Weinsteins Tour Jewish Sites of Central America

Weinsteins Tour Jewish Sites of Central America

Germaine and Bruce Weinstein set sail, canoe, and cross bumpy roads for the adventure of a lifetime. Speaking fluent Spanish was quite a boon.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Bruce posed with the Embera chief in the Panamanian rain forest.
Bruce posed with the Embera chief in the Panamanian rain forest.

Germaine and Bruce Weinstein headed south of the border for a three-week Central American trip spanning Curacao, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Mexico, attending to Jewish sites along the way.

According to Bruce, Germaine held the secret weapon by being fluent in Spanish. “It was phenomenal that she got us into places venturing out on our own, that we never could have otherwise … from bargaining for emeralds to communicating with tribal leaders.”

The Weinsteins sought out historic Jewish sites like the old synagogue in Curacao

The trip began to Curacao where they visited a 1500s-era synagogue where only five people were admitted at a time. Always jovial, Bruce said, “The real trick to getting around there was me wearing a Braves hat. Who knew they were such big baseball fans? Even in customs, we were pulled out of the long line for preferential treatment to talk about ‘Los Bravos.’ Andruw Jones seems to be a favorite.”

Then on to Cozumel and the modified rainforest in Belize. Germaine noted another synagogue in Barbados dated to the 1600s alongside a cemetery. She said, “We had to walk three miles to get there. It was riveting seeing real Jewish graves back to 1600 to 1700 with Sephardic names … also, they were above ground like in New Orleans.”

The couple enjoyed the new and old parts of Cartagena, Colombia. Germaine was able to bargain with the 30-plus emerald merchants to bring jewelry back to the grandkids. They visited a convent with pious nuns asking for donations. Bruce recalled, “I was ready to be generous until I saw the big pro-Palestinian sign (actually Germaine saw the sign in Spanish), and I said, ‘I’m Jewish. Take the sign down if you are asking me for donations.’ A fascinating site for me was all the forts with cannons overlooking water built to ward off pirate attacks. Panama had forts with the indentations of where they were hit.”

Bruce was a little nervous about standing in a human sacrifice area.

Next up was Honduras and Guatemala, known for SCUBA diving and water sports. Germaine and Bruce went down in a mini submarine to get a close-up view of sea life. In the coral factory, they saw a Star of David and thought that to be unusual tracing it back to the Jewish family that still operates the coral jewelry store.

History buff Bruce said a favorite stop was Costa Maya touring old temples where a remarkable dig was discovered in 1950 with artifacts from 300 B.C. Archeologists from Tulane University excavated it over a 10-year span.

Happy to recount bizarre stories, Bruce said the Mayans were into human sacrifices. “They had teams of athletes and sporting events, but wait, the captain of the winning team got burned to death as an honor. Ouch!”

Onto the logistics and locks, the Weinsteins adventured down the Panama Canal which took six hours and joined the Atlantic and Pacific on the sides as they advanced levels. From there, they extended two days to explore the rain forest, nearing a Chabad (Panama City) where “everyone asked about Rabbi Yossi New at Congregation Beth Tefillah.”

The fish scurried about in the submerged boat trip.

When we were touring, they asked us to come back to help make a minyan. Feeling guilty, we did return and found 100-plus people. Apparently, they told everyone that same story!”

They drove two hours down a bumpy road from Panama City to the only hotel in the rain forest, which was rustic, with snakes and monkeys. Then they took a canoe for a tribe visit.

Bruce stands guard at San Fillipe Fort built in Guatemala in the 1600s.

“We took candies in our pockets to meet with the Emberas.” Germaine noted, “They lived off the land and had their own language which, luckily, I could understand. I chatted with the chief … they had no TV, huts were off the ground, outhouses, lots of tree bark, they wore no shoes … some were polygamous.

Meanwhile, over the hill came more canoes with Orthodox Jews in black hats and dark suits in 90-degree heat.” The chief explained to Germaine the village children went to Panama City on a two-hour boat ride for school where there they had to wear clothes and shoes.

Germaine and Bruce, through this adventure, were based on a three-week Oceana cruise out of Miami as a backdrop in addition to venturing out on their own. Bruce laughed, “We almost missed the cruise because we assumed it was out of Fort Lauderdale and had to high tail an Uber to make it. That’s good advice, “Know before you go.”

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