold on to a rabbi for long.

I imagine that my tíos looked upon the new rabbi’s talit with long tendrils of fringe at the ends and felt connected to an ancient and venerable wisdom.  He made them think and called them to moral action.  I experienced an occasional visiting rabbi, and that’s how I saw it. I didn’t have many details.

We were a tiny minority living in a small nation with a capital city set next to the Pacific Ocean, warm and open, an expansive country. We had little reason to complain, and we were careful not to offend.

50 thoughts on “Marlena Maduro Baraf”

  1. Not a word wasted.
    I love this piece. Not a wasted word here. I feel the longing of the outsider, looking in. I feel the closeness of family, encircling the writer. Thank you, Marlena Baraf.

  2. Poetry and the flavor of Panama are infused in all of your words. I am awed by the power behind your writing. There is so much here about culture and religion, that I am impressed by your economy of words. I wish you much success with Mami!

    1. Thank you Eileen. Currently in my writing I am trying to push myself to explain more. Inevitably I reduce the coverage, eliminate words and thoughts, leaving the reader a little lost. A challenge for me.

    1. Thank you, Ginny. Coming from you I am indeed complimented. What I’ve attempted throughout the memoir is to begin from a point of feeling and try to recreate the world as the girl felt it with as little of the adult voice as possible.

  3. Marlena te felicito, no tenia idea de tus abilidades y eloquencia. Tu memoria es superior a cualquiera. Yo te recuerdo como companera y amiguita. Ni las monjas habrian podido describir los detalles de la misa. Para mi las clases de religion eran pesadas y asustaban, yo tampoco me queria ir al infierno. Con menos miedo y siendo menos piadosa he llegado a otras conclusiones y manteniendo mi fe. Por ignorancia como catolica, no estaba anuente te tus experiencias negativas como judia en Panama. Es una lastima que seamos tan ignorantes e incautos. Ojala hallamos progresado.

    Te recuerdo con mucho carino,
    Coralia Pasco Harn

    Translation (from Google):
    Marlena I congratulate you, I had no idea of your abilities and eloquence. Your memory is superior to anyone. I remember you as a companion and girlfriend. Neither the nuns would have been able to describe the details of the mass. To my religion classes were heavy and frightened, I also wanted to go to hell. With less fear and being less pious I have come to other conclusions and keeping my faith. Through ignorance as Catholic, I was not consenting your negative experiences as Jewish in Panama. It’s a shame that we are so ignorant and unwary. Hopefully we find progress.

  4. Coralia, te recuerdo como una companera muy abierta. Gracias por tus comentarios tan interesantes. Ojala nos podramos encontrar en una futura visita a Panama. (Marce me ayudo con algunos detalles de la misa. )

  5. Marlena, your work is a thing of beauty. I love it, and I am so proud of you. So honest, so deeply felt, so beautifully written. Congratulations!

  6. Hola Marlena,

    Me encantó tu escrito. No sabía que eras escritora y te felicito. Es impresionante no solo tu memoria, sino tus conocimientos y habilidad de describir tus experiencias. Como sabes, mi hermana Ester (Petey) y mi prima Ann Shirley también asistieron al Colegio de Las Esclavas. Un abrazo,

    I loved your writing. I did not know you were a writer and I congratulate you. It is impressive not only your memory, but your knowledge and ability to describe your experiences. As you know, my sister Esther (Petey) and my cousin Shirley Ann also attended the College of the Slaves. Hugs,

    1. Thank you so much, Jaime. I’d love it if Petey and Shierly would read it. Wonder if it is evocative for them. Wonder if their experiences were different from mine.

  7. Marlena,

    I found your first chapter extremely well-written, and very descriptive of the times. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    By the way, the first Rabbi in Panama, in 1935, was Norman Feldheym, whose wife, Peggy (Marguerite) was my Mother`s only sybling. My Grandmother, Carlotta Wallenstein, and my Mother, Lucille, travelled to Panama by steamer, in 1935 to see their daughter/sister,…..and my Mother met my Father, Joe Fidanque,…..were married in 1937, and I was born in 1940……the only offspring of that marriage. So, were it not for the congregation contracting the Rabbi, I would not exist…….hence I am grateful for that event.
    My Father ws 50 years of age, when I was born. We moved to San Francisco, California, and I was sent to the Webb School of California, in Claremont, California, for my prep-school years. I continued on to Penn, and later to USC for my MBA (this over 50 years ago!!!!), but a good friend, at Webb,Ted Sten, went to Occidental from 1958 through 1962…… case you recognize the name from those years. I am aware that you are substantially younger, but you may have heard the name.
    Continue the writing…….I will enjoy reading the next chapters.


    Joe and Myra

    1. Joe, delightful, wonderful coincidence that resulted in you!!! Great to have these memories added to mine.

  8. Dear Marlena, we have lost contact as cousins but I was interested to read your article. I was only there in the summers but I remember the Synagogue with nostalgia. I also going to Las Esclavas one summer. I remember the smell of a soap factory nearby. I had a different experience, being raised Catholic but converting to Judaism when attending a Catholic college. I never felt the connection to Catholicism as I did to Judaism. I now live in Sarasota, Fl. and see Patricia every couple of years when I go to visit my sister, Rita. I would like to read your entire book when it is available.

    1. Joanne, Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am fascinated by others’ stories of being raised in diversity. It was a formative thing for me and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would love to chat a little further with you.

  9. Hola Marlena, Te felicito captaste el sentir, la sensación y el sabor con una economía de palabras impresionante. Aunque solo fui a Las Esclavas hasta primer grado recuerdo la entrada, los pasillos y el patio con claridad.

    Espero tu próximo escrito con ganas de revivir los tiempos.

    Hi Marlena, I congratulate you caught the feeling, the feeling and taste with a stunning economy of words. Although I went to the Slaves only until first grade I remember the entrance, hallways and courtyard clearly.

    I hope your next letter wanting to relive the times.

  10. Hola Marlena:

    Que sorpresa más linda me he llevado esta noche leyendo tu introducción a Mami, enviada por

    Me has hecho retroceder a esos años cuando íbamos a Sabath School a jugar, cantar, y aprender sobre las historias del Judaísmo.

    Te felicito, pues como otros ya lo han manifestado, no tenía idea de que te gustaba escribir, y que lo haces tan bien. Ya estoy ansioso de segur leyendo. Más de Mami, y eso que no soy uno que lee muchos libros.

    Un abrazo,


    What a nice surprise I have been reading your introduction tonight Mami sent by

    You made me go back to those years when we went to Sabbath School to play, sing, and learn about the history of Judaism.

    I congratulate you, because as others have already stated, I had no idea you liked to write, and you do so well. I’m already looking forward to reading ax. More from Mommy, and I’m not one to read many books.

  11. Marlena, I so enjoyed sliding into the ambiance of your life as I had not known it before. Lovely writing. Jeffery

  12. Hi Marlena. I was thrilled to find this beautifully executed 1st chapter on the internet. I was one of the “cousins” that went to school in the Canal Zone, so I did not experience the Catholic rituals that were such a big part of your life. I loved the descriptions of Kol Shearith, however. Your words left me wanting much more. Remember Linny Sasso? row? Some of their comments were priceless: “Nowadays, any number can play in the lottery” and other off- the- wall comments that came out of nowhere. What a crew of “unique” people we come from! I can’t wait to read more of your book.

    1. Linda, Indeed we come from a fascinating family. This is what my memoir is about: how a giving, extended family can ameliorate the difficulties that will arise in the life of a child. This small excerpt in Blue Lyra (a beautiful on-line magazine) speaks to the cultural setting within which we grew up. Am currently looking for a publisher.

  13. Marlena, what a tease! I am hooked on your poetic prose, as well as your personal story. When can we read the rest of it??

  14. Marlena querida Amiga y compañera de escuela, me encanto tu escrito, te felicito! Excelente la forma como transmites tus vivencias . Bendiciones y exitos. Un abrazo Lupe

  15. I read your stories via your cousin Sandra Maduro’s post on Facebook and really enjoyed them. I also went to a Catholic nun’s school (the Sacred Heart in Tokyo) because it was ‘the best school’ when I was 7 and had the same feeling when the others went up for holy communion and I couldn’t (not baptised).

    1. Hanneke, How interesting to me that you had these same feelings in Tokyo! This ‘otherness’ seems to be universal. Want to write more about this. Thank you so much for commenting.

  16. Estimada Marlena,
    Your writings are marvelous and tell a remarkable story. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences while growing up in Panama. Just a short background – I am Earl and Gloria Brandon’s son (born in the States in 1947) and raised in Havana Cuba until 1960. Upon leaving Havana we traveled to Mexico City and lived there until 1980 whereby my parents retired to Marco Island, FL. As a point of reference my grandfather was Jacob Brandon oldest son of David Brandon who married Judith Maduro and lived and raised their children in Panama City, Panama. If time permits I would be more than please to scan my grandfather’s memoirs including the family history during their days while living in Panama before moving to Havana in 1925. I believe that particular section of the memoir spans from 1878 or so to 1925. Stay well and I know I speak for all of our many families when I say … don’t stop this incredible journey you’ve embarked on. Big hugs and best wishes, Grant (aka Bito)

    1. Bito, I don’t know if you or anyone else checks in again to see if there are any comments. First, thank you for commenting on this piece and encouraging me. I am fascinated by your family’s trajectory–Havanna/Mexico City/Florida. Would like to speak much more about this with you. Will try to find your contact information through others. We are primos far removed!

  17. Marlena, you have a steady hand, a compelling voice, and a story to tell; well done…and congratulations on being published!

    1. Thank you, Marcia. The heart of my book is in old-fashioned, double-spaced pages, getting a last tweak or two.

  18. Te felicito. Bello tu escrito. Siempre recuerdo cuando iba los sábados a pasar el día en tu casa de Obarrio. Me dió mucho gusto verte cuando viniste a Panamá y fuimos a almorzar con un grupo de las compañeras del salón. Me gusta mucho tu estilo de escribir y sé que serás exitosa.
    Un abrazo, tu amiga

    I congratulate you . Bello your writing. I always remember when I went on Saturday to spend the day at home Obarrio . It gave me great pleasure to see you when you came to Panama and went to lunch with a group of the companions of the hall. I really like your style of writing and know you will be successful .
    Hugs, your friend

  19. Dear Marlena,
    I can’t tell you how excited I am by your memories of Las Esclavas– and the primas. You have so perfectly captured our childhood in Panama, our family and its Temple. I joined you and my primas at Las Esclavas when I was 10, newly arrived from New York City. I was there to learn Spanish during the summer before attending the Canal Zone Schools.

    I recall my puzzlement and concern for my cousins who attended Mass. Somehow I was permitted to sit in a room alone instead. There I wrote about ethics… and remember talking with the Mother Superior on that subject.

    I am most grateful for the double experience of being an outsider..American and Jewish, and at the same time a member of a wonderful, loving Jewish family. It is hard to pass these experiences on… but your writing has done so for all of us.
    With love and admiration,
    Your cousin,

    1. Fascinating to me, Eve, that you were allowed to sit somewhere else in Las Esclavas and study ethics. Perhaps it was because your parents were vocal and activists and came from the US, while we locals just accepted what seemed inevitable. All in all, though, I am forever marked by seeing another tradition up close. It’s left me without a we/they senstiment that is so prevalent today. Catholics are ‘family’ to me in that way that leaves us open to profound

  20. Dear Marlena,
    Congratulations! Your skillful writing is riveting. I can’t wait to read more of your great book. I could hear your voice in your wonderful descriptions and the text, sprinkled with the atmosphere of Panama, was mesmerizing.
    Thank you!

  21. I’ve read and re-read this lovely, evocative retelling of a child’s early experience of the spiritual, and with each reading I find some new element or meaning to consider. You draw us into that experience and hold us–rapt, quiet–securely there.

  22. Dear Marlena,

    I’m so gratified to finally get an opportunity to read a piece of your writing.

    I know there are at least 2 generations of Jewish women from our congregation, some of whom will feel a catharsis from reading your description of being Jews in a Catholic school in Panama. It’s daunting to hear about the confusion this instilled in the young women of our “fine tradition”.

    I didn’t go to school in Panama, but was often at the Albert Einstein Academy with my grandmother as she darted in and out with her never ending list of things to attend to there as one if it’s primary fund raisers.

    And, as you describe the synagogue, every sight, sound, and smell returns to me as if I were there yesterday.


    And thanks Joe for the additional history!

  23. I love this excerpt, Marlena. It makes me eager to read the book when it comes out. You’ve painted evocative scenes in few words, and elegantly imparted information not just about your own life, but about life in Panama as well. I am moved, curious and impressed.

  24. What a gorgeous piece. I learned so much from this piece about a community and a world I knew little about, but I never felt like the author was “teaching.” I was brought into a world and experience, and I could see it. I could feel the yearning for the wafer. The narrator’s angst is pallabable. How challenging it was for the narrator to grow up Jewish in this Catholic world. I was just on a panel speaking to the topic of the “The Outsider” in YA literature. This piece is a poignent example of what it feels like to be on the “outside” looking in. Thank you for sharing this. I would love to read more!

  25. Fascinating and rich portrait of an experience that rarely gets any attention. Your writing brings it to life. So glad you have inspired an important conversation. Would love to read more of your work. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the wonderful comments, Laura, Patricia, and Jimin. I am inspired to extend the conversation about being an outsider and about being raised in diversity. I plan to interview others and bring other views on this topic in a forthcoming essay.
      Also, having something published “on-line” I’ve discovered has incredible benefits because you can quickly reach people all over the world (or across this wide land of ours). I am grateful to be included among other writers in Blue Lyra Review.

  26. Marlena,
    You brought me to Panama and to another time. I felt the pain and pride of being an outlier in a Catholic community. I love this memoir and hope it will find its way to a larger audience.
    All best,

  27. Que padre mas sabio! I found this fascinating, as a non-practicing Jew living in Santiago, Chile, where the word judía can sound a bit rough at times as well, though there are a few communities I could choose from. Like yours seemed to have been, they can be a little closed, and I’m a foreigner, so I haven’t gone too close or tried too hard. This was a lovely piece. I’m so glad I got to read it.

  28. Marlena, me gustaría saber los años en que asististe al Colegio de Las Esclavas. Yo estuve en ese colegio a partir del tercer grado. Tengo el privilegio de participar en un club de lectura en inglés, en Panamá, compuesto principalmente por judíos y conozco a tu hermana Patricia y tu hermano Carlos. Soy católica (aunque no muy practicante) y disfruto de la charla y la diversidad de los miembros del club. Es así como he tenido oportunidad de conocer este artículo. De hecho, el coordinador del club me lo envió anteriormente cuando vio “Las Esclavas”, conociendo que yo fui a ese colegio. Quería mi reacción. Lo primero que le dije fue que me sonaba a otra época y que yo era más joven! Yo casi ni recuerdo cuando la misa era en latín.

    Mis vivencias son diferentes pero yo asistí a partir de 1968, por eso mi pregunta sobre las fechas. De hecho, no recuerdo ninguna compañera judía y afortunadamente no recuerdo ningún comentario hostil de la naturaleza que tu describes, hacia los judíos. Si recuerdo que el Colegio Alberto Einstein era conocido como el colegio judío, recuerdo pasar por enfrente de ese colegio en mi recorrido en bus al ir y venir a mi casa en San Francisco y verlo. Ahora Las Esclavas es la referencia de un túnel del corredor.

    La madre Concepción era de la biblioteca en mi época: recuerdo nuestra biblioteca. Ya estaba bien anciana para entonces. En mi época, los hábitos eran blancos y cortos.

    Aunque crecí conociendo que teníamos judíos en Panamá, la primera vez que vi a judíos caminando hacia la sinagoga fue cuando tenía 30 años y fue en Miami Beach! Luego viví muchísimos años en Indonesia, país musulmán, y quizás soy más consciente de la diversidad de religiones que ahora que he regresado a vivir a Panamá, noto muchísimo más a las personas que llevan kipá o que caminan a la sinagoga. No se si es porque es más aceptable ahora que antes o si en mi inocente ignorancia juvenil no tomé nota

    Te felicito por este relato tan elocuente.


    Marlena, I would like to know which years you attended Colegio de Las Esclavas. I attended that school since third grade. I have the privilege of participating in a book club in English in Panama, mainly composed of Jewish people and know your sister Patricia and brother Carlos. I am Catholic (although not very practicing) and I enjoy the discussions and diversity of the members of the club. This is how I had the opportunity to know about this article. In fact, the coordinator of the club sent it to me earlier when he saw it was about “Las Esclavas”, knowing that I went to that school. He wanted my reaction. The first thing I said was that sounded like another era and that I was younger! I hardly remember when Mass was in Latin.
    My experiences are different but I attended from 1968, so my question about the dates. In fact, I do not remember any Jewish classmates and I am happy to say I do not remember any hostile comments toward Jews like the ones you describe. I do remember the Instituto Alberto Einstein was known as the Jewish school; I remember going by it on my journey by bus to get to and from my home in San Francisco. Nowadays “Las Esclavas” is a reference to a tunnel of the toll road.
    Madre Concepción mother was in charge of the library in my days, I remember our library. She was already very old by then. In my time, habits were white and short.
    Although I grew up knowing that we had Jews in Panama, the first time I saw Jewish folks walking to the synagogue was when I was 30 years old and it was in Miami Beach! Then I lived many years in Indonesia, a Muslim country, so maybe I am more aware of diversity of religions that now that I have returned to live in Panama, I notice a lot more people wearing yarmulke or walking to the synagogue. I don’t know if happens more now because it is more acceptable or if in my youth I was innocently ignorant to notice.
    I congratulate you on this story written so eloquently.

    1. Querida Rita, gracias por haberme dejado estas palabras. Sí, tienes razón, esto que describo pasó en una época antes de la tuya en Las Esclavas, como del 1951 al 1959. También creo que en los años 68 y pico ya la mayoría de los judíos iban al Instituto Alberto Einstein, por eso ya no se veían en Las Esclavas. Ya hubieron otras opciones. Como en estos días me siento un poco mas cómoda en inglés continuaré así:

      The impact of being in such close proximity to persons of other religious traditions formed me. It did not take away from my curiosity or interest in my own history (perhaps even it intensified it). So I am deeply grateful for this experience. Panama up to now has been a fairly open society as regards people who are different. The early history of the Isthmus facilitated this comfortable mixing of different groups. I hope this will continue, but sometimes I worry.

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