Hispanic Heritage Month: Exploring The Connection Between Latin Americans And Judaism
Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the Jewish High Holidays.
CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reports on the complex history of the two cultures intersecting.
“Something that’s pretty unique about being a Latin American Jew is that we tend to always connect with each other very easily,” said Judith Ghitman, who’s from Venezuela and moved to New York in March.
She said it was a challenge to find the city’s Latin American Jewish community during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I got a chance to connect with a few people and I got their phone numbers, and we’re in touch…. That makes me a little more excited for what my social life will look like in a couple months,” she said.
Latin America is home to the 3rd largest Jewish community in the world.
It was tough to find that community in New York until 12 years ago, when Rabbi Mendy Whiteman founded the Jewish Latin Center.
“We have this Latin American community that has the warmth and the values and the traditions coming from South America to create a home and a community where they can bring that culture, that warmth and incorporate it with Jewish traditions, celebration and values. It really makes an amazing experience,” said Rabbi Mendy Shuchat, who is Venezuelan.
During the Spanish Inquisition, those of Jewish faith were forced to flee. Their new home was in Latin America.
Today, one out of every four Latin Americans has at least 5% Jewish DNA.
“We’re talking about Jews that immigrated from Spain, starting to Brazil and later came to New York,” said Rabbi Shuchat.
In fact, the first synagogue in New York was founded by a Jewish Brazilian refugee of the Spanish Inquisition.
“Past the layers, past the colors, past the passports, there’s an essence within each and every single one of us – a godly essence – and that’s what we’re trying to reach and celebrate,” said Rabbi Shuchat.
Discovering that shared ancestry helps to understand and embrace the history.