Jewish Communities Grow Across Latin America

Half Million Jews in Economically Vibrant Region

By Diego Melamed (JTA)

Published September 10, 2012.
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When the Sao Paulo Hebraica Sports Club and Community Center in Brazil opened the Aleph School earlier this month, it welcomed 450 students and had 120 more on the waiting list for next year.

Hebraica, which is similar to an American Jewish community center, has reached 24,000 members and has a $30 million budget. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo’s oldest synagogue, Temple Beth El, recently dedicated a new building, leaving the original one to become the Jewish Museum of Sao Paulo.

In Panama, the Jewish community has grown by 70 percent in the past 10 years. The 8,000-member community in that period has seen a rise from three to 10 b’nai mitzvah a week.

In Argentina, the number of children in Jewish preschool programs has soared by nearly 1,000 – from 3,952 in 2005 to 4,914 in 2012.

Nearly wherever one looks, Jewish life is growing in Latin America, which is now home to an estimated 500,000 Jews. The growth comes as the region continues to transform economically as part of a social evolution following the end of military dictatorships that ruled many countries into the 1980s.

From 2000 to 2010, poverty in the region dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent of the population, according to the Economic Committee for Latin American and the Caribbean, or CEPAL. In large part it is because of the increase in jobs that has come from rising prices for the region’s commodities and natural resources, such as copper, oil, soybeans, meat, fruits and other agricultural products.

And more growth is on the horizon. Latin America will contribute to global growth more than Europe in the next seven years, according to CEPAL, which released a study in August that said the 2013-2020 period “will be a low-growth cycle for industrialized economies while it will display dynamism in emerging economies.”

Despite the growth, challenges remain for many Jewish communities.

“We have strong signals of a new flourishing situation, but we also will still have a variety of problems, like the poor knowledge about Judaism in our members and some type of hidden anti-Semitism in the general society,” said Alberto Milkewitz, director of the Isaraelite Federation of Sao Paulo.

But that hasn’t dimmed optimism among Jewish leaders.


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