One of my classes had a project where we were to go out into Quito and research something. Anything. My group and I decided to compare different religions in the city. There is a very obvious and large Catholic tradition and population in all of South America, and it is very evident in Quito with beautiful churches, a huge gothic Basilica and Catholic schools. We knew about a Jewish temple from a friend, and had heard of a Muslim mosque. One Friday afternoon we set out to explore these religious places. My partner and I traveled to what we thought was a Catholic church but ended up being a school. We asked if we could walk around a bit and take a few pictures. This ended up being a wonderful experience, as a lady came to guide us and let us into some classrooms! The children were so sweet. They told us about their school and its Catholic tradition and its values as a school. In Ecuador, all the schools have uniforms – private or not. After the school our next stop was the Jewish temple (one of two in all of Ecuador). This was easier said than done. After spending two hours on a bus to get through only half of Quito (yay for Friday traffic) we finally made it to the right neighborhood. We knew we were close, as there is a Jewish school that is right by the temple, and we had found that. We asked at least 10 people, but no one knew were there temple was, or even that there was one near! We were shocked. After another hour of wandering around we finally found it! And were in for another shock, we weren’t allowed in! Apparently one must be with a member to get in, or to have called 15 days in advance and present a copy of one’s passport to be checked and THEN, and only then, may one enter. The guards came out and spoke with us about the temple, and that it has such high security because it is for the elite of Ecuador and they are worried about threats from other groups. I didn’t know Ecuador was such a target…. We got a bit of an understanding of the religious tolerance (or lack thereof) by our other group member who was not allowed into one of the two Mosques in Quito, the two men he spoke with hardly knew Spanish and said that they did not like the Jews. We were most disappointed not to be let into the temple, which also served as a community center, because from the little bits we could see were beautiful, and that was the outside! All in all, we had an amazing Friday adventure, and a great presentation.
Rebecca Larson is studying abroad at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador.