The 'Kosher Burrito' Can Get Messy

Jews and Latinos Form Alliance But Fault Lines Remain

L.A. Allies: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles’ first Latino mayor, greets Jewish voters. So far, the two groups have forged a potent political alliance, but potential conflicts loom.
getty images
L.A. Allies: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles’ first Latino mayor, greets Jewish voters. So far, the two groups have forged a potent political alliance, but potential conflicts loom.

By Steven Windmueller

Published June 12, 2012, issue of June 15, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Latinos and Jews are increasingly seen as new partners within the American political story. And yet, the two communities are at very different points in their communal development. Latinos, who today comprise the largest minority community (16.3%) within the United States, with some 50 million residents, are described as a political force in ascendancy. In turn, Jews are among the smaller ethnic-religious communities (1.7%) and at this point are in fact poised to lose some of their numerical and political clout. This reality can be seen in various congressional districts and state Assembly and Senate races in New York and California, where Latino candidates are likely to replace Jewish officials. Will these communities challenge each other for political power?

Another way to understand these dynamic contrasts is reflected in the mean age comparison of the two communities. Latinos in this country average 27.4 years (for all Americans, 36.8 years of age), while for Jews the estimated mean is 48 years.

Yet, there are significant common elements to this emerging relationship. In the 2008 presidential elections, outside of the African-American vote, Jews (78%) and Latinos (67%) represented the two strongest ethnic voting blocs supporting Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Interestingly, the two communities share a number of other core historical and social features. In high-density population states that have significant electoral votes, including New York, California, Florida, Texas and Illinois, one finds a heavy concentration of both Jews and Latinos.

Both communities also share various public interest concerns, including a desire for a comprehensive immigration policy, quality public education, a national security plan to deal with international terrorism and an economic development strategy for jobs and growth.

Stepping back, it is important to understand and appreciate the complex character of the Latino population in the United States. In fact, it is not one community but a series of communities divided by generation, nationality, and economic and social status. To take a single example, Cuban Americans often have little in common with Mexican Americans.

As Latinos retain close connections to their home villages and regional communities, there is a particular fascination with how Jews have created and sustained their philanthropic, political and cultural ties to the State of Israel. This Diaspora-homeland relationship represents one of the potential binding features between our two communities. While Latinos are interested in the Diaspora-Israel connection, their knowledge of, and support for, Israel remains problematic, posing a challenge and an opportunity.

In a recent study by the American Jewish Committee, 61% of Latinos interviewed believed that “Jews make positive cultural contributions to the United States.” When asked about whether Jews had too much influence, 42% responded that it was “probably untrue,” yet 38% said that it was “probably true” or “certainly true” that Jews in this country had too much power.

Among the challenges that the Jewish community faces within certain Latino circles is the presence of Old World Catholic theological notions that present a narrow and negative view of Jews and Judaism. Over time, as more Latinos become familiar with Catholicism in America and through expanding their personal connections to Jews, these images and attitudes ought to be recast.

Many Latinos first engage Jews or learn about the Jewish community through their labor union connections; others are encountering Jews in the business world or through their employment in Jewish homes.

When speaking about Jews, Latinos are particularly interested in how we have organized ourselves and whether our communal models could effectively serve their constituencies. They also want to understand how we sustain generational continuity. Aligned with that concept, Latinos will often ask how we employ symbols, myths and rituals in preserving our identity.

In advancing strategies for working with Latino leaders, Jews from Latin America can be particularly valuable as connectors in interpreting traditions, social values and political culture that uniquely define and shape the Hispanic world.

Certainly in the arena of music, one can find an array of opportunities around which our communities can share cultural themes. Is it too far-fetched to suggest Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) as a possible point of engagement?

Over the next decade, Jews and Latinos will have an opportunity to expand their institutional connections, both on the political level and within the cultural and social arena. As a result of these relationships, a Latino-Jewish alliance could ultimately be transformative.

Steven Windmueller is Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College’s Los Angeles campus.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.