Broward County sees a growing wave of Hispanic Jews

As Jews throughout the world recently celebrated the start of 5763, congregants at dozens of synagogues in Broward County noticed a change in their millenary culture: The prayers in Hebrew spoken by some of the congregants had a strong Spanish accent, while others addressed the Maker directly in Spanish. Launching a demographic change in Broward’s Jewish population, the third largest in the United States, a growing wave of Hispanic Jews from Miami-Dade, as well as other families that have just arrived from Latin America, are settling in Broward County. Jewish demographers and academicians project that Broward will become a sort of Jerusalem for Latin American Jews in the coming years.

With the growth of the Jewish community in Broward during the past decade, believed to number 270,000 members, and, more recently, the drastic growth of the non-Jewish Hispanic population in that county, Latin Jews are following the migratory trend of the two minorities they represent. Although Miami has become the favorite destination in the United States for Hispanic Jews, and is now home to most of them, hundreds of Jewish families that arrive in South Florida fleeing from economic, political and safety problems in their homelands are choosing Broward as their new home because, they say, of the county’s better housing, greater job opportunities and better education for their children.

”They see Broward as a community with opportunities, with a Jewish infrastructure, where they can maintain their identity and have their own religious institutions,” said Henry Green, a professor of religion at the University of Miami. The changes in an area that until recently was predominantly white non-Hispanic are becoming evident. The United Jewish Community of Broward last year created a Latin Council to look after the new immigrants, especially Argentine families that arrived with scant economic resources. At B’nai Aviv, a synagogue in Weston, a prayer sheet was printed in Spanish for the current holidays. It is estimated that 25 percent of the attendees will be Hispanic. In community schools, most of the new teachers of Judaic studies are Argentine.

An annual event called Frijoles Con Kugel was recently held for the third time as a way to bring together Broward’s Hispanic Jews and raise funds. Presented to the rhythm of salsa, merengue and cumbia, the evening’s show included an Israeli singer and a mariachi group. ”We have realized that much of the future of Broward’s Jewish community depends on this new Hispanic Jewish population,” said Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth-El in Hollywood. “I believe that in the next decade some of the most prominent Jewish families here will be of Latin American origin.” A study conducted in the mid-1990s by demographer Ira Sheskin of UM revealed that 5,300 Hispanic Jews lived in Broward. Although no other survey has been conducted since then, Gary Siepser, president of United Community, estimates that that number has doubled. Other, less conservative analysts say it has trebled.

The families generally are young parents looking for suburban tranquillity, greater personal safety and better schools in an environment where they can practice their religion and interact with others who share their culture, without the social pressures of a centralized community, said Francis Ghitis, a Peruvian-born family therapist who has lived in Broward for the past 10 years. Among the cities preferred by Hispanic Jews are Weston, Coral Springs, Plantation and Hollywood, which also have recorded a major increase in the population of white non-Hispanic Jews, who have migrated north from Miami-Dade. The current Jewish population in Dade numbers 133,000. ”We Latin Jews tend to come together because we feel a need for an element of belonging,” said Marisa Aleksander, 34, an Argentine lawyer who moved to Weston with her family one year ago.

Miami-Dade already has received a great amount of immigrants. We’re looking for new places where we’ll have space to offer our experience.
Our arrival in opening a new era.”

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