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Failure to Ratify Canal Treaty Inimical to Jews in Panama, Latin America

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, warned today that the 6000-member Jewish community in Panama and Jewish communities elsewhere in Latin America might be victims of “turmoil and upheaval” throughout that continent if the U.S. Senate fails to ratify the Panama Canal treaties. Schneier, spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue, was a member of a citizens task force of prominent Americans who recently visited Panama.

Predicting a violent reaction if the treaty is rejected, Schneier said: “History has taught us that any social upheaval and dislocation is ominous for any Jewish community. There is apprehension, therefore, that in case of a backlash over failure to ratify, Panama’s Jews, who have lived there since the 16th Century, might seriously be affected.” He spoke of his meetings with Gen. Omar Torrijos, head of the Panamanian government, and with political, military, business and labor leaders in Panama and the Canal Zone.

Schneier also met with Rabbi Heszel Klepfisz and other leaders of the Jewish community in Panama. “The Jewish community enjoys full religious freedom and is able to maintain its educational and social institutions,” Rabbi Schneier reported. He said the foremost Jewish institution was the Albert Einstein Day School, with classes from nursery through high school, attended by 900 students, 200 non-Jews among them. “Three of Gen. Torrijo’s children graduated from this school which is considered the outstanding educational institution in Panama,” Schneier said.

He reported that he “found no religious intolerance” in Panama and that Jews are represented in the professions, business and political life of the country. He said there were three active Jewish congregations in Panama City, Kol Sherith Israel, founded by Dutch Jews over 100 years ago; Shevet Ahim, the largest Sephardic congregation; and Beth El composed of German and East European Jews.

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