Interview with Ricardo Freund (June 9, 1981)

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Interview with Ricardo Freund (June 9, 1981)
Series Title:
History of the Jewish Community in El Salvador
Freund, Lea ( Interviewer )
Freund, Ricardo ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Jewish Community History
Jews -- History -- Florida


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Jewish Community History' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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INTERVIEWEE: Ricardo Freund

DATE: June 9, 1981

F: My name is Lea Freund. Today is June 9, 1981. We are in Miami,
Floridainterviewing Ricardo Freund,a nineteen year old from the com-
munity of El Sdlvador. Ricardo, where and when were you born?

SR: I was born"March 7, 19 in San Salvador, El Salvador.

F: Where are your parents from?

R: I am a result of a pretty good mixture. My father was born in El Sal-
vador. His parents are from Germany. My mother is from Brazil. Her
parents are from Romania and their parents are from Russia. I don't
know how many more countries there are.

F: How many brothers do you have?

R: I have three brothers, ages, seventeen, sixteen and twelve.

F: Ricardo, what do you remember about the Jewish life in your early child-

R: Very early childhood? At about what age?

F: Let's say from whatever you remember to thirteen.

R: Basically it revolves around synagogue on Friday nights, and other fes-
tivals, of course. And Noarshelano, the organization we had. I do re-
member Friday nights. I remember how special it was to get ready for
them, how my mother used to make us dress differently than we dressed
for school, how we would see meals being cooked for Sabbath before we
went to synagogue. It was a special feeling every Friday night. Some-
times, I must say, I didn't go of my own free will. I was pushed a bit
at the beginning, I remember. After we got back from synagogue, we us-
ually had a big dinner, big meaning with all the family, or with the
Meisners which is also family and friends. We used to do the Kiddush
and Braha for the Barches. All the candles were lit before we went to
synagogue. We usually had chicken for dinner. It was really nice.

F: (Laughter.) Friday nights, Ricardo, what do you remember about other
Children? Were you among many children? what do you remember about
the community as far as other youngsters were concerned?

R: I remember the community was really small to start with. I remember I
grew up basically with my cousin Donny (Danny Gutterfreund), who is now
in Israel, in Jerusalem, and he is the one that I remember the most in
"most of my activities, going from Hebrew classes, to lessons, anything,
but we didn't have much contact with other people. Like we didn't go
to the Cohens family before a Friday night.

F: Do you remember if there were few or many children?

R: There were very few. For example, for Noarshelano there were never more
than forty or fifty children. The group was arranged in groups of ten.
And each group had children from ten to twelve years. Then the other
group used to be eight to ten, and six to eight. And there were no more
than ten to twelve children, fifteen at the most in each group.


F: You are mentioning the Noarshelano for the second time. Ca& you tell
us what it meant as far as the words are concerned and what it meant to
you as a group? What was the purpose?

R: Oh this is a big one. The words themselves mean, "our youth,"
Norshelano and basically...

F: In Spanish it's (Spanish)

R: Yes, that's what it translates to in English. But basically we got to-
gether once a week for three to four hours on Saturday morning or Fri-
day night before Sabbath services. The group was started twenty-five
years ago?

F: No.

R: Twenty years ago, fifteen years ago. Not more than fifteen.

F: Yes.

R: Fifteen years ago by a group of Jewish children. When the people who
founded the group left, somebody had to take over and that somebody was
the oldest kids in the community. That's the way it worked from the
day it was started. The oldest people or the oldest children in the
community organized activities, planned activities, and organized the
rest of the group to keep their movement alive. We were very success-
ful until a year ago when everybody left.

F: Approximately how old were the youngsters when they took over?

R: I would say no older than eighteen or nineteen. Usually, all or most
of the children in the community went to the American school for some
reason. I don't know why they didn't go to the British school or the
German school--some did--but most of the Jewish children went to the
American school. The American school, of course, goes to twelfth grade
which is until you are eighteen or nineteen. And most of the children.
wet away or out of the country for their college education or the uni-
versity. So your senior year in high school used to correlate with
being a madrij (leader) in the Noarshelano, which is when you are seven-
teen or eighteen.

F: And the group was always about thirty to thirty-five children, you said

R: I think it started really, really small. As I recall, it was ten or
fifteen at the beginning with Diane Garay-Bymel and the rest. But then
it grew until the group was about sixty, I think, and then suddenly,
with the political problems, it started shrinking. When I was a madrij
the group had forty, or fifty, And when I
left, the group had thirty and they all attended.

F: What was the purpose of Noarshalano? That is something I am going to
have trouble explaining because I really didn't know. We have discussed
that many times among the madrij and among ourselves. Personally, I
saw it as my way of identifying actively with my religion which seems to
be intrinsic in my nature. I want to identify with my religion. I want
to identify with my people and that was my motivation for being in the
group. And also I think it was, at the beginning, forced upon me,


as was going to the synagogue. It was the same thing. After a while
I seemed to be able to appreciate it more than in the beginning because
it was different than most other activities.

F: Was it the way of getting the youngsters and the children together?
Was it one of the ways to get them together to give them a Jewish back-
ground and education?

R: Definitely.

F: Would you say that was the purpose?

R: I don't know if it was the sole purpose, but it was one of the main
purposes. I see myself as being enriched by all the things that I
learned or tried to learn with madrijim I had and with the other child-
ren that were in. I think it helped me a lot and I think it is hurting
my brothers very much that they don't have the opportunity that I had
to be in the same group.

F: What were the subjects in Noarshelano?

R: Let me get back to the other. It is not only Judaism that you learn in
Noarshelano. You learn how to deal with people of your own age, and
how to deal with people older than you that are not your parents and I
are not teachers. It was a key instrument in my education from being
'". hanij to being a madrij. I learned very much in both stages

F: Then where did you and all the madrijim before you got, the orientation
or the knowledge to lead the youngsters in the Noarshelano?

R: In our case it was different. Before, I think, they didn't get any
instruction. They could only talk within themselves and talk to each
other, see what they did right, what they did wrong and how to cor- r
rect things. When our group came into power, .wen we
'adr im we were very lucky. We had with us Sara Suster, who was
older than us. And she was the one whooriented us. She had been a
madrique before and she had gone to Maarij college and returned and
she was helping out by doing all the things. And it helped us very,
very much. She used to prepare special things that
we really learned from and she taught us how to do things better.

F: Wasn't she the one that went to Israel for a year to learn how to be
a madrija? a f"i %.\

R: I don't know why she went to Israel, but I know that she learned Hebrew.
I guess she took some courses or some instruction on how to be a
madrija, but whatever she did, she helped us a lot.

F: Ricardo, the children had to be how old to start in the Noarshelano?

R: Four or five. I think that four or five was the, I don't know if you
would call a limit, but we didn't have any children younger than four
or five.


F: Were many children out of the Noarshelano in your community.

R: Not many. But some were. My brother was for a while. He got kicked
out for being a nuisance, I'm afraid. But he returned, and he was a
madrij after that. That's the way things go.

F: He was a rebellious member?

R: He was.

F: Ricardo, let's go back to the Friday night. What do you remember about
the synagogue on Friday nights? How was it?

R: I'll always have great admiration for our Rabbi Alexander Granat, who,
I believe, had much to do with the way the community evolved, the way
the community got to appreciate what it was, ,got to be what it was. He,
to start with, was a very, very fantastic cantor. He impregnated in
v us I would call mystic, special thing with each service.
We used to like his melodies so much and luckily I was able to go en-
ough times to be able to memorize or know those melodies and the dif-
ferent songs and ways of singing things that he was doing. I learned
from him, not only all the lessons that he taught us, but also how to
sing those beautiful songs and everything. He was, I think, the main
core of the community. And, I remember the kids were always sitting
in the first two lines. Don't ask me why. We always sat in the first
two lines and we were always a nuisance in the first two lines!

F: At the synagogue.

R: At the synagogue, yes. The rabbi would sometimes turn around and say,
"Shh!", and then we would shut up and he would continue. Something
that I remember was that women sat on the back till very, very, very
recently. We had separation. I don't know what to call it in Hebrew,
mich... something. I don't remember exactly. But the women sat way
in the back and the men sat in the front and the kids sat in the first
two rows. That seemed to change. I don't know who brought it up or
who was against it but it changed. Suddenly families started sitting
Together. Husband and wife, Vkids sometimes. It just changed. What
else do I remember of Friday nights? We had...

F: Was it something that you enjoyed doing? How was it when you were

R: Oh.

F: Were there many children, many grownups?

R: I remember, for example, Mr. Josephs. I remember a few old people who
have died since. As for young people, there were my friends, the
people I went to Noarshelano with, the people I went to Hebrew lessons
or\the lessons with the rabbi, I guess it changed over the years,
but I can't really remember what it felt like when I was young. I do
remember that I felt different in a sense that I knew what most of my
non-Jewish friends did on Friday nights. They didn't have a synagogue


to go t6. They didn't have a Sabbath meal to go to. It gave me a
feeling of being different in the sense that I did different things.

F: Did you feel good or bad about it?

R: I've always felt good about being different, period. And feeling dif-
ferent because I am Jewish makes me feel even better, so that's the way
with me.

F: Do you feel there was a certain atmosphere among the people at the syn-

R: Definitely. It was a very solemn atmosphere in the sense that people
were very serious about it. There was very little chit-chatting around.
Later, it became worse or, I don't know if you call it worse or better,
but it increased as time went along, as I recall. And the excuse given
then was that synagogue was also a house of reunion, not only a house
of prayer and so people didn't feel too bad about it. But I say this
because chit-chatting is very, very common here in the synagogues in
the states now. Many people just sit there and rap, rap, rap, but we
had very little of that. It was very quiet, very solemn and what I do
remember was that sometimes I would try to understand what the words
in the prayer book said. Now what I do is I just read them for pleasure.
It gives me pleasure to read those sounds, not that I agree with what
they say, but it gives me pleasure to remember all those years that I
spent in that synagogue with the rabbi, with my parents, with everybody.
It was very special. I just go to synagogue because of the feeling I
get, because of the solemnness, because of the wonder that there was in
that synagogue. I don't know what it was, but it's just a feeling that,
even today, I feel attracted to.

F: How was the Saturday morning?

R: Early, very early. Services started at 7:30 because most of the people
who went to synagogue also had to go to work and work was at 8:30 Sal-
vadorian time.

F: But there was always minyan for the Saturday morning?

R: Very, very few times did they not have a minyan. Most of the time they
did. I remember up to the time I was bar mitzvahed, I did not go to
services Saturday morning and I was not even very serious about going
to services on Friday night. After I was bar mitzvahed, I don't know
what got into me, but I pulled my father and my other brothers along
and we all started going every Saturday morning. At the beginning I
felt obliged to. I don't know why I felt obliged, but I did and after
a while, it became apparent that if we did not go, we would not have a
minyan so I had no choice. I am talking about from thirteen on. That
makes it 197- whatever, I don't want to make you laugh, but when I was
thirteen, there were four or five older members of the community who
attended services on Saturday morning and if the new generation did not
come we would not have a minyan. Wehrner Meisner, the rabbi, of course,
I forgot his name, but there were other people who were always there.


They only amounted to four or five and then the other five were, of
course, my cousin, myself and the other madrijim, Ricardo Stanley. They
were always there. The Stanleys are very special people. They were
always there. I forgot the other people, but the younger generation
made up half the minyan, at least and when we were talking about Sat-
urday morning services, we're talking about no more than twenty people.
We were always more than ten, of course, but never more than twenty.
It was very, very small attendance, and as a result, you got to read
the Torah every Saturday which made it pretty good. But I remember the
only woman that always attended Saturday morning services was Tante
Paula Widawer and she used to walk back to her house every morning af-
ter services.

F: Paula Widawer?

R: She used to be offered rides and she would say, "No thank you very much,
I shall walk home." She was seventy or eighty, and she would walk an
hour in the traffic and everything. She would walk back and she was
the only lady in the services. All the others were men.

F: Ricardo, what did the synagogue mean to you?

R: You mean attending the services?

F: The synagogue as a place. What did it mean to you? How did you see

R: Then or now?

F: Then and now.

R: How did I see the place then? I don't think I remember. Our ceiling
was very, very high and the place where the Torah was, was elevated.

F: But what was the feeling it gaveyyou?

t Thai was always something that, I don't know, it wasn't taboo to go up
there, but I don't know how to explain it. It was something special
going up there where the rabbi was. I don't know. I'll tell you
later but it's too hard and the tapes going and....

F: Going into the synagogue and going into the compound, it gave you a
good feeling ?

R: There are many things that it give me now but then...

F: What does it give

R: Now every time I go through the doors, I get a big smile on my face be-
cause I've had so much fun in it and I've learned so much. It gives me
a sense of identification, security. It's just a very, very nice feel-
ing. It's a place where I've spent a day out of every week. It is hard
to explain it. I haven't been there for two years, but it gives you a
sense also of ...


F: Belonging?

R:, that's not what I was thinking. A sense of nostalgia, that's
what I'm looking for. I am very sad that the Jewish children who are
growing up now don't have a chance to go through what I went through.
I have this crazy theory that my education has been the best that any-
body can wish for in the world and that goes for my parents, for my
school, for Noarshelano, for my rabbi, for everybody. I just feel
sorry that other people don't or can't enjoy what I enjoyed in that
place. I don't know, I guess that's what I feel.

F: Ricardo, who prepared you for your bar mitzvah and how was it done?

R: The rabbi prepared everybody in our synagogue. He trained me for two
V or three months. No, it was much more than that, perhaps six or seven
months, or maybe even a year. Every week we used to get together and
read the portion of the Torah or the Haftorah or both. He would give
me a tape, and I would listen to it at home, and everything. When he
sang, it was very melodious. When I sang it, it sounded different! But
it was just very nice. We used to spend an hour every week. That's
just about how it was.

F: Hebrew lessons?

R: Hebrew lessons? Oh, that's another big part of it. Hebrew lessons
were taught by Perla Meisner. She also taught religion. Classa de
religion, the religious classes to every age group in the American
school where I went, not in the synagogue,

F: And the classes with Perla were in school

R: After school. She also taught Hebrew. That was more on a tutor basis
once a week.

F: But after school, then....

R: No, that was at home. So I basically had three extracurricular ac-
tivities connected with Judaism which were: number one, the lessons
with Perla for Hebrew; the lessons for religion with the rabbi or with
Perla. We started off with Perla and then she had too many kids and we
grew up too fast and we had to go to the rabbi. And then number three
is, of course, Noarshelano in the synagogue.

F: What do you remember of the holidays?

R: Which one?

F: Which on is it that you remember the most?

R: Anyone you want, start with the high holidays. There are also hyp-
ocrites in El Salvador, not only in America. We couldn't find a place
for all the people, who, I call them hypocrites, I'm sorry, I shouldn't
call them that. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion or their
own way of worshiping or having their religion. But we did not have a
place for all the people who came to the high holidays in the synagogue.


It was a pretty big place, but it wasn't enough for all the people who
came in. 300 showed up for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi
used to do all the services for both high holidays till he got sick and
I remember he used to dress up in, was it black or white or both?

F: White.

R: White? When did he dress up in white? This is what I remember. Before
he got sick he used to wear a black robe and a very fancy, very dull
kipa for Friday nights and Saturday mornings. But then he started wear-
ing a tie because that was too hot for him. And for the high holidays
he wore a white gown, a white robe. After he got sick he still wore
that robe but he got other rabbis to come and help him pray because it
was just too much for him.i He couldn't stand up for long andsing for
long. The synagogue was packed till about midday. Everybody went home
for a nap or stayed there for a nap. They went home in cars. They did
not walk home. The synagogue was in the center of town and most of the
people lived quite far away and we used cars. We weren't very obser-
vant in that sense. But some of us usually picnicked out (with no food,
of course) over Yom Kippur. We used to take our blankets and just lay
down in the shade somewhere around the temple and we rolled them up
when services started again in the afternoon. Some people went home and
then came back. Luckily the sun sets at about six all year round in El
Salvador, unlike some places up here in the states where it's still 8:30
and you can't eat because the sun hasn't gone down. It was a very nice
feeling to be able to fast and I think it's a nice feeling in El Salva-
dor or anywhere. For example, my little brother is very proud that he
fasts half a day already. It was a nice feeling in the high holidays.
It was special. It is special anywhere I guess. Another thing, I was
very reluctant to wear suits, but I am always reluctant to wear suits.
But it was special then because you're not supposed to dress up. Most
people do. Most Jews do dress up for Yom Kippur which is wrong. But
they do. That's why I said I call the people who come for the high
holidays hypocrites. That's another argument, though. I think it's not
for this tape, but most of the people do dress up.

F: But youngsters didn't have to dress up?

R: No. We had a nice pair of slacks and a long sleeve shirt on, but no,
we didn't have to. I just felt bad about it. I never really knew what
to do about it. But that was it. The high holidays were....

F: Do you remember how Yom Kippur was finished? Do you remember Yom Kippur
and the shofar blazen and all that?

R: John Paul Joseph blew the shofar for the last years when I was there.
Did Wehrner do it before? Wehrner Meisner? The rabbi never did....

F: Mr. Baum did it.

R: Mr. Baum?

F: Yes.


R: I don't remember. But the shofar was always very mystical. That was
mystical. I was always counting the pages for the service to end to
hear the shofar blow. But I remember, I always wanted to be John Paul
Joseph who would blow the shofar for the whole community. I don't know
why. I just felt the act of blowing the shofar as being not only im-
portant, but just very self satisfying. Something that I have always
wanted to do. Maybe I will get a chance to do it. I don't know.

F: I know it's a mitzvah to blow the shofar. Ricardo, afterwards, where
did you eat? How was it then?

R: Oh, my grandmother from my father's side, Herta Freund, always invited
half of the community over to break the fast and she always had cheese,
bread, vegetables, and fruits, all kinds of goodies for breaking the
fast. That I remember very well.

F: It was a lot of herring but since you don't like fish you can't re-
member the herring.(laughter.)

R: I don't like fish. I don't like seafood, but, it was very, very nice.
Everybody was there. You could see all the happy faces stuffing them-
selves and it was a feeling that everybody fasted and everybody broke
the fast more or less in the same place. Everybody meaning everybody
k0 knew each other closely. All the families that knew each other
very closely just went to Teta's house and broke the fast.

F: How was the relationship between the youngsters and the elderly people?

R: It wasn't very developed. You mean from parent t6 son or daughter?

F: To friends.

R: It was, I guess, a relationship of feelings of admiration, respect, and
at the same time, a very distant relation. We never actually got to be
friendly with the older people excluding our parents, except maybe with
Perla Meisner. She was like a second mother. We always went to the
beach with her and we did all kinds of activities together. She was
special. She wasn't like the general or the average older person in the
community. But I would say it was a distant relationship or respect
and admiration. Admiration is too wordy. Just respect, I guess.

F: What do you remember of Purim?

R: Oh, Purim. Danny Gutt freund always used to dress up as a woman. For
one Purim he dressed up"as an Arab ballerina. He always had crazy,cra-
zy ideas. We always had plays for Purim.

F: Who organized those plays?

R: Perla, Gerda Guttfreund, and you. Did you organize one?

F: No. I used to make the decorations.


R: Perla and Tea Gerda organized the Purims. We used to have rehearsals.
They were a pain. Everybody was such a pain to Perla and Tea Gerda. But
they always used to come through. Oh, what plays did we do?

F: Was it always Purim?

R: No. We also did other plays. We not only did the actual representation
of the story of Purim but we also did other plays. We meaning our
Sa group which was ten people or something like that with
S il some other peoplevwere older and younger. We always got together and
did plays. We had services, of course. We used to have a special pro-
gram with Noarshelano after services or before services, in which we
would do the plays and do some singing. This was all in the synagogue,
of course. That week's reunion of the Noarshelano was special.

F: Do you remember anything about Purim gvelt?

R: No. Should I?

F: Going from house to house asking for Purim gvelt?

R: I don't remember that. We never did that, did we?

F: Yes, I used to take you.

R: I don't remember.

F: What do you remember of Chanukah?

R: I remember going from house to house. I remember the selling of the
honey. What was that one for?

7 F: That's for Rosh Hoshan What do you remember about the selling of the

R: It was a big project. I think you organized it.

F: Yes, I did.
R: We had hundreds of little Gerber baby food bottles, and other
bottles, which we filled up with honey. We took three, four or five cars
with three, four or five mothers and filled them up with children and
went out to different houses in the community selling honey. We would
take two or three bottles and sell them and the proceeds would go to

F: Yes.

R: That was a big operation. I remember everybody coming too. We did
some of that in Noarshelano. We decorated the bottles in Noarshelano.
We stored the honey, filled the bottles up with the honey in the Noar-
shelano as I recall; also some at home. It was really nice.


F: That was done for :Rosh Hashana. Ricardo, what do you remember of

R: I remember in our living room there was a round table and how do
say muebles?

F: Furniture.

R: And the furniture that I am looking at right now"also in that same
living room. I remember the table being covered with a white cloth
with colored stripes and the menorah on it with two or three candles
lit and us singing the moautsur with my father and some friends. I
remember that specific Chanukah. I don't know why I remember that
one. I remember the gifts we got. We were lucky enough to get just
one for every night from all the friends of our parents, uncles and
grandmother. We used to sing. We used to try to sing the moautsur
all the way through, but of course, we only knew the first one or
two verses. My father always attempted to sing the last ones but he
never actually succeeded, as I recall. But in synagogue, I remember
another thing. With the Noarshelano we did a special thing for the
last Chanukah when we were there, when I was a madrij.

F: For the last night?

R: I don't know. I think the madrijim made menorah out of wood
I would say five feet tall and four feet across and we
used to put it up in the front of the synagogue for services. I think
it might still be down there some where. And that was done by the mad-
rijim for the synagogue. I remember the services. I remember very

F: You had plays for Chanukah.

R: Did we? I remember. What was the question?

F: Chanukah and what it meant to you?

R: I had this view that the gifts we got for Chanukah were so that we did
not feel bad about all the gifts the other people got for Christmas.I
don't know if it's right or not but that probably is the main concern
with the question you asked me about how I feel about it. The feelings
"ri. about the holiday were always very special and always
I nev-
er really felt it was a substitute for Christmas. I never really knew
what Christmas was. I never was interested in what Christmas was. I
was just happy we could go to synagogue and sing and let it be what it
was. I don't think it was a substitute for anything that other people

F: Sukkoth.

R: That's a nice one. I remember a lot about that. We used to build a
sukkah. My mother used to build a sukkah every year and that was done
in front of our living room at home. Sometimes we used the columpio


(spanish), the swings to pull just to make up a sukkah. I don't know
how. It always worked out really, really nice. We invited
from the Noarshelano over for dinner in the sukkah every night and it
was a very, very nice feeling. We used to always play in the sukkah
and we used to go to other people's sukkahs. The Guttfreund's had a
sukkah at the ranchiro. Mpst people did not have a sukkah, I think,
but most people did enjoy the sukkahs. Some mothers did take the care
and the love to build them. Then after a few years, we started build-
ing our sukkah in our garage which was very nice. We used to throw
dried pine leaves on the floor and we left some holes in the ceiling.

S F: You could s e the sky.

R: You could see the sky. That's what I meant. Of course, we chopped
some trees off to put some green branches and leaves on the walls. It
was very, very nice. It made it look like a real sukkah. You could go
in there and smell the freshness, the greenness, the fruits. It was
nice. It was nice to get up every morning to go to school and have
scrambled eggs in the sukkah. It was always a very, very nice feeling.

F: At the synagogue, what do you remember for Sukkoth?

R: For Sukkoth?

F: Yes.

R: I heard the synagogue also had its own sukkah. It was built in a lit-
tle house that, who built it? Was it the Noarshelano? I know that
Noarshelano cleaned it up, but I don't remember who built the sukkah
v -4,,4 vifr there. I few people who got together and built
the sukkah at the synagogue. But we had our services inside the syn-
agogue and then for a Kiddush we all went to the sukkah. That's what
we did. I remember the rabbi and Opa Cohen passing out the kipots and
the little cookies or whatever we had for after the services. It was
always very,very cozy in there. First of all, it was very hard to fit.
all those people inside that little house, but it was always very nicely
decorated. Also the roof opened up in the synagogue, where we had the
sukkah, and it was always, always very, nice. It never rained, luckily,
and it was always very cozy. It gives me a very nice feeling.

F: The Noarshelano? Did you prepare for each one of the holidays some-

R: Yes.

F: When did you get together for the Noarshelano?

R: Like I said before, we got together every week for three hours, say
from nine to twelve. That's three hours. From nine to twelve on
Saturday or from, what was it, 4:30 to 6:00 when services started on
Friday nights. And for holidays we used to prepare special sijot. We
used to prepare special programs with special motivation games, special
recreation games, or special trips for different things, We also had
v manojim. We used to have camps once year in different parts of El


Salvador which we liked to correlate with some holiday. For example,
we had one around Independence Day as I recall. We made, say, indepen-
dence our theme. It was always, very, very special to have the holidays.
It gave us topics to speak about, topics to create activities for. It
was always very, very important to have a holiday and there enough to
have programs every week with a different topic, with different activ-
ities. Basically that's the way we worked.

F: What do you remember of the FEDECO?

R: Well, I don't think FEDECO did much for me or for anybody else except
for the camps we had. Maybe I 'm wrong, maybe not. But all the con-
tact I've had with FEDECO was at conventions every four years.

F: Two years.

R: Every two years. I don't remember. What I remember is the camps
^ 4I organized, were very good. They were nice to ten days in different
countries in Central America, rotating first in Guatemala, then in El
Salvador, down to Costa Rica, Panama, and all the different countries.
I think the way it basically worked was that the communities in each
different country were responsible for organizing what food the kids
would get and that was a big project, because there were about 500
kids. And very hungry kids, as a matter of fact! I remember we used
to eat a lot and, not that the food was very good in some of the camps,
but it was edible. I can't complain. Most of the places that were
picked for the camps were very nice. They were isolated from every-
thing. They were ideal for camping. Very few people slept in tents.
It wasn't camping as we know it here in the States, people camping in
campgrounds and stuff. For example, I remember once in Panama, they
rented a hotel resort and it had a big kitchen. It had all kinds of
different activities that were very stimulating. I remember many ac-
tivities in all of the camps. Even in our small camps with the Noarsh-
elano. It was very special to have the atmosphere of trees and moun-
tains around and just do things all day.

F: Were they guided towards Zionism?

R: I would say so, yes. I would say that anything connected with Judaism
is also connected to Zionism. I don't know exactly. Some people like
to establish differences between the two. I don't. I think Zionism
has different ways of being and one of the ways is just by being Jewish.
Many of the madrijim that we had for the camps were going to go to
Israel or had been to Israel and had plans of living in Israel in the
future. I don't think they actually told us Israel is good. Let me
see what I remember. They were very objective about it. I don't think
they ever told us you have to go to Israel after you're done. The op-
tion was always open. Nobody ever told me I had to go to Israel. I
keep telling myself I have to go to Israel but nobody else tells me I
have to go to Israel. The themes were always related to the religion,
but I don't think it was every pointing a finger at you that you have
to go to Israel because such and such a thing.

F: As far as the camps were concerned FEDECO gave you a lot of ....


R: Fun. That's what they gave us. Because they weren't always...

F: Did you learn a lot?

R: That's what I mean. The camps weren't always very well organized, very
well put together in the sense of having a theme and doing things the
way we did in the Noarshelano with always a theme behind them and al-
ways doing things towards a goal. Some of the camps were more Boy
Scout camps than a Jewish camp. For example, in nine days we would
have four different discussions of a certain topic, which
is very poor. ,We could have had one in many different ways, not only
sitting around a circle and talking.' We could have had many discus-
sions in'all kinds of different ways, like games or different activit-
ies]geared towards stressing one theme, which I don't think most of
the camps had. I only went to three of them--one in Costa Rica, one
in Panama and one in Guatemala--but it was a place where most Jewish
kids from all over Central America got together and made many friends
from all different parts of the Jewish communities of Central America.
It was always a very unifying thing which was very important in it-
self. But most of the camps could have stressed themes better.

F: Ricardo, going to the American school, and growing up in Salvador, did
you feel any anti-Semitism?

R: No. Never. The only time I felt anti-Semitism was very late before I
left, when I was a madrij already. Things happened in El Salvador. For
example, "Kill those bourgeoisie Jews," was written or painted on one
of the bridges on one of the highways. They got into our cemetery and
painted swastikas on our tombs. I recall, in some of the classrooms,
They had written, "Kill the Jews," in very small handwriting, but ivJ
was there. It was also in one of the corridors in pencil. By big I
mean, say, five meters long by one meter. Big swastika and Viva Hitler,
"Long live Hitler." I don't know if people did it because of anti-Sem-
jitism. I don't know if people did it because they felt good about itj
I don't know why they did it. I don't know who did it. I was very mad
when I saw that. I was very concerned when I saw that. I don't know
what was done about it. I think the principal was talked to and other
Things were done, but I didn't feel it going... I felt it was some-J
body who was very stupid, very naive who wrote those things, people who
were very irrational. Then again, those are the most dangerous people.
""With my friends or with people who were not my friends I never felt]
that I was being looked upon as, "Hey, look at him, he's a Jew, blah,
blah, blah." I never felt that. As I say, the only thing I ever felt
Lwas when I saw these things written on walls and bridges and things.
I didn't feel they were pointing the finger at me. I felt they were
very stupid in writing those things on the wall because they didn't
know what they were writing. I really don't know who or why or how
they wrote it.

F: But with your friends you never felt that you were any way....

R: No. On the contrary, they always respected me. Always.


F: Ricardo, is there anything else you would like to say about the com-

R: Can you turn this thing off while I think?

F: No, you can think while the thing is going on.

R: Let me see, what else can I remember? No, not now. I am sure I have
not exhausted my memories. It is just hard. We should have done this
this with my cousin Donny and then we could have...

F: I recorded with Donny anyway.

R: No, but we have to do it together. Then things I say, he remembers and
things he says, I remember.

F: Basically what would you say this community gave you?

R: It made me half of what I am now. At least half. I feel my Jewishness
is important. It gives me the very essential and simple things like
keeping track of time. Time goes by so fast and I don't know. Like
every Friday night, something special comes along. At school, for ex-
ample. I'm going to school in New York and every Friday night I have
this feeling that there is something special I have to look forward to
which is a very nice feeling. It makes me keep a rhythmic life, which
I like. I like to know that every Friday night when I go to synagogue,
I have something special going on, and it's always going to synagogue.
I don't care what else is going on and that comes from going to synago-
gue and going to all the things I did back home in El Salvador.

F: Although many times you didn't go willingly.

R: Well, yes. But basically, that special feeling of rhythm in my life
is, as I say, one of the small things that has stayed with me from my
youth. And of course, the knowledge-the very little knowledge-that I
have comes from the rabbi, from Perla Meissner from all my teachers
down there and I don't know. There's so much that it gave me. Also
there is, of course, the experience of being a madrij in the Noarshel-
ano It was very special. That's-a big topic,though. I will just
say it was very special. The ability to treat people, the ability to
work with people, the ability to make people work, it was something
very special for me. It gave me a sense of what I have to do to get
people moving, what I have to do to get people to change. I guess it
also helped me relate to my parents and my brothers. It was very
helpful. It's just, as I said, half of me. It's something very complex.

F: It gave you a good feeling of being a Jew.

R: Basically. Yes. I don't say that I regret being a Jew. Sometimes I
V 0 have trouble dealing with earthly things, like the latest bombing of h
Iraqi nuclear plant. I don't know. I tend to be like every eighteen--
year-old or nineteen-year-old, very pacifistic about things. I have


trouble dealing with things that are violent in Israel. I guess it's
because I haven't fought in any of the wars; I haven't been there for
any of the wars. I don't know exactly what it is, but, I have'.trouble
with things like that. That's not related to what I do back home.

F: What are your plans? You don't live in Salvador now. What are your
hopes for the future?

R: First of all, I realize that what I grew up with is gone, maybe for the
good of the rest of the people in El Salvador. I am very skeptical of
where I am going to end up, I mean, in what country. I don't want to
stay in America. I know that I cannot and maybe I will not go home.
And in my mind there is only one other place I could go and that's Is-
rael. Or go crazy and go to New Zealand which I've always wanted to
do. But realistically, I can only go to one place, or I only want to go
to one place, which is Israel. I don't know. My future is something
that I'm really....

F: But you don't connect your future with that community?

R: No. Absolutely not. I take it that it was. It won't be anymore and
if it ever is again, it won't be the same. I mean it was something
very special that is gone, and some things one and well enjoyed, but
special people made up that community, a Iwhoever goes back, J{ *
just not going to be the same. It won't be the same and that's some-
thing that most people have to face including our rabbi and everybody

F: Okay, Ricardo. I would like to thank you very, very much. And if
there is anything else that you would like to add later on...

R: I'll let you know.

F:'ll let me know.

R: Okay.

F: Thank you.