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January 13, 2001

National Latino and Jewish leaders will convene in Washington, DC, March 4-5, 2001, to explore issues of common concern and to craft a Plan of Action in order to establish a systematic and permanent cooperative relationship.

The Latino-Jewish Leadership Summit seeks to provide a unique opportunity to establish an inclusive dialogue between communities rather than organizations at the national level. Its ultimate goal is to establish a Latino Jewish Fund and produce a set of recommendations on specific policies and short and long-term action items that may inspire and help guide relations between both communities at the national, state and local levels.

In the last decades, the Latino community has increasingly become a powerful force in the American social fabric. Its members hailing, from 22 Latin American countries, are rapidly gaining visibility and a myriad of Latino social and political grass roots and advocacy organizations are attempting to become more effective in protecting the interests and values of their constituents.

The Jewish community, as well, has been a major political force in American society and has helped shape the national agenda. Furthermore, a large and growing contingent of Jews from Latin America are now living in the United Sates underscoring the diverse nature of the Latino community.

Recent studies have shown that Latino Jews who carry the cultural heritage of their countries of origin as well as American Jews in general share with Latinos common concerns, values and patterns of behavior. Among them are:

Comparable voting patterns
Strong notion of family and community
Concern about racism and hate crimes
Opposition to immigration restrictions
Belief in the universal prerogative to quality education, health services and economic opportunities
Concern for the general welfare of Latin America

In addition, just like in the case of the Hispanics, the Jewish presence in Latin America dates back to the time of the European “discovery” and conquest of the continent. Thousands of crypto-Jews or “converses” from Spain and Portugal sought in the new territories an opportunity to escape from the climate of intolerance promoted by the Crown and the Inquisition. Their strong impact in the region at that time cannot be overstated. Traces of their presence remained throughout the centuries, despite the fact that an organized Jewish community in Latin America was not evident again until the 19th century when Jews from Eastern Europe and from provinces of the Ottoman empire once more sought refuge in the region. The creation of a Latino-Jewish identity has meshed, several generations down the line, echoes of the distant past and current spaces of coexistence between Jews and Latinos.

Against this backdrop, the present times provide a unique opportunity for the Latino and Jewish minorities in the US to work together in the pursuit of common goals, certainly out of self-interest but also out of the exercise of their collective memories as exiles, immigrants and committed citizens intent on building a more divers and tolerant society.

Undoubtedly, this broad effort is on the cutting-edge of inter-communal relations, comparable to the dawning of the Black-Jewish dialogue in the 60s, and provides a very special opportunity to be able, as it unfolds, to impact and shape a social phenomenon which will become increasingly relevant in the years to come.

For more information at http://www.naaonline.org.

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