Jewish Outreach in Peru
The emerging Jewish community of Trujillo in northwest Peru has its first rabbi and full-time Jewish studies educator, thanks to the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org )organization. Rabbi Hanoch Avizedek, a Spanish-speaking Israeli who has previously done Jewish outreach work in South America and India, arrived in Peru last week, where he has begun teaching about Jewish history, tradition and practice. “The community in Trujillo is comprised of truly sincere and unique individuals, all of whom wish to tie their fate with the land and people of Israel,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who visited the community in Peru last year. “When they asked for a teacher to assist them with preparing for their eventual conversion and aliyah, we were only too happy to help.”
The Trujillo community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics, headed by a dynamic leader named Segundo Villanueva, abandoned Catholicism and decided to live as Jews. They made their own prayer shawls and shofars, and used the nearby ocean as a mikveh (ritual bath), striving to live in accordance with Jewish law to the best of their ability. In the early 1990s, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate dispatched a Beit Din (rabbinical court) to Trujillo, and converted over 200 members of the community to Judaism, all of whom subsequently made aliyah. In 2001, then Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau met one of the veteran Peruvian immigrants while visiting terror victims in a hospital. The immigrant, who had been badly injured in a Palestinian attack in the Jordan Valley, was asked by Rabbi Lau if there was anything he could do to help. “Yes,”? he replied, “bring over the rest of my family.”
After looking into the matter, Rabbi Lau agreed, and a Beit Din was sent by the Chief Rabbinate in December 2001. It converted an additional 84 people, all of whom moved to Israel five months later. Some 100 members of the community remain in Peru, including adherents in the town of Cajamarca and in Lima, the Peruvian capital, where Shavei Israel’s Rabbi Avizedek plans to organize classes on their behalf as well. The Chief Rabbinate is currently considering sending an additional Beit Din to Trujillo, which would enable the rest of the community to join their friends and loved ones in Israel.