Ageing and emigration are two of the principal problems facing Sephardi communities in Latin America, according to the ninth National Conference of Sephardi Jews in Rio de Janeiro last week.
The congress was attended by representatives from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay.
Alberto Moryusef, director of the Jewish Museum of Venezuela, lamented the fact that many young Jews had left his nation at the time of the oil crisis in 1997 — emigrating to countries such as the US and Panama.
Mr Moryusef added that the Venezuelan Sephardi community had maintained good relations with the late President Hugo Chávez and continued to do so with his recently elected successor, President Nicolás Maduro — despite the fact that Venezuela had no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Salomón Levy, representing the Uruguayan Sephardim, also warned that they faced a serious threat to their survival through the advanced age of the community. However, they were continuing to seek economic and social support in order to “promote a full and meaningful Jewish life”.
The Colombian delegate, Ángel Calderón, said that Sephardi youth should educate themselves in the history of their ancestors, while the older generations should hand on a solid legacy “by keeping alive our language and our essential way of life”.
An optimistic note was sounded by Mexico’s delegate, Alberto Levy, who emphasised the prosperity of the Mexican Jewish community. He also praised the Spanish government for building bridges with Sephardi Jews worldwide — a reference to the recent decision announced in Madrid to grant Spanish nationality to descendants of the Jews forced out of from Spain in 1492. “There is a genuine desire to rediscover the Spain where the Jews lived well,” Mr Levy said.
… But good news for ‘amazon Jews’
Several hundred mixed-race Peruvian converts have won their battle to be allowed to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, according to Jewish Agency officials.
The group of 284 Peruvians — also known as the ‘Jews of the Amazon’ — are descendants of Moroccan Jews who originally arrived in the Amazon Basin in the 19th century at the height of the rubber boom and settled in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and one of the most isolated places on earth. Many of these Moroccan immigrants also made their way to Brazil, where they established their first synagogue in the city of Belém in 1824. A large proportion married local, non-Jewish women in Peru and Brazil.
The 284 Peruvians were converted to Judaism by a Conservative rabbinical court in August 2011, after engaging in Jewish studies for five years.
After withholding approval for months, Israel’s Interior Ministry finally accepted the legal ruling that no cabinet decision was required in order to bring the group over.