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Special to the JTA the Jewish Community in Peru

Political interest in South America is focused at present on Peru. The inauguration of the young President, Alan Garcia, his nationalist and populist argumentation, and his initial challenge to the country’s creditors about foreign debt, have shaken the continent.

There is no doubt that Peru swung to the left, and the main opposition party is even further left than Garcia’s party. According to observers, Jews voted, in their majority, for neither of these: they preferred the conservatives, who are out of power at present.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the Jewish community will meet with problems under the new government. There are fears with regard to Peru’s relationship with Israel and its attitude concerning Zionism.

Peru considers itself a Third World country. Antagonism against the industrialized countries and the North American leadership is stronger than ever. The Soviet presence is the strongest here of any South American country. It is no accident that the PLO has an office with full diplomatic status, recognized by the Peruvian government. According to a study by Leon Trahtemberg, director of the Hebrew School of Lima, the Jewish population of Peru decreased by about 10 percent during the last few years (there are some 4,500 Jews at present), because of the decrease of Jewish birth rate and emigration, chiefly to the U.S. and Israel.

“From a historical perspective,” says Trahtemberg, “the socio-economic level of Jews in Peru tends to rise,” despite the economic crisis which affects them too.

About 90 percent of Jewish youngsters study in the Hebrew School (upon reaching university level a third of them go to Israel or the U.S.). They usually choose status careers, that is, sciences or high technology.

During their university term, young Jews tend to stray from the community framework. Trahtemberg believes that there is a certain tendency to “social and cultural assimilation” and states that “mixed marriages are increasing: they are about 20 percent”.

Peruvian public opinion is not much aware of Jewish questions. Basically it takes an interest in issues related to Israel when some fact makes the headlines.

Two questions, to sum up, confront the small but close-knit Jewish community of Peru in the immediate future: How will Alan Garcia’s policy of “new distribution of income” affect the well-off middle class, to which Jews belong; and what role will there be in the new situation for anti-Israeli agitation and for Third World solidarity on the part of pro-Arab factions?

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