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A Film/Discussion Series at MIT on

co-sponsored with Jeff Ravel
Link to IAP web page

While Latin America inherited a Catholic religious legacy from its colonial past, the region today is home to a number of faiths and spiritual practices. In a series of films to be shown during three consecutive weeks of IAP, we will learn about Christianity, Judaism, and religious practices such as Umbanda and Candomble that synthesize African and indigenous faiths with Christianity.
Contact: Jeff Ravel, E51-285, x3-4451,
Sponsor: History
Cosponsor: Western Hemisphere Project

[Terrorists & Terror Attacks]

IAP 2002, Tuesday evenings, 7-10 p.m.

January 4
7-10 p.m.
56-169, MIT

At The Crossroads: Faith in Cuba

This documentary explores religious and political belief in Cuba four decades after the 1959 Revolution. With the loss of massive Soviet support, and with the crippling effects of the American embargo, Cubans are experiencing severe economic hardship. A growing number are turning to Christian and Afro Cuban religion for spiritual strength. Baptism and church weddings are on the rise, and religious rituals once held privately are now back in the open. Most telling were the massive crowds that came to meet Pope John Paul on his visit.

The writer and cameraman, Eddie Cabrera, was born into a working class family in Cuba in 1960, and emigrated to Canada in 1993. Through interviews with Cubans from the fields of politics, the arts and religion he provides an insiders point of view.

January 11
7-10 p.m.
56-169, MIT

Judaism : Hidden Faith and Resurgence

Eight Candles

Before he rediscovered his faith, Sandro Halphen was a typical American Jew with a typically American-Jewish conflict: he wanted to escape his Jewish identity for mainstream American life. His fascinating documentary, EIGHT CANDLES, narrates a story that shows the other side of the tension between Jewish identity and mainstream assimilation: the story of converts to Judaism. And he went to an unlikely place to do so: the sweltering port city of Veracruz, Mexico.

Of Mexico's 90 million people, only 40,000 are Jewish. In the tiny but vibrant community in Veracruz, the majority of the families are converts. Some are the Catholic-born spouses of foreign Jews who came to make their homes in Mexico. Others are Mexican people who found in Judaism the faith that addressed their spiritual needs. And still others are people who realized that their ancestors may have been secret Jews who had come to Mexico fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. These "crypto-Jews"had always believed they were Catholic until they realized that certain inexplicable family customs (the lighting of candles on Friday night and marriage under a special cloth) were actually the heritage of a suppressed Judaism which they had continued to practice even after their meaning had been lost. All of these people underwent the rigorous official conversion process in order to claim a Jewish identity and form a Jewish community. And the faith of these converts is as unshakeable, if not more so, as the faith of those who were born Jewish.

Despite the strength of the converts' commitment to Judaism, many members of Mexico's insular Orthodox Jewish community dispute their legitimacy as Jews. And mainstream Mexican society does not completely accept or understand them. In the face of this difficult position, their faith and sense of community has become even stronger. From teenagers to grandmothers, the Jewish community of Veracruz stands firm in its loyalty and devotion to a faith they were not born into, but that against all odds they have chosen as their own. EIGHT CANDLES vividly documents this remarkable community and the obstacles they have overcome for their beliefs.

Havana Nagila: Jews in Cuba

An investigation of the Jewish experience in Cuba, this documentary offers a unique window on Cuba as an evolving nation and culture. It traces the reasons for Jewish immigration to Cuba, the growth of a thriving Jewish population , the impact of the revolution, the experience of remaining Jewish Cubans under the Communist Government and the current resurgence of Judism. It also looks at the meaning of Jewsih identity for contemporary Cuban Jews, both secular and religious, and some of the international issues that affect the community's future.

January 18
7-10 p.m.
56-169, MIT

Syncretistic Religions in Brazil

Hail Umbanda

Umbanda, the animistic religion of a large and growing portion of Brazil's population, is a syncretism of Christianity, with African and indigenous religions. Begun in Brazil in 1908among African slaves, native Indians and Portuguese, the religion has grown in popularity with the urban poor and oppressed groups.This tape contains profiles of a spiritual leader and a converted believer. The camera captures a range of authentic religious activities (costumes, rituals, purifications, consultations,offerings and possessions) and interviews the pai de santo (spiritual medium.) It is apparent that Umbanda is popular with all races in Brazil. The narrator points out the correspondencebetween Catholic saints and orixás--the spirits summoned from Africa that enter the bodies of the believers.

Odo Ya!  Life With AIDS

Bahia, located in northeast Brazil, is the most African of the Brazilian states. There, a lack of AIDS awareness, due to local economics and social inequalities, has resulted in a large HIV-infected population. An affirming story of how Candomble, a Brazilian religion of African origin, has become a source of strength and power for a group of AIDS sufferers. Members of the community have pioneered "Odo Ya!" an innovative AIDS education program.