El siguiente artículo (en inglés) fue publicado en el portal de Shavei Israel hace ocho años. La nota registra lo que fue la primera gran reunión de "emergentes" durante un fin de semana en Bogotá. Fue esa una oportunidad para conocerse, organizar la primera asociación de comunidades emergentes y de concretar apoyo institucional. De ese shabaton surgió ACIC, la Asociación de Comunidades Israelitas de Colombia. Ahí también se conectó con la Sojnut y con Shavei Israel -la organización para traer a comunidades de judíos "perdidos" a Israel-. Eventualmente, ahí también se concretó la vinculación de un rabino con su esposa para atender las necesidades de todas estas comunidades.
Shavei Israel helps organize Shabbaton for more than 100 Colombian Bnei Anousim in Bogota
10 Jun, 2012. Shavei.org
Colombian Jewish businessman Jack Goldstein has traveled the world for work and pleasure, from Ecuador to Ethiopia, Brazil to Burma. And in every place he visits, however far off the beaten track, he makes a point of seeking out something Jewish. But his greatest Jewish “discovery” – and now contribution – may turn out to be right in his own backyard. Goldstein, who lives in the country’s capital, Bogota, has become a staunch supporter of the burgeoning Bnei Anousim community in Colombia, one that has grown remarkably in the last few decades.
Unlike their brethren in Europe, Colombia’s Bnei Anousim (descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism more than 500 years ago and who are often referred to by historians by the derogatory term Marranos) are highly organized. There are 18 different communities spread across the country, from Medellin to Cali as well as in the capital Bogota. Many have their own dedicated synagogue buildings, Torah scrolls and rabbis. And yet, the mainstream Jewish communities of Colombia have chosen to largely ignore these Bnei Anousim, preferring indifference to engagement.
That may be coming to end, though, and Goldstein is playing an important role in bringing the two communities together. In April, Goldstein helped make possible a weekend Shabbaton of both Bnei Anousim and mainstream Jewish leaders by donating the meeting facilities and all of the meals at the hotel he owns in Bogota. He even made the hotel’s kitchen kosher for the event.
The Bnei Anousim, on the other hand, come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have formally returned to judaism, others are in the midst of the process. Some have been following Jewish law for 20 years or more; others are taking their first steps
120 people attended including Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund and Shavei’s Educational Director Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, who flew in special from Israel; Colombian Chief Rabbi Alfredo Goldshmidt; the Israeli ambassador Yoel Magen and his family; Meyer Yusim, the president of the Bogota chevra kadisha (burial society); and even a representative of the Jewish Agency, Jack Corcos.
The impact of the Bnei Anousim on Jewish life in Colombia is undeniable. The mainstream Jewish community numbers 3,000; there are 800 Bnei Anousim in the country, representing an increase of nearly 25 percent. They have almost single-handedly kept the kosher food industry in Colombia going, Goldstein says, and in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena they are needed to make up a minyan (a prayer quorum) – the original Jewish community consists of 5 people, while there are 25 Bnei Anousim.
If anything, the Bnei Anousim represent the future of Colombian Jewry – after the country’s economic crisis of the late 1990s, more than half of Colombia’s Jews fled. Synagogue and day school attendance plummeted as a result. The once all-Jewish country club opened up to the general population in order to pay the bills.
The mainstream Jewish community’s suspicion of the Bnei Anousim is not entirely surprising, Goldstein says. Many Jews came to Colombia from Europe in the years during and following World War II and have held what Goldstein calls “a ghetto mentality.”
The Bnei Anousim, on the other hand, come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have formally returned to judaism, others are in the midst of the process. Some have been following Jewish law for 20 years or more; others are taking their first steps. Some have “typical” Bnei Anousim proof – hidden messages and objects in the home revealing Jewish roots – while others are people who, when Colombia re-invented itself as a civilian republic with a constitution and no “official” religion some twenty years ago, came to conclude that the Torah held the true path.
“It was about four years ago, when it became clear this was not just a fad, and that a critical mass of Bnei Anousim had organized, that the mainstream Jewish community realized it could no longer avoid them,” Goldstein says.
The unique nature of Cartagena, with its demographically necessary mixing of the two communities, became a test case for coexistence, Goldstein explains. One Jewish man in town, David Behar, decided that the Bnei Anousim needed to organize. He started writing on the subject in local Jewish community newsletters. Goldstein had seen what was going on with the Bnei Anousim in Bogota and began writing, as well. Goldstein and Behar became friendly and together started to contact other Bnei Anousim communities they had heard about or come into contact within Colombia.
Eventually, delegates from four communities came together to form the Association of Israelite Communities of Colombia (not to be confused with the Confederation of Jewish Communities of Colombia, representing the mainstream Jews). They first met in Cartagena last year, around the time of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The aim of the Bnei Anousim association is first and foremost to break down barriers, but there are practical matters as well. Some Bnei Anousim want to attend the Jewish high school in Bogota. Women need to use the mikves (ritual baths) in Bogota and other cities, rather than having to “go up to the springs in the mountains,” as Goldstein says they currently must do. There is a need to document who’s who and to help families fend off the unscrupulous from taking advantage of their heartfelt desire to join the Jewish people.
Above all, the new association is intended to bring together the different communities, to network with each other, provide mutual support and lobby with a stronger voice on behalf of their own interests.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund has high hopes. “I’d like to see this kind of umbrella group become a model to apply to Bnei Anousim communities in other countries and places,” he says. “To allow Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal, Italy and other parts of South America to work with each other and to see that they’re not alone but rather they’re a part of a much bigger phenomena and movement.”
Last month’s seminar at Goldstein’s hotel, the Lancaster House, in Bogota involved serving “upwards of 400 kosher meals,” Goldstein says. There were prayers and presentations by Freund and Rabbis Birnbaum and Goldschmidt. When it came time to read from the Torah on Shabbat morning, the group used a Sefer Torah brought from one of the Bnei Anousim communities. The hazanim (cantors) also came from the Bnei Anousim group. “They read beautifully,” Goldstein says with a certain amount of pride.
What’s next for the Bnei Anousim of Colombia? Shavei Israel will be following up with additional visits by staff. A group is hoping to create a yeshiva in Bogota specifically for the Bnei Anousim and its needs. The chevra kadisha has pledged to work with the community to teach them how to handle burial according to Jewish Law (“there hasn’t been a need for it yet, fortunately,” adds Goldstein). The Jewish Agency has also taken interest: there are at least 30 Bnei Anousim from Colombia currently serving in the Israeli army or attending yeshivot in Israel, and some members of the community in Colombia are interested in aliyah.
Even before the Shabbaton, signs of coexistence had been budding. Goldstein organized a Purim celebration at his hotel for the Bnei Anousim in Bogota, complete with a costume pageant, meal and Megillah reading, and Colombian Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt attended.
The Shabbaton ended with both communities singing Hatikva – the Israeli national anthem – together. “Everyone knew it,” Goldstein says, choking up a bit. Could there have been a more fitting way to demonstrate that, no matter what their backgrounds, the Jews of Colombia are a single people?
Fe de erratas: La reunión en cuestión fue la segunda. ACIC se fundó unos meses antes en la ciudad de Cartagena