Behind the Headlines the Jews of Mexico

Mexican Jewry, merely 50,000 strong, is still a cohesive and dynamic force, despite the turmoil caused by the nation’s critical economic and financial problems brought on by the sudden and severe slump in world oil prices.

Almost 49,000 Jews reside in Mexico City, with its current population of more than 15 million. The remaining 1,000 reside in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tiajuana. Despite the crisis besetting the country, the Mexico City Jewish community manages to maintain most cordial and positive ties with government officials from the President down, the powerful labor confederations, and non-Jewish Mexicans in general.

The pride and joy of the community is its Jewish Sports Center, which has no less than 23,000 members and contains every facility available. A logistical problem faced every Sunday is getting to the center: one has to rise bright and early for a day’s fun and frolic without having to park some miles away. The congestion is even greater than at its popular off-shoot, the Mexican Country Club, located between Tel Aviv and Herzlia in Israel.

IMPRESSED BY NEW PRESIDENT

Bernardo Weitzner, president of the Central Committee of Mexican Jewry, a body that acts as liaison with the government and with international Jewish organizations, revealed that leaders of the Jewish community have met twice with the new President, Miguel de la Madrid, who impressed them as being “most realistic and definitely able to take the proper steps to cope with the problems he has inherited from his predecessor, Lopez Portillo. We are optimistic that, under his leadership, we will recover from the present economic slump, and we will be able to do even more for Israel in the future.”

With the devaluation of the peso from 24 to the dollar, roughly a year ago, to its current 150 pesos to the dollar, many Jewish enterprises have come to a grinding halt, Weitzner said. The ability of Jews to travel abroad, and especially to Israel, has suffered accordingly.

But still, hope springs eternal in the Jewish breast, and many members of the community have announced their belief that there will be an economic upswing before long, and that they will then be able to fulfill their financial commitments to Israel programs.

Weitzner noted that Mexico sells oil to Israel, has a sizeable export and import program with the Holy Land, and promotes considerable cultural interchanges on a professional level. He expects the current President to maintain a friendly attitude toward the government of Israel despite any pressures that may emanate from Arab countries.

The Palestine Liberation Organization opened an office in Mexico City in 1979, but despite the propaganda it churns out regularly, the vast majority of Mexicans are unaffected and unimpressed, according to Weitzner.

PROUD OF JEWISH SCHOOL SYSTEM

Mexico City Jews are proud of their own school system, which has very direct links with Israel. There is a Jerusalem Program for students finishing junior high school, in which they visit Israel for four to six weeks. Upon their completion of high school, a great number go to Israel for six to nine months to work on a kibbutz. After such an experience, many elect to stay and to become citizens of their ancestral land.

Apparently, there is no significant degree of anti-Semitism in the city. There was a brief flare-up after the fighting in Lebanon, with the local PLO office fanning the flames of prejudice, but all is relatively tranquil now. One leaves this sunny land reluctantly, with the distinct feeling that Mexican Jewry exerts an influence far in excess of its numbers, and will survive the current economic uncertainty with renewed vigor and efficiency.

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