Jewish Paper Uses ‘Latin Flavor’ To Fill a Void

By Max Gross

Published January 02, 2004, issue of January 02, 2004.
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Jacqueline Donado, managing editor of the New York-based Spanish-language newspaper El Diario La Prensa, has seen many Spanish papers pop up in the city.

“There are monthly, biweekly, weeklies, dailies,” Donado said. “There are Mom and Pop newspapers…. [There are] papers that are going by nationality; there is one for taxi drivers, one for elevator operators. There are [papers] for Ecuadorians, for Cubans… there are a lot of ethnic groups.”

One thing Donado has never seen is a Spanish-language Jewish newspaper.

She won’t have long to wait.

New York’s only Spanish-language Jewish newspaper, Torá Tropical: Judaismo con Sabor Latino (“Judaism with a Latin Flavor”) published its first free issue on December 19, and is being handed out in Jewish Community Centers and synagogues in New York and Miami.

With a green palm tree nestled in the corner of its blue banner, Torá Tropical’s lead story asks, “¿Qué es Jánuca?” or “What is Chanukah?” Opening the 16-page, tabloid-size quarterly, one can read a letter from Mosul, Iraq, by army chaplain Rabbi Carlos Huerta; a story about the Jewish ruins of Lorca, Spain, or news briefs from throughout the Spanish-speaking world announcing the new Jewish governor of Tucuman, Argentina or a Jewish leadership conference in Guatemala.

But Torá Tropical has a more ambitious agenda than relating news tidbits from around the Americas to its readers; it is intended to fill a void for many Latino-Jewish immigrants who feel out of step in their new country and with the larger mainstream Jewish community.

“One of the things I’m thinking is that Judaism needs a different face,” said Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Torá Tropical. “The immigrant and minority [Jewish] communities think of [Jews as a] population that is white, upper-middle-class, rich people. Not all Jews are in that category.”

The time is ripe for a newspaper to reach out to the New York Latino-Jewish community, several observers said.

Although Donado has not yet seen Torá Tropical, she speculated that a Spanish-language Jewish newspaper would do extremely well. “There’s a lot of Jewish Hispanic [people], especially in New York,” she said.

“The Latino community is split into about a thousand different” pieces, said Viñas. “A lot of Latinos…don’t understand what’s going on within the Jewish community. They want to hear a perspective…. [They want to know about] the internal conversation of the Jewish people.” But as it stands now, the Cuban, Puerto Rican, Argentine and Mexican Jews don’t interact.

Viñas, whose parents were Cuban, grew up in Miami where the Latino-Jewish community is much more heavily organized, boasting five different Cuban synagogues alone. According to Viñas, there are 8,000 to 10,000 Latino Jewish families in Miami. There are no similar statistics available for the Latino-Jews in New York, but Viñas has interacted with hundreds of Latino Jews.

Torá Tropical is only the latest effort by Viñas to reach out to the Latino Jewish community; for years Viñas, who is also an Orthodox rabbi at the Lincoln Park Jewish Center, has headed El Centro de Estudios Judíos “Torat Emet,” an outreach program in Yonkers, N.Y., where the idea for Torá Tropical first bloomed.

Miriam Ventura, a Dominican Jew and the editor-in-chief of La Mano News, a Spanish-language community paper for Bronx and Washington Heights residents, started showing up at Torat Emet events where she and Viñas began discussing the idea of launching a Spanish-language Jewish newspaper.

During the past summer, Viñas and Ventura received a grant from the UJA-Federation of New York for Torá Tropical that will keep the paper afloat for at least the next couple of years, allowing them to make their initial run of 10,000 copies. Viñas told the Forward that he hopes to expand the paper to Chicago and Los Angeles next year.






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