Latin American Jews in New York come from various countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala and Venezuela. According to Hillel International, their numbers are growing. They come primarily to escape political upheaval, to study at American universities and for employment opportunities. This is not such a new story. In fact, my own mother immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1961, at the start of Castro s regime.
This past January, Karina Muller, 31, an Argentine immigrant living in New York, approached me about starting an interest group for Latin American Jews living in the city. As the membership and community development associate at Makor, a center of New York’s 92nd Street Y that reaches out to Jews in their 20s and 30s, I cultivate and facilitate groups of young Jews.
Although Karina came to the States with her family, there are also many Latin American Jews who have immigrated to New York—and other communities in the United States—on their own as young adults. “We need to give this community a voice, a chance for my peers to show their films, express their literature and gain opportunity,” says Karina. Michel Geldzweig, 30, who emigrated from Mexico says. “It would be refreshing to be able to connect with people who have similar views and backgrounds in a city as diverse as New York. One can feel very lost in this city and it would be a great thing to have an ‘at home’ feeling, even when one is not.” Makor decided to create a venue for young, dislocated Jews with roots in Latin America.
The group’s first event was the screening of a Mexican film directed by Guita Schyfter, “Novia Que Te Vea” [reviewed on page 22], which deals with the friendship between a Sephardic and an Ashkenazic woman coming of age in Mexico in the 1960s. Many of the sevenly-plus people who attended the screening told me afterwards how important this film was to them. Vanesa Maya from Argentina said, “This film made me cry. The Ladino songs were exactly the songs that my grandmother sang when she was making me bourekas and reshicas.”
This summer, a Latin-Jewish Literary Reading features two leading authors: Mexican-American Ilan Stavans, author of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language, and leading promoter of Latin-American and Latin-Jewish writing; and Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Achy Obejas, whose debut novel. Days of Awe, about a Cuban Jewish family, was published last year.