Ladino and Spanish Jews in Latin America

David Quarter davidquarter at sympatico.ca
Fri Nov 21 11:31:22 MST 2003


From:           	"Nestor Gorojovsky" <nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar>

> Erik Carlos Torén dijo sobre Re: Ladino and Spanish Jews in Latin America que:
> 
> > As far Mexican Jews, the earliest history is around 1531 as they came to
> > Mexico as "Conversos". Most of the Jewish communities are located in
> > Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
> > 
> 
> OK, they reached South America as "conversos" by the same time. But 
> in South America, at least, they did not _remain_.  Hispanic America 
> was, at least South of the Caribbean, almost completely lacking in 
> Jews. As to the Mexican community, Eric, do the present Jewish 
> communities in Mexico have any link with the early ones (of course 
> setting apart such issues as sentimentalism, interest in 
> demonstrating that Jews have "always" been present in Mexico, etc.)?


 It depends on what you mean by link?

****************************************************************************************


                  The Virtual Jewish History Tour
                               Mexico
                           By Isaac Wolf

                                  
Conversos: Mexico's Lost Jews 
When Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztecs in 1521, he was 
accompanied by several Conversos, Jews forcibly converted to Christianity 
during the {HYPERLINK "/jsource/History/Inquisition.html"}Inquisition of 1492. Conversos, or Anusim, immigrated en masse 
to Nueva Espagna (present day Mexico) and some estimate that by the 
middle of the 16th century, there were more of these crypto-Jews in Mexico 
City than Spanish Catholics. 
In spite of the Inquisition, the Conversos attempted to lead Jewish lives by 
{HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/circumcision.html"}circumcising their children and keeping {HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/kashrut.html"}Kosher. From 1528 on, Conversos 
were punished for their practices by being burned at the stake. In 1571, 
Spain solidified its harsh policy toward Jews by opening an Inquisition office 
in Mexico City, which accelerated the persecution of the crypto-Jews. Over 
the course of the colonial period, about 1500 were convicted of being 
Judaizers, meaning they observed the Laws of Moses or followed {HYPERLINK "/jsource/judaism.html"}Jewish 
practices.
The Conversos assimilated in the 19th century, and descendants of the 
Conversos are often devout Catholic families that light candles on Friday 
nights, keep meat and dairy separate, and close their businesses on 
Saturdays.
Today, Mexico is home to many Conversos, with sizable populations in 
Vera Cruz and Puebla. 
Many prominent Mexicans claim they are of Jewish descent, referencing 
their Conversos roots. Besides Presidents Porfirio Diaz, Francisco Madero 
and Jose Lopez Portillo, renowned artist Diego Rivera publically announced 
his Jewish roots: "My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life," 
Rivera wrote in 1935. "From this has come my sympathy with the 
downtrodden masses which motivates all my work." 
To keep from assimilation, the Conversos did not intermarry, and 
considered themselves superior to their Christian neighbors. "We are not 
really Mexican," explains Schulamite Halevy. "We are descendants of 
Spanish nobility."
In 1994, the Mexican Jewish group Kulanu ( Hebrew for "all of us"), began 
investigating the status of Conversos. Over the past seven years, Kulanu 
has unsuccessfully attempted to convince the mainstream Mexican Jewish 
community to accept the Conversos as Jews. 
Mexico's organized Jewish community, which numbers about 50,000, has 
emphatically rejected the Kulanu's efforts not only because {HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/ortho.html"}Orthodox 
Judaism traditionally does not proselytize, but also because the community 
fears a backlash of {HYPERLINK "/jsource/antisem.html"}anti-Semitism.
Mexico Today
Virtually all of Mexico's Jews came to their current homeland between the 
late 1800's and 1939, fleeing persecution in Europe. 
Because of the Catholic church's heavy influence in Mexico, the nation had 
fewer than 30 Jewish families as late as the mid-19th century. The few 
Jews who moved to Mexico in the early 19th century were German. 
Mexican emperor Maximilian imported many Jews from Belgium, France, 
Austria and Alsatia in the mid-19th century. In 1862, more than one 
hundred of these Jews met in Mexico City to discuss erecting a 
{HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/syntoc.html"}synagogue, but the talks did not materialize for more than 20 years.
In 1867, Mexican leader Benito Juarez overthrew Maximilian and 
secularized Mexico, seizing church property and banishing the Papal 
Nuncio. This upheaval paved the way for three waves of mass Jewish 
immigration, the first of which was sparked in 1882 by the death of the 
Russian Tzar. The exodus was accelerated in 1884 when Mexican 
President Profirio Diaz invited a dozen Jewish bankers from Europe to move 
to Mexico and help build its economy. Mexico established its first Jewish 
congregation in 1885.
Jewish philanthropists considered Mexican Jewry a worthy recipient of aid 
and, in 1891, the Baron de Hirsch Fund, along with the Jewish Colonization 
Association (JCA) planned large-scale Jewish agricultural settlements in 
Mexico, much like the kibbutzim the philanthropists were developing in 
Israel. However, these plans never materialized.
The second wave of Jewish immigration peaked between 1911 and 1913 as 
a result of the crumbling {HYPERLINK "/jsource/History/Ottoman.html"}Ottoman Empire. The Empire's breakup ended an 
era of relative tolerance, and the {HYPERLINK "/jsource/History/Ladino.html"}Ladino speaking {HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/Sephardim.html"}Sephardic Jews began 
fleeing from their homes in present-day {HYPERLINK "/jsource/vjw/Turkeytoc.html"}Turkey at the turn of the century. 
The dark complexion of the Sephardic Jews, as well Ladino, their language 
with Spanish roots, eased their integration into Mexican society. Sephardic 
Jews were mainly street peddlers whose stands and carts, over several 
generations, often developed into shops and businesses. 
The third, and final, wave of Jewish immigration came from Russia after the 
first World War. With an already established Jewish community, Mexico 
received Jews fleeing from {HYPERLINK "/jsource/vjw/easteutoc.html"}Eastern Europe. But, in the first few years after 
the war, most of these Jews used Mexico as a stepping-stone to America. 
However, a more restrictive 1924 American immigration policy stopped the 
flow of European Jews, who were stuck, and had no choice but to begin a 
new life in Mexico. 
The third wave of Jews, mainly Askenazi, led to the development of the first 
{HYPERLINK "/jsource/Judaism/Ashkenazim.html"}Ashkenazi organization, Niddehei Israel. Started in 1922 as a Chevra 
Kaddisha to help bury the dead, it developed into a Kehilla, or full-scale 
community. The {HYPERLINK "/jsource/zion.html"}Zionist Federation, which united various Zionist groups 
within Mexico's Jewish community, was also a product of the third wave.
The third wave also caused a rift between Mexico's Ashekenazi and 
Sephardi Jews. As the Ashkenazi population grew in the early 20th 
century, it used more {HYPERLINK "/jsource/History/yiddish.html"}Yiddish, alienating the Ladino speaking Sephardic 
Jews. In 1925, the Sephardi founded their own Zionist organization, B'nai 
Kedem, and founded their own cultural organiztions. The rift between 
Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Mexico is still an issue today.
When they first arrived, many Jews, embittered by the {HYPERLINK "/jsource/antisem.html"}anti-Semitism in 
Europe, were distrustful of Mexico, a nation 97 percent Catholic. But 
Mexico, with a few exceptions, has treated its Jews exceptionally well, and 
is considered a haven for them. 
One of the few anti-Semitic incidents occurred in 1930 when a two year 
economic slump in the Languilla caused storekeepers to begin an anti-
Semitic movement. The incident ended when the U.S. Department of State 
intervened, convincing the Mexican government to end the movement. 
Since the Holocaust, there have been few cases of anti-Semitism in 
Mexico. The cases that do exist stem from the Israel-Arab conflict, as well 
as Mexico's right to free speech, which has attracted neo-Nazis and allows 
them to express their views. Even so, anti-Semitism is not a serious threat 
to Mexican Jewry. The most serious issues facing the Jewish population 
are intermarriage and defection to America.
Mexico enacted a stiff immigration policy in 1937, limiting entry from 
nations heavily populated by Jews such as {HYPERLINK "/jsource/vjw/Polandtoc.html"}Poland and Rumania to 100 per 
year. Anti-Semitism peaked during World War II, but was mitigated by 
Mexico's entrance into the war with the Allies in 1942.
During the 1930's, the Jewish community battled anti-Semitism by forming 
the Federacion de Sociedades Judias, as well as the still active Comite de 
Central Israelita de Mexico. 
Mexico's post-war economic prosperity translated into religious tolerance 
for the Jews, who enjoy the same rights as other Mexican citizens. Jews 
hold, and have held, high positions in Mexican government as well as in the 
business sector, where there are well-respected Jewish artists, journalists 
and businessmen.
Today, Mexico boasts a strong, active Jewish community of between 40,00-
50,000. Most Jews (37,500) live in Mexico City, attending its 23 
synagogues and eating at its several Kosher restaurants. Mexico City has 
at least 12 Jewish schools, where more than 80 percent of the Jewish 
youth receive their education. The world's largest city also contains the 
Tuvia Maizel Museum, dedicated to the history of Mexican Jewry and to the 
Holocaust. 
Small Jewish communities can also be found in Guadalajara (200 families), 
Monterrey (200 families) and Tijuana (60 families).






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