Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Congo Bongo

Purim Day began with megillah reading as it would anywhere. We returned home from shul for seudah prep, and for the creation of a sumptuous/atrocious delicacy/monstrosity called "Ojos De Haman". This is a custom imported from certain areas of Morocco by the Rennas that involves baking a challah in the shape of a gruesome visage, with hard boiled eggs based in as the eyes. Children then pluck out the eyes of Haman at the Purim seudah. Eep. Adela made a masterpiece, and it came out quite delicious.

The Rennas had invited a group of folks over for an early seudah to conclude before the end of the holiday. Mostly Israelis, I was fascinated by the stories that brought them to the heart of darkness, some for telecommunications, other for construction and many for diamonds. Daniel and Adela hosted an absolute basar fest, facilitated by their outsized grill whose original use was undoubtedly for the roasting of an entire intact lamb. Despite the volumes of South African kosher meat unearthed from their freezer, by the time the plundering Israelis had finished feeding, only a few franks remainined. While the Rabbi's young daughters frolicked in the Renna's pool in the backyard, bottles of wine were being emptied as quickly as the meat troughs. Daniel, being less accustomed to imbibing to excess than many of us, promptly passed out on the couch. Amazingly, people still had room for the hamentaschen we had made the night before and they received strong reviews.

Undeterred by our feasting appetizer, we quickly suited up back into costume - I in my Masai garb, Daniel in his West African Bubu, Adela this time as a cowgirl - and skittered over to the Rabbi's seudah in his roomy apartment above the synagogue. A typical Chabad Jack Daniels-driven affair in all but its geography, the l'chayims began early and often. Not wanting to be rude, I indulged in the local custom, naturally. The singing alternated between the Rabbi starting some niggunim, Renna and I harmonizing on some Purim faves and the Israelis on the other side of the long table belting out some Mizrachi oldies. At one point the Rabbi gave a drasha on the connection between Purim and Yom Kippurim. Blame it on my inebriated state, but I could not trace for you exactly how it led to a middle aged Russian Israeli guy polishing off 20 ounces of vodka in a single draught at the Rabbi's behest after which we sang Mareh Kohen, but I am certain that's where it ended up. The food came in about three waves - salads, fish, then steak and chicken, with a meek Congolese servant in a bright white tunic presenting each dish to the Rabbi first for his approval before it could be taken around the table.

 I'm not one to bite the hand that feeds me, and it was undoubtedly a Purim seudah for the ages, but it struck me at multiple times during this event - what the hell are we doing here? This is one area where I certainly don't get Chabad. There is no community here as such. There is a Rabbi and his family. There are a series of transplants and itinerants. It is lovely that said transplants and itinerants have a place to daven and get a Kosher meal, though few of them would demand or even seek it for themselves were it not provided and at no effort of their own. Nobody would recommend founding a permanent community here, or enticing Jews to live in the Congo, the Rabbi himself rolls his eyes when you ask him what it is like to be there, even though he just celebrated two decades here. The community exists, in short, because an extraordinarily wealthy Orthodox Israeli copper dealer decided to self-fund a moribund community chiefly for his own convenience. Not to hate on a baal tzedaka who could have spent his money on 10,000 more selfish or material items... but the existence and composition of the community still baffles me in theory and in practice. That said, it is a huge quality of life boon to the Rennas and even if that were the only purpose it served for three years, I would be grateful for its presence.

It was late by the time the seudah ended, but not too late to catch a few minutes of Saturday Night Live on AFN at the Rennas. After those very few minutes, I excused myself and promptly passed out. A full day of Congo touring awaited me in the morning.


  1. Hard to believe it till you see it.... Very glad you were with us.

  2. incredible!!!!!! And good to have you home.

  3. sounds like a fun party to me. We are all fortunate to have befriended Daniel who in turn has created for himself this wonderful life, with a wonderful wife that is talented, smart and a great friend as well. May we always continue to share our thoughts, experiences and amazing journeys.