Cultivating Jewish-Latino Relations


Seeds of Change, an award-winning cross-cultural program for Jewish and Hispanic youth, will be a model for the newly created Latino Jewish Council of Long Island as it seeks to strengthen Jewish-Latino relations in at least three Long Island communities, the group announced last week.

"We’re going to use it as a model because we feel it is effective and attractive to youth," said Ellen Israelson, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Long Island office and co-chair of the council. She made the announcement at the council’s official launch at Woodbury’s Laguna Grille, whose owners, Elizabeth and Frank Minier, are co-secretaries of the council. Several public officials, including the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, Judy Jacobs, and Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, a council board member, attended the event.

Israelson said the council has "identified communities where a significant number of Jews and Latinos live in close proximity to each other, such as Glen Cove, Great Neck and Commack-Brentwood." Currently, she said, Jewish and Hispanic youth there are "not really interacting." But board members of the Latino Jewish Council of Long Island are now preparing to "reach out to educators and parents [in those communities] and identify students and educators who want to be part" of this cross-cultural project, she said.

Some natural partners for this project are the Jewish day schools, and Israelson said that they will be working with Glen Cove’s Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island, among others.

Among those working with the young people will be Claudia Josebachvili, the council’s coordinator. A Jew of Hispanic origin, Josebachvili speaks English, Spanish and Hebrew, and her father is a former president of the Jewish community of Argentina.

Seeds of Change is a 2-year-old, student-led project that brings together about two dozen Jewish and Hispanic high school students to learn about each other’s culture and history. It was created by the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center and Adelante of Suffolk County, a social service organization for the Hispanic community. Kelly Alpert Vest, the Y’s director of community relations who oversaw Seeds of Change, is a member of the council’s board of directors.

The creation of the Latino Jewish Council comes at a time when anti-immigrant attitudes are being expressed nationwide and aimed particularly at Hispanics. Yvonne Mowatt, community relations manager for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County and co-chair of the council, said the idea for creating the council came out of a regional Latino Jewish summit more than two years ago that "explored the history of the two communities and discussed what made us feel welcome."

"The group returned motivated to continue the work here on Long Island," she said.

Israelson said the creation of the Long Island council could not come at a better time.

"Every day there are articles about anti-immigration and an anti-Latino backlash on Long Island," she said. "There has been an increase in both the number of bias crimes and anti-Semitic incidents. From a Jewish perspective, we can relate to the experience of being persecuted and being an immigrant. We understand what it means to be a stranger in a strange land. It is our hope that through our programs we learn more about each other and work together." The number of Jews and Hispanics on Long Island are about the same: roughly 300,000. The council will initially be part of the American Jewish Committee, but once it gets sufficient funding and support from the business community, it will become an autonomous organization, Mowatt said.

Regina White, educational director of the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County and a council board member, pointed out that "youth tell us they learn prejudice from their parents." To help "unlearn prejudice," she said the council is inviting everyone from the ninth grade to adults to attend a program June 8 at the Suffolk Y JCC at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free. To register, call (631) 462-9800, Ext. 142.