18 June 2009

Mexico: The Jews of Tijuana

These days, Tijuana is synonomous with violence. Here's another take on the city, focusing on its Jewish community by Paul Rockower, who authors the Tales of a Wandering Jew blog.

Paul's been schlepping around the world and blogging from numerous places. His story on Tijuana focuses on the two Jewish communities of this south-of-the-border location: the Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California and the Centro Social Israelita congregations.

They say the Pacific Ocean has no memory — perhaps that was what the Jews who arrived here centuries ago sought: to forget the fiery Inquisition that chased them from the Iberian peninsula and to the New World in search of refuge. For far later waves of Jewish migration to Tijuana that occurred in the 1940s, it was to escape later forms of persecution in Eastern Europe. Many settled near the border after they were denied entry to the United States because of stringent quotas. More recently, Jews have migrated for the bustling business opportunities on the Baja border city from Mexican cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, as well as from South America.
The Centro Social Israelita offers a mikvah, a synagogue and a kosher restaurant (Tante Jane's).

Read about Ezra Yosef, the Argentinean/Israeli/American Rabbi Polichenco's wife (daughter of a Milan, Italy rabbi), and how the rabbi wound up in Tijuana, Jewish businessmen and medical patients, and the growth of the Baja Jewish community.

Before welcoming in the Sabbath, the Rabbi and Ezra finished up last tasks, like moving pounds upon pounds of frozen kosher chicken into a freezer unit, to be transferred to Cabo San Lucas. The rabbi noted that the celebrated port of call at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula has a burgeoning Jewish population. For that matter, the whole of the Baja Peninsula has a growing Jewish population. Jewish babyboomers, who have long been visiting Baja, are now retiring there in growing numbers, in places like Rosarito, Ensenada and down the Baja coast. And Rabbi Polichenco is helping to ensure that the Baja communities have the kosher elements needed.
Rabbi Carlos Salas of the Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California (established 1967) has achieved numerous accomplishments and has exciting future plans. Known as Maestro (teacher, Spanish) he's been conducting spiritual outreach to Mexicans of Jewish ancestry, crypto-Jews practicing in secret and Mexican Catholics interested in learning about Judaism.

Salas estimates that 90% of the congregation are converso descendants, and another 10% are Catholics interested in conversion.

Despite the nontraditional background of the congregation, Salas was firm in grounding his followers in traditional Jewish ritual and customs, including eating kosher food, and circumcisions for male converts.
The first conversion was for 24 students, with a three-member American bet din, and a mikvah in the ocean at Rosarito Beach. Seven years later, a group went to the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, examined by the Conservative movement’s bet din, with a more comfortable mikvah. Another six groups of converts have since travelled to Los Angeles.

His students study for three to four years, until they are ready. Salas says he stopped counting after 200 of his congregation converted.

Salas has an under-construction rabbinical school at Rosarito Beach. He plans to educate community rabbis, open synagogues throughout Mexico aimed at conversos in every Mexican state for those with Jewish ancestry. One is already open in Durango, with some 40 families. He's making plans for an old-age home and a Tijuana Jewish cemetery.

Paul also addresses the security situation in his post.

Read the complete post at the link above.

1 comment:

  1. This interesting post confirms my belief that every era, ever locale, and every person is a good story waiting to be told.

    While the act of Mexican Catholics seeking out and converting to Judaism defies the logic of stereo-types it also illustrates how in spite of cultural influences we are all individuals and capable of finding and following our own destiny and life path.

    Thank you for introducing me to another good story I would not have discovered on my own.