Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chile´s Jewish Community

Since I have taken over the apartment of my Chilean Jewish friend Valeria (the wandering Jew becomes an Israeli settler) and have been hanging with her and her boyfriend Jorge, I thought I should include something on the Chilean Jewish community.

The Chilean Jewish is roughly 17,000, of which 95% is in Santiago; there are pockets in Valparaiso and ViƱa del Mar as well. The Jewish communtiy of Chile is mostly Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe and Germany, but Spehardim make up nearly 20 percent. The Sephardic communtiy comes mostly from the Ottoman Empire, comprising Jews from Istanbul, Soloniki, Izmir and Monastir (Macedonia).

My friend Valeria is from a mixed-marriage, in so far as her mother is an Ashkenazi German, while her father is a Sephardic Turkish Jew. Jorge is the product of a real mixed marriage, of Russian Ashkenazi extraction, while his father is a secular Chilean who didn´t convert. They are a cute couple, who met at a Jewish function in Valparaiso.

There are eight synagogues in Santiago, five of which are Conservative, while the other three are Orthodox (one Chabad); there are two Jewish day schools. The Jewish community in Chile is very secular, very Zionist and very integrated into Chilean society, while not being especially affiliated with the organized Jewish community. Jews of Chile have been active in academia, medicine, the press and other liberal facets of society and culture. The integration is most acutely symbolized in that Chile´s President Michelle Batchelet had the most Jewish ministers in her cabinet for any country in the world, exluding Israel.

Members of the Chilean Jewish community were involved in the government of President Allende, as well as the opposition to Allende; moreover, nearly a third of the Jewish community fled into exile during Allende´s rule, only to return when General Pinochet took power. Although Chile and Argentina both underwent periods of brutal military dictatorship, the Jewish community of Chile did not suffer nearly as much as the Jewish community of Argentina. Of the 3,000 Chileans who disappeared, twenty came from the Jewish community. During the General Pinochet gave considerable support to Israel, in spite of Chile´s large Palestinian community and also bought arms from Israel.

My own anecdote on Chile´s Jewish and Palestinian communities relates to a project I worked on at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We were hosting "Breaking the Ice," a project that set out to prove that Israelis and Palestinians could do amazing things when brought together outside the conflict. The project was to have a group of Israelis and Palestinians (who had never seen snow) travel to Antartica and climb and unnamed, unclimbed mountain together. They completed the task, and it was mentioned in Time Magazine, among other media outlets. When the heads of the Chilean Palestinian and Jewish communities heard of the project, the contacted each other for the first time, and for the first time they came together to greet the climbers upon their return.

Dialogue between the communities continues today, including an intercultural diaologue project that Valeria works on as a facilitator.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All Grandmas are Yiddishe bubbes

I was in Israel about 5 years ago, when the intifada was still going on. I was there for two weeks as a college graduation gift from my parents. I was in Haifa, staying with my friend Irit and I was leaving to head onto Jordan. Her Yiddishe grandmother was there, and when she heard I was going to Jordan, she exclaimed, "Vhat, it is so dangerous! You have to be careful wit zee Arabs!" I explained that I spoke some Arabic, and would be saying with a friend in Amman. This calmed her a little, and she said, "Fine, but before you go, you must eat something."

I went on to Jordan, and had a wonderful time visiting Petra, Ma´adaba and Amman. I was staying in Amman with my friend Omar and his family. Omar´s mother is Palestinian and his father is Kurdish, perhaps the most dispossesed combo in the Middle East. Anywho, I had a wonderful time with his family, and was treated like a king. The day I was heading back to Israel, Omar´s Palestinian grandmother was there. When she found out that I was heading to Israel, she exlaimed "What, it is so dangerous! You have to be careful of the Israelis!" I laughed, and explained that I was Jewish, spoke some Hebrew and would be fine. This calmed her a little, and she said, "Fine, but before you go, you must eat something."

That anecdote explains the Middle East conflict in a nutshell. Two sides that don´t know the other, are terrified of each other, and warn me to be wary of the demons on the other side, yet treat me with such compassion and stuff me full of wonderful food before heading out to do battle. Grandmothers are grandmothers the world over.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

I am keeping an ongoing blog from the International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship on my regular blog, click Levantine18 to see it. After the conference, I will post some form of it here.