Hispanic Jews to Combat Anti-Semitism in Media

Not everyone is laughing at the high jinks of Spanish-language morning radio. Hispanic Jews offended by a Jewish caricature in a top-rated Miami radio show known for its raucous, politically incorrect humor formed the Hispanic Jewish Initiative, which held its first meeting this month and will meet monthly in Miami.

The group, created under the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, will monitor Spanish-language media for anti-Semitism and address other concerns of Florida’s growing, Spanish-speaking Jewish population. Those who form part of the effort say the challenge lies in re-educating immigrants who hail from countries where ethnic humor goes unchallenged.

“What was acceptable in our countries of origin may not feel the same here. Just because people don’t understand the language doesn’t mean you can get away with it,” said Yael Hershfield, associate director of the Florida Region of the Anti-Defamation League, whose headquarters are in Boca Raton. Hershfield, from Venezuela, organized the initiative, which so far has 15 participants.

Members of the group say mainstream Jewish groups have overlooked Hispanic Jews in the effort to root out prejudice. They say most non-Hispanic Jews are unaware of the stereotypes on Spanish-language radio, a staple of news and entertainment for many Hispanics. “The Jewish community in the U.S. has always monitored English-language media,” said Clara Amsel, of Miami, a member of the newly formed initiative. “But Hispanic Jews have been less organized in that regard. Now our voice will be heard.”

Earlier this year, some Hispanic Jewish listeners complained to the Anti-Defamation League about the acid ravings of the immigrant-hating Goldstein, a Jewish character on the popular show El Vacilon de la Manana, or The Morning High Jinks on El Zol 95.7 FM.

Often drawing its high-octane political satire from current events, the show, produced by second-generation Cuban-Americans Enrique Santos and Joe Ferrero, also mocks Cubans, blacks, Catholics and other groups. A Web page linked to the show (enriqueyjoe.com) depicts a black character, Al Jackson, with the manipulated mug shot of a man whose lips balloon from his face. In place of a photo for Goldstein is a Nazi eagle and swastika. The page was on the Web as recently as Saturday, but it was unclear whether any active links can lead Web surfers to it from the show’s home or other pages.

Hispanic Jewish Initiative co-chairs Jaime Einstein and Roland J. Behar said they contacted the station’s owner, Spanish Broadcasting System Inc., with their complaints. Officials with the Spanish Broadcasting System and the show’s producers could be not reached for comment, despite several attempts.

Einstein, 59, a Cuban-American attorney who refers to himself as a “Jewban,” arrived in the United States as part of the Pedro Pan exodus. The Hollywood resident says ADL’s Hispanic committee has a hard road ahead. “There’s an enormous need for bridge-building between Hispanics and Jews. You have a lot of Hispanics bringing attitudes from their countries that can be traced back to pre-Vatican II Catholicism,” he said.

The Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965, repudiated long-held Church attitudes against Jews. But the reconciliation between Jews and Catholics is often not reflected in Spanish media outlets, particularly radio, Einstein said. “Those of us who consume English-language media take for granted that people try to be politically correct in their expression,” he said.

The Hispanic Jewish Initiative will be more than a media watch. It plans to send volunteers into churches, schools and community centers with an anti-bias message and establish ongoing ties with non-Jewish Hispanic organizations.

An Anti-Defamation League survey released in 2005 showed that 29 percent of Hispanics held anti-Semitic beliefs, as opposed to 14 percent of the general population. The survey asked subjects a series of questions about their perceptions of Jews.

The recent arrival of Jews from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and other countries has bolstered South Florida’s Hispanic Jewish community, which for decades was primarily Cuban.

There are roughly 15,000 Hispanic Jewish adults in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, according to University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin. The numbers do not include children or recent waves of immigrants from South America who’ve settled in Broward County.

In their own countries, Behar argues, Hispanic Jewish immigrants were afraid to speak up against anti-Semitic slurs on television and radio.”They’re coming from countries where they were an isolated minority,” said Behar, 55, a Cuban-born mortgage broker who lives in Miami. “When they heard themselves insulted on the radio, they were quiet about it.”