Rabbis Do the Conga in Mexico

By Jennifer Siegel

Published March 24, 2006, issue of March 24, 2006.

MEXICO CITY — At the annual convention of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly this week, the nametags were green and white, the complimentary bags were woven in bright colors and the R.A. logo wore a sombrero in honor of the Mexican hosts.

The international, 1,600-member rabbinical union held its weeklong parley in a gleaming hotel in the leafy Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. This was the very first time that an R.A. convention was held in a Latin American country. Nearly 400 rabbis were in attendance, dozens of whom hailed from Israel and from Latin America. The halls buzzed with a mixture of English, Spanish and Hebrew, and headphones were made available for simultaneous translation of sessions.

The convention chair, Rabbi Marcelo Rittner, of Mexico City’s Bet-El Congregation, warned attendees, “If you will not make fun of my English, I will not make fun of your Spanish.”

The favorite multilingual guest was Mexican President Vicente Fox, who sat through the entire gala dinner on Sunday night and then opened his remarks with a Hebrew and English greeting, “B’ruchim Habaim l’Mexico! — Welcome to Mexico!” Fox praised the 40,000-strong Mexican Jewish community, which arrived in the early 20th century, as a “valuable part of the mosaic” of the country’s life. He also praised the value of diversity. “Mexicans know that everybody is born free and equal,” he said, adding that “peace is the daughter of respect and justice.”

On Monday night, rabbis packed on to buses and headed to the Centro Deportivo Israelita, Mexico City’s sprawling Jewish community center. The complex, the largest JCC in the world, features an Olympic-size pool, restaurants, a beauty salon, and a range of courts and fields. The rabbis were treated to a Mexican-style feast, complete with mariachi bands and margaritas, and by the end of the evening there was a raucous crush of dancers and a rumba line.

“I’ve been coming to these things for 30 years,” said Rabbi Louis Zinc, a pulpit rabbi from Knoxville, Tenn., “and I’ve never seen rabbis hoisted up holding liquor.”



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