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El presidente

Tuesday I met with the president of Comite Central de la Comunidad Judia de Mexico, Oskar Gorodzinsky, and the organization’s director, Mauricio Lulka. Gorodzinsky is a father of three who works in the family business and looks a little like Silvio Berlusconi. When I arrived he asked to keep the meeting to 45 minutes because he had another appointment. Then we talked for almost two hours.

What Gorodzinsky and Lulka told me was both enlightening and familiar. But first, some stats.

Between 40,000-50,000 Jews live in Mexico, representing about .04 percent of the population, but they are responsible for providing 15 percent of the jobs in the country. Three-quarters of Mexican Jews are employers.

Affiliation rates are also unbelievably high. Upwards of 90 percent of Jewish kids attend one of Mexico City’s 16 Jewish schools, and no one is turned away because he or she can’t pay. More than one third of families receive community assistance.

According to Gorodzinksy and Lulka, the cost of being Jewish in Mexico requires a net income of $4,000 a month — substantially more than most Mexicans take home and, it’s worth noting, more than I do too. Were I living in Mexico I might be considered middle class by national standards, but poor by Jewish ones. Regardless, my kids would automatically get tuition and other help — not a bad deal.

Unsurprisingly, this commitment represents a massive cost burden that is getting ever harder to bear. Most American Jews started paying attention to the economic downturn only in the past year or two. In Mexico, the economic crisis is 20 years in the making.

So the community is attacking the problem at both ends — trying to reduce costs through efficiency measures and consolidation, and pumping up communal coffers.

Here’s some video from the interview: